A few hundred years ago, Izaak Walton of Complete Angler fame, wrote “Angling can be said to be so like the mathematics, it can never be fully learnt.” I don’t relate entirely to the use of math in the analogy—despite a sorry lack of mathematical talent I still manage to catch fish. But the bit about angling never being fully learnt, well that resonates. In my branch of angling especially—flyfishing—one of the questions you ask yourself from time to time, is ‘Why am I so smitten by this?’ And as Walton deduced back in 1653 or thereabouts, one part of the answer is surely because you never fully learn it, and never will.
There are many other reasons why flyfishing sips people in as surely as a mayfly caught in the vortex of a rise, but in any event I am one of them. My first coherent childhood memory involves catching a fish as a 3 year old, right down to the smells of eel-slime, the riverside silt and tea-tree.
If I look back on my 50-odd years of life, fishing milestones mark it to an extent that would be embarrassingly out of proportion to all other milestones, except that fishing, and ultimately flyfishing, was (and is) about much more than catching fish. When the regimented environment at school in Geelong got the better of me, I would look across to the Barrabool Hills on the horizon. I knew that from these hills I would have been able to see the Otway Ranges, a trout stream-laced paradise. This tenuous link offered solace that went way beyond thinking ‘I could catch a fish there.’ It brought to mind time with my Dad, my brothers and my friends; exploration and adventure. As much as anything it gave me a sniff of the mind-clearing freedom flyfishing offers.
I should add that school time had plenty of positives, including a teacher who flyfished and taught fly tying, and another who inspired my love of writing. But by the time my school years ended, I had developed a burning ambition to flyfish as much as possible. This turned out to be one of the few burning ambitions I’ve ever had, possibly because fulfilling it stifled most others.
School was followed by university, where I managed to obtain an Arts degree despite making a big start on the ‘freedom to fish’ thing. There followed a decade or so in a reasonably conventional career—suit, CBD, high rise building, etc. I pragmatically viewed this time in a tie as a fair trade for an increasingly generous fishing budget.
After one particularly successful holiday trip to Tasmania, I was inspired to write an article, which I submitted unsolicited to Freshwater Fishing magazine. It’s interesting to reflect that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have tried twice: I sent the article on a whim and if it had been rejected, I would have accepted that easily and moved on. But in one of those life-changing moments I didn’t notice at the time, it was published.
Several hundred flyfishing articles for a range of publications have followed. I also started writing books (of which ‘Fishing Sense’ is the eighth). During this time I was doing some flyfishing guiding and instructing. Eventually I reached a point where I felt I could leave my regular job.
Along the way I met my partner Jane and yes, I met her on a fishing trip—long (and happy) story. Having tolerated city living in order to work, it was a relief to move back to the country with Jane in 1996. Our house south-east of Ballarat is also five minutes from the nearest trout lake (make that three minutes if the duns are hatching). We are blessed with two gorgeous little boys. Daniel at 9 sees trout through my polaroids with an ease that would be depressing if it wasn’t for the fact he’s my son. Sean is the patient one – he has a cheerful willingness to perservere when the fishing is quiet that’s beyond his 7 years.
Presently I’m editor of Flyfisher magazine and I write features for Freshwater Fishing magazine where I also have a column called Little Things. There’s a new book project progressing in the background, and I’m involved in a steady stream of additional paid and unpaid work, all to do with fishing in some way. These days my guiding and most of my instructing is at Millbrook Lakes, my brother’s private lake fishery just down the road.
I’m pleased to say that there’s still plenty of flyfishing that either isn’t work related, or if it is, it might as well not be. I still lie awake with excitement before a big fishing trip, still shake so hard when I spot an outsized fish that I can hardly tie on a fly, and still get lost in a timeless world where seconds can stretch unbearably or hours can evaporate in minutes.