Jon finds something even his non-fishing friends can relate to.
A baby was born on the 24th of January 1941. This wasn’t the only baby born on that date, but the birth of this baby led to a profound event many years after – well, profound for me anyway. This event (to be referred to hereafter as ‘the event’) small as it was, contributed to an everlasting memory. I don’t want to sound all winky-wanky about this, and I am far from a deep thinker, but there are little moments along life’s course which are pretty cool.
The baby in question turned out to be a boy named Neil Leslie Diamond. He grew up to be a famous songwriter and performer. So much so, one of his songs, ‘Sweet Caroline’ was selected by the USA’s Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Now I, like you, have no idea what that means. Moreover, Neil wrote ‘I’m a Believer’ which became a big hit for the Monkees – although this recording was surprisingly not recognised by the Library of Congress.
Neil Leslie Diamond, who never required a stage name, had his crowning glory with the release of the double live album called ‘Hot August Night’ – recorded at the Greek Theatre, Los Angeles. It was released on 9th December 1972. Neil was almost 32 years old.
On the other side of the world, the south-west region of Tasmania had (and still has) its own signature topography. Treed mountains that have their own distinctive ruggedness. The trees and rocks seemingly in a never-ending and desperate battle to be victorious. And it was whilst I was driving through these beautiful mountains on the way to Strathgordon, excited about the prospects of catching a large brown trout at Lake Pedder, that the event occurred. It was 1988, 16 years after the release of ‘Hot August Night’.
The first song on ‘Hot August Night’ is called ‘Prologue’. It’s an epic orchestral intro to the upcoming concert. As I drove through the mountains of south-west Tasmania, I slid the TDK cassette tape into the player and ‘Prologue’ began its impending crescendo. Very slow and quiet at first, but soon with a stirring impact that only a strings orchestra can muster.
I kept driving and found myself climbing a long ascent, and as I reached the peak of the hill – and I mean at the very second I reached the peak of the hill – ‘Prologue’ crescendoed in earnest. (1 minute 27 seconds in for those who may be interested.) It was bloody incredible. I stopped the car, jumped out, and punched the air with levels of intent and gusto that I can’t quite describe (although Ariarne Titmus’s coach springs to mind). Anyhoo…
Beautiful places and special moments can do that to you if you let them. And make sure you let them affect you. It’s good for you. And none of this would have occurred if I didn’t love flyfishing.
On a vaguely connected matter, I need to make a confession. Nestled amongst my many bad habits, is my burning and irrational desire for all my friends and acquaintances to enjoy the same things I enjoy. I inherited this from my father, along with a fascination with superannuation. I’ve spent many hours telling sad individuals about why they should love flyfishing as much as I do. And I become quite crestfallen when they don’t emotionally engage with me as much as they clearly should. I can only anticipate that you, reader, would understand that watching a 4lb brown trout slowly but purposefully saunter towards your dry fly, its white mouth opening and a connection occurring (or not as the case may be), is a mesmerising moment. You would also fully understand that casting to moving shapes on a warm, pristine saltwater flat can be labelled challenging and joyful all at once. But others simply don’t and won’t get it.
However, as soon as I start to tell my ignorant companions about the places I’ve been as a direct result of my participation in the most magnificent sport of flyfishing, they start to appreciate at least a part of my peculiar sporting habit. Even the ignorant can identify with glorious destinations.
Flyfishing lets me walk the diminutive streams flowing from the Great Dividing Range. Wade glowing white flats at Aitutaki in the Cook Islands (where I asked a local what you do if you get stung by a stonefish? You CRY, apparently). I’ve landed salmon in British Columbia. Northern pike in Alberta. I’ve had over 35 trips to Tasmania. Been to Cape York Peninsula – the northernmost tip of the Australia mainland. Christmas Island in the Pacific. Broome. Snowy Mountains. New Caledonia, where I had a bombastic, arrogant Parisian expat lecture that bonefish don’t eat with their tails – an obvious reflection upon my ability to cast accurately. Cutthroat trout on Vancouver Island. Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, where I discovered that mangrove jack are more than a by-catch, and that an area called Trevally-Alley maybe should be called Shark-Park.
Flyfishing has taken me to New Zealand, where I experienced my first helicopter ride. It’s taken me to French Polynesia – more specifically the rather rudely-named atoll of Fakarava – where I encountered the clearest water I’ve ever seen and landed numbers of large bonefish, even though our guide didn’t turn up.
This is not showing off. Although it does sound a little like it fits with that classic song by Charlene. May I?
“But I ran out of places and friendly faces
Because I had to be free
I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me…”
But I can hear you now… There goes Clewlow again, mouthing off about all the good things he’s done and all the special places he’s been, the lucky bugger. This is not my intention. I’m simply trying to illustrate that I would never have encountered most of these places without flyfishing taking me there. We flyfishers have a lot to be thankful for.
There is no doubt in my mind that as I’ve aged (less than gracefully for the most part) my ability to enjoy ‘bad’ or ‘unproductive’ flyfishing days has soared. Even when the fish don’t cooperate, I know I’ve experienced a day at a beautiful spot. Add to that the benefit of fresh air, exercise, friendships… the list goes on, and I appreciate these aspects more and more.
Last January, with my fishing companion Mark Weigall, I visited Tasmania’s Central Highlands for a few days. There’s a fair bit of planning that goes into most trips, but one must allow enormous amounts of planning flexibility in order to cope with the playfulness of Tassie weather. And just on that, I suspect the weather in the Central Highlands is controlled by an evil clown called ‘Happy Killer’. We were relatively lucky weatherwise for the bulk of that trip, although the bit where we fished at Little Pine Lagoon in the snow (thanks Happy Killer) had me doubting my own sanity.
Amongst our many possible fishing plans, Mark and I had elected to go to a lake both of us had always wanted to fish, but had never been to. So off we went. Whilst this article is not meant to be an ode to Tasmania, it has to be said that parts of the Central Highlands have a desolate beauty which I suspect can’t be found anywhere else in Australia. Mark drove us along the dirt road leading to our destination and I looked out the window. It should be noted that Mark and I have specific duties on these trips. Mark drives the car and the boat. I cook the food and keep the kitchen tidy, along with getting him a coffee in the morning. Don’t judge me.
I was so taken by the beauty of Tasmania, I secretly wondered why my trips to the Island State had diminished in number over time.
“Can we stop for a moment mate?” I asked. Mark looked at me quizzically but pulled over anyway.
Thirty-two years after my Neil Diamond moment it happened again – although this time with no music.
I exited the car and took a moment to appreciate where I was. The cool fresh air in Tasmania just seems cooler and fresher than anywhere else. The sun illuminating the distinct, seemingly untouched landscape was captivating. And the blue sky indicated a good day’s polaroiding was ahead of us.
“How good is this?” I whispered to myself. Mark too, seemed to allow a moment to take it all in – although I did wonder if he might have been plotting my flyfishing downfall, which would naturally occur when we got to the lake.
We arrived at our destination and had a memorable day. It was only sullied by the fact that Mark landed eight beautiful browns and I landed one. All on dry flies – or a dry fly (singular) in my case. But, as I say, it’s not about the numbers and despite Mark’s glut of successes, my spirits remained high.
If there was ever any doubt, that day proved the point. For me, it’s no longer just about the catching. It’s about all the other things at least as much.