Jim puts a lot of value on a positive outlook.

Ray Charles’ song from the 1960s, ‘Born to Lose’, comes to mind when I think about angling. As a flyfisher learning the ropes many years ago, I discovered that days spent on small streams like the West Branch of the Kiewa River upstream from Mount Beauty and below the ski slopes of Falls Creek, were full of ups and downs. There were more down days than up – at least in terms of fish catching. However, looking back, we gained heaps from it all. A tangled fly in an overhead branch of some blackwood as one cast to the biggest trout of the day; a slip off a rock and a dunking in the cold water; missed fish (and sometimes hardly any fish)! Even the odd broken rod was all part of the learning curve of flyfishing. And the trials and tribulations of a hard or disappointing day are soon forgotten.

The West Kiewa today.

When I reflect on a lifetime with a fly rod, one remembers easily the great days and forgets the days of misery, of which there were plenty. I’m told mountain climbers experience the same. The exuberance of attaining the summit of some distant alpine peak, reduces the pain of getting to the top. Whilst the pain is remembered on the day, it seems to fade with time and some months later, the next trip to an even more impossible peak is planned.

Bob Roles taught me to flyfish way back in the early 1960s. He was a taskmaster and an almost painfully enthusiastic and determined flyfisher. He still is and in fact Bob is possibly the best I’ve met. We would leave Melbourne as young twenty year-olds on Saturday afternoon after I’d played a hockey match, drive north up the Hume Highway (one lane either way in those days) up and over the notorious Pretty Sally near Kilmore, on through Euroa, Violet Town, Benalla, (all bypassed today) before turning off just before Wangaratta to Mt Beauty. Finally, there was a last leg some miles upstream to where the gravel road petered out at a quarry on the West Branch of the Kiewa. We’d camp the night under bright stars and drift off to the mournful call of a nearby mopoke. At dawn, often with bitterly cold strings of mist in the valley and the sun trying to break through, we’d head off for a six to eight kilometre walk upstream to a gauging station. With hearts full of hope, we’d fish until dusk, then walk back with pencil torches lighting the overgrown path downstream. Once back at the FJ Holden, we’d drive home to Melbourne, arriving in the early hours of Monday morning. We’d be off to our respective jobs a few hours later.

Bob was a lean specimen. Banjo Patterson would’ve described him as a stripling! I’m a little heavier and I might add, the years since haven’t helped. But to this day, Bob has never changed. He would sprint along the streamside tracks with ease and I would lag behind. We were both in our early 20s and when I look back from over 50 years hence, we were both extremely fit. The fishing could be wonderful, mainly eight to ten inch (25cm) browns and rainbows, rising to size 8 or 10 Hairy Marys specially tied to float for us by resident fly tier Joe Brookes, at Turville’s tackle store in North Melbourne where Bob worked. Every now and then, a cannibal trout of over a pound and a half was encountered but seldom caught. It is often said it’s not the fish one catches that gets one back to a water, but the trout one misses or nearly catches. I think that’s probably true!

The original Hairy Marys we used on the West Kiewa.

Anyway, I’m of the opinion mankind has a natural tendency to be negative, rather than positive. Let me explain.

I was asked many years ago to address a class of graduates at Marcus Oldham Agricultural College, just outside Geelong. The head boy (who will remain nameless) had previously worked in one of the Compleat Angler stores as a young teenager. At the College, it was one of his duties to find a business owner as a speaker for the graduation dinner. During his time at the Angler he was a very likeable character and a good team member, so I immediately accepted.

The evening came around, dinner was served, the youngster introduced me and my first question to the 120-odd boys was, “Hands up those that consider themselves fortunate?” A nervous few put their hands up and I immediately berated the rest. I asked them to consider the 10 million to one race that was won a couple of decades ago when their mother became pregnant. I couldn’t see any sign of serious illness or injury in the audience. And I had been informed that everyone in the dining room was about to receive a certificate, stating that they’d graduated in Agricultural Science. Yet for all this, only a handful considered themselves fortunate.

Well, I soon had them laughing; they were after all young adults on the cusp of life. I then went on to talk about being passionate about everything they undertook, both career-wise and through life. I told them that, all being well, they would only live for 30,000 days and to not waste the trip. I offered the thought that for every minute they laughed, they would live seven minutes more.

And so it is with angling. The positive thinker and passionate angler is much more likely to fish successfully. If one doesn’t believe he or she is going to catch a fish, then surely they have little chance. I think this is singularly the most important issue in fishing (and life generally): to think positively. If one is uncomfortable about one’s fly or leader, change it. Move upstream or down but whatever, make changes until you’re casting positively to your quarry.

A positive attitude when flyfishing is virtually self-fulfilling!

I admire and like to fish with positive anglers. Digressing back to mine host at Marcus Oldham, I remember him arriving at work late one morning. When asked for his reason, the curt reply was a question in return: “What have I missed out on?” Being used to all the excuses under the sun about family illness, late buses, trains etc, this youngster only thought positively. His cheeky grin disarmed us all, and to this very day I enjoy a session on the Great Lake with him annually, chasing sharks on sunny days in the waves. The positive attitude has never changed. Now a dad, farmer and friend, he lives well and undoubtedly his seven year old son is growing up to be exactly the same.

This summer just past, fishing in the Tasmanian highlands was seriously interrupted by bushfires, as many readers will know. Lots of mainlanders had to cancel trips, lose air tickets and deposits for accommodation, guiding, etc. and if they by chance did make it over, were forbidden from fishing many of the most productive lakes for the best part of three weeks. Those of us who are Miena residents were given a ‘T Card’ and were allowed limited access to some waters.

Back-burning around Miena at the height of the Great Pine Tier fires.

In the event, few shacks were lost and little damage was done to the lakes. For the most part, the fire wasn’t a devastating firestorm. Much of the burnt undergrowth will recover quickly and more good will come from the fires than long-term harm. It was interesting to note how the press wanted to negatively dramatise the fires, and I received over a hundred calls in a 24 hour period from family and friends worrying about me after they’d heard or read news reports in Victoria.

In fact, the smoke created some good ant falls and we had some quite rewarding fishing on Great Lake. We were allowed access to Arthurs Lake and we discovered some small cinnamon jassids there for the first time in a decade. Autumn saw some of the bigger red and black jassids on Penstock when access was allowed again, although the fires did ravage the western shore and it’s picturesque camping spots. In other words, the flyfishing glass was half full and not half empty… and so it always should be!