In the first of two parts, Steve offers some thoughts on flyfishing later in life – with added advice from retired medico Royce Baxter.
This article is based around the 10 years of flyfishing I’ve enjoyed since winding down from full-time work; those years when I can still think I’m 45, but I’m actually nudging a much higher number.
A long time ago, I knew I didn’t want to be that guy, who, ‘two weeks into retirement and he keeled over; he’d lost his reason to keep going’. Or, as an afterthought, if I did end up as that guy, I wanted it to be a better-than-average two weeks!
In my father’s era, retirement was a gold watch presentation after a lifetime of service, followed by eligibility for the old age pension. Out of curiosity, I searched for a definition of retirement, looking it up in the dictionary. I’d hoped for something vague; something that had ambiguity, that gave me scope for denial, that recognised my particular circumstances. I was sort of aware that with the median age of the population steadily increasing, along with life expectancy, we are supposed to be delaying retirement and working longer. I also know that employers don’t really want old, cranky, employees, stuck in their ways and nodding off whenever they feel the urge for a quick nap. The dictionary definition is clear: retirement is ‘The period of your life after you have stopped work at a particular age.’ The ‘stopped work’ troubles me, so too the link to a particular age.
I thought I’d dig a bit more and see what the Australian Tax Office had to say. Their primary goal, it seems, is to make sure you don’t access your superannuation payments too early. To prevent that, the ATO says you have to be either 60, and ‘cease an employment arrangement’; or you can just arrive at 65. So, having ceased an employment arrangement (just one as far as the ATO is concerned) I can be regarded as retired.
Most of the fishing I’ve done for the last 47 years has been flyfishing. What I am now planning to do is spend more time flyfishing, and all the related pursuits. I have to admit that when I hatched this plan, I was a younger man, and maybe hadn’t really thought it through. I was just going to do more of it. The rigours of what I was doing then, were not being weighed against the challenges that extra years of living would bring. But now, in that ATO-retired world, and with more wisdom, I’ve figured out the next decade will not see a marked improvement in either my physical condition or capacity; and the decade after that, well, who knows? Every day will be a blessing perhaps.
Since I first cast a fly, I’ve relied on my elders as mentors. The first was a water bailiff in Cornwall who’d gone to school with Dad. He put some trout in his bath so I could observe them. Fascinated, my next school speech day biology exhibit consisted of sorrowful browns displayed in a small aquarium tank. That way, everyone could observe them – how could anyone not be equally fascinated?
Amongst many other mentors, there was Elwyn, from Newport, South Wales and a former Welsh flyfishing team member. We set up the Wentwood Reservoir Fly Fishing Association together, and leased the lake from Welsh Water. Then, in Australia, there was Gerd from Yarra Valley Flyfishers who fixed up my distance cast and helped me understand some of the mysteries of Lake Eucumbene. All those mentors are long gone and hopefully enjoying that chalk stream in the sky (the one that had better be there or someone’s got some explaining to do)!
And now, I find myself more and more a mentor to others. I still fish with a lot of older flyfishers, but to a man, their stamina is declining, if not their optimism and enthusiasm.
I’ve watched on as hips and knees are replaced, ankles fused, arteries bypassed, valves upgraded, and as Parkinson’s, MND, and a vast array of cancers have run their predictable course. So I’m not naïve about what the next decade or two may bring. I just want to enjoy that time, to dodge avoidable injury, and spend as much of it as possible flyfishing. Which is what this story is about. How to achieve that? What to do? Where to go? I want to map out options, and directions; and I want to figure it out now, before it’s too late!
I’ve mentioned planning a couple of times. The British Sub-Aqua Club has a mantra: ‘Plan the dive, and dive the plan.’ I touched on this a few articles back. The logic and thinking is that planning forces you to think about avoiding dangerous situations; that doing what you set out to do reduces surprises; and if someone else knows the plan (where you are diving and what time you’re due back) it means help can get to you quickly if needed. So plan the fish, and fish the plan. It doesn’t quite work, but you get the idea.
I asked Royce Baxter to help me with this article. Royce is a retired GP from Ballarat, and importantly, he is an excellent flyfisher, representing Australia as a competition flyfisher on 11 occasions over 27 years before retiring from international competition. Royce is a director of Fly Fish Australia and chairs the Australian team selection committee. He’s still competition fishing well into retirement.
Staying fit and healthy
Whether you’re already a flyfisher and looking forward to more fishing in retirement (or thinking of starting and giving it a go) there are things you can do to stay physically fit and in the game for as long as possible that don’t involve the gym, or ridiculously strenuous effort.
Everyone in retirement should be thinking about their diet – eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, cutting back on saturated fats, eating less takeaway and processed foods, and drinking alcohol in moderation; all in line with recommended guidelines. Maintaining a healthy weight will help you to enjoy flyfishing. If you are on regular medication, understand any side effects and how the drug might impact or limit your ambitions.
Seven things to do to stay fit and healthy for flyfishing:
- If you have any concerns about your general fitness or health, you should speak to your GP – and don’t exercise if it causes significant pain or physical discomfort.
- Eat well, drink alcohol in moderation, and maintain a healthy weight.
- Walk regularly, and at a speed that gets your pulse rate up to build and maintain stamina for longer walks. Walk on some rough terrain.
- Do some swimming. You never know when you’re going to end up in the water.
- Build some stretching into your exercise to keep those wearing joints mobile.
- Learn some core strength exercises. You should get advice from a professional on this, but using a Bosu, balance board, or a low-to-the-ground slackline can be great for improved posture, coordination and balance. This helps reduce trips and slips, and makes wading safer.
- Casting practice is good upper body exercise!
I spoke with my own GP recently, complaining about my back, knees, and elbows. He just smiled and said I was getting old and to do more exercise and stretching. “There’s no magic pill,” he explained, “But we can try cortisone injections in a few years – before we replace your joints! Oh, and if you’re not feeling well, don’t go”. “Right, that’s not too bad,” I thought, as I hurried out the door. But that last line was very good advice. If you don’t feel up to going but go anyway, you’re possibly putting yourself at risk – and risking others when you need help to get out of whatever mess you’ve got yourself into.
We all retire differently. Although flyfishers in retirement will have a lot in common, their age and fitness may vary, and each must find their own style. So, adding to Steve’s broad coverage, is there any extra equipment retirees need for their flyfishing?
Everyone should have a collapsible wading staff to wear on their belt or vest, whether on the river or the lake edge. Balance is the greatest problem and is made worse by waves or flowing water, which both affect the stationary reference point of the ground. The stick touching the ground helps enormously. Falls are the dread of the aging, and a wading staff helps avoid them.
While I realise there are arguments for manual inflation PFDs (such as avoiding accidental deplyment), if boat fishing, buy an automatic inflation PFD. Sadly, some drowned anglers had an undeployed PFD. As we age, we may not have the time, agility, or brain-hand coordination to deploy a PFD in an emergency. Also, the confidence that comes with always wearing an automatic PFD in the boat, greatly adds to the pleasure of a day on the water.
When upgrading your rods, be bold and go one or two weights down. Try a 3 weight for the river and a 5 weight for the lake shore. This will save your casting shoulder and elbow, and add immeasurably to the pleasure. Landing a fish on a light rod is a fantastic experience. There are single-handed 3 weight rods suitable for all types of river fishing: nymphing, dry fly, dry dropper and swinging.
There comes a time when you need to sit while loch-style fishing. Fortunately, most boats now have good pedestal seats, but if using a smaller boat, make sure you have a comfortable seat or cushion and backrest to make the day on the water as pleasant as possible.
Most of all, use the time and pace yourself.
Planning is important. We all do it all the time, even for things we do regularly. When I walk out the door to drive to the shops, I take my wallet, phone, keys, sunnies, maybe a cap, and shopping bags. For a regular day’s fishing trip, I have a mental list of rods, reels, vest, net, polarised sunnies, sunscreen, hat, wet weather gear, waders, boots, and the box of spare stuff. For multi-day trips, I write it down. And if I don’t, something invariably gets forgotten. Yes, this year I have left my net behind more than once, and on one occasion my vest. (Good job I had the box of spare stuff!) These forgetful moments are far from critical or life-threatening omissions, but they are really annoying. For bigger trips – especially involving remote spots, camping, and boats – I plan better, so I don’t have to rely on mental lists. This kind of planning goes way beyond the basics.
Twenty things to think about when planning a flyfishing trip:
- Are you flyfishing-fit enough for this trip?
- Is the trip within your capacity… or too adventurous?
- Do you have any current health concerns, chronic or acute, which need consideration?
- Where is the nearest assistance if you need it, and how will you get it?
- Is there mobile phone coverage?
- Are you carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)?
- How would emergency services get to you?
- What’s the weather forecast across multiple apps?
- What are the likely lake or river conditions?
- Are you planning river crossings (there and back)?
- Are you planning to fish whilst wading?
- What are the bank conditions?
- What food and drink do you need to carry?
- Have you packed enough layers and wet weather gear?
- Do you have a first aid kit, and any medicine you might need?
- What about parking, vehicle access, and if using a boat ramp, ease of all-weather launching and recovery?
- Do you need to brush up on any skills?
- Fishing gear (another list); especially a spare rod.
- Camping gear (another list); especially an extra sleeping bag.
- Who am I going to tell where I’m going, and what to do if I don’t get in touch?
One of Bill Connolly’s stories I remember is about him being shivering cold and wet whilst fishing for salmon in Scotland and his ghillie saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.”
As retirees know, life changes when you no longer work. Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time available – is a double-edged sword for retired flyfishers. No longer do you need to scramble to pack at 11pm, head off with too little sleep, and squeeze a three-day trip into a weekend. There’s the pleasure of packing and bringing along the comforts like coffee paraphernalia, a comfortable chair, and a real camera. Then taking the time to enjoy the trip. These all add to the overall experience and relaxation.
On the other side of the coin, a trap can be expanding the time packing, travelling, and unpacking at both ends of the trip, to the degree that it becomes unproductive. An awareness of this is all that is needed to find the right balance for each occasion.
Catching fish is not the only part of this wonderful hobby, but it sure makes a trip more enjoyable; whether you’re experienced or just starting out. I can only endorse Steve’s comments coming up in part 2 about joining a club.
In part 2 in the summer issue, we look at boating, clubs and competition, learning from scratch, and much more.