Slipping into 50

Not long ago, I read an article by a flyfisher who lamented turning 40. “Luxury!”, I thought. Just as I started to lament turning 50, a realisation crept in. What must the 60+ readers now think? I know, probably something like, “50? Luxury!” After a few days fishing north-east Victoria recently, my friend Chris Schrueder and I compared notes on turning 50. What is different now versus 10 years ago, and what are we doing differently?

One thing I’ve learnt after a decade fishing around Bright, is not to fear heavy rainfall. On his way up to join me last weekend, Chris had even contemplated turning around at Benalla as he had to park off the Hume in torrential rain. But time had proved that weather events tend to be localised to some extent, and there truly always is ‘a river somewhere’ that’s fishable. The view from my windscreen said it all. Fish the upper… Ovens? Kiewa? Buffalo? King? Mitta? Plenty of choices, each with good tributaries and fallback options.

We’ve learnt that rain doesn’t have to stop play.

On that, don’t be afraid to fish dry flies in the middle of said poor weather! I had a stellar session on one of the upper rivers. The levels had rising alarmingly, yet the flows were clear and the temperature was still a comfortable 17C. My love for little CDC flies meant these were my go-to patterns despite the wet conditions. And the browns and rainbows just jumped on them, hail, rain or shine! Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even packed the bamboo rod to fish a dry fly on that river at that time.

….and you can still fish bamboo and a dry.

On fly selection, Chris and I both agree we’ve probably been guilty of overthinking it. That was brought home during one session where we cycled through a whole bunch of fancy flies, all of which got refused, only to find the trusty size 14 Royal Wulff got nailed as soon as it was tied on. It continued to produce for the rest of the afternoon. Yes, we will have to revisit the fly boxes make them simpler. I know we keep saying it, but now is the time to act!

At the forefront of our minds is the ability to wade the remote rivers safely for the next decade(s). We noticed that we are perhaps slipping just a few more times these days during a big session. On one occasion this trip, I heard a loud ‘Ouch’! and turned to see Chris had slipped and was lying on his back. “You okay?” I called as I kept covering a rising fish. When I heard nothing for 5 seconds, I looked again and saw him still lying down, holding his knee. “Nothing broken?”, I now asked with more concern. And then, when I saw he was carrying my flyrod, and that it was bent dangerously under his backpack, I yelled, “I’ll help you get up right now!”

Chris lying down, but on purpose this time.

Our reaction times are perhaps not as fast as they were. Prior to Chris joining me, I was cycling back after a fishing session, taking advantage of the new bike path along the Ovens. It’s a nice way to combine activities and you can leave the car parked at home for a day. As I came down a hill, I suddenly saw a large tiger snake right across the path, its head ominously rearing in my direction. Although I now wear ‘Chuck Norris’ gaiters, I could picture the snake flipping up and hitting me anywhere. So I braked hard. Too hard, so I tumbled over the handlebars and face-planted right in front of the tiger! Luckily it must have thought I was a tree crashing down, for as we came eye to eye, it hastily turned. And apart from a graze on the chin, I came off injury-free. I’m sure that 10 years ago, I would have handled the scenario somewhat more elegantly!

Still fishable, just add a bit more care.

On a more positive note, have we 50 year-olds become a lot more open-minded about changing tactics? When the trout became skittish about the dry, a small dropper nymph did the job. In some cases, we would even swap between dry and deep nymphing and execute both approaches well. Being open-minded is handy when combined with years of flyfishing experience to put various pieces of puzzles together.

Being open-minded about tactics (and having the experience to fish each tactic well) is perhaps an advantage of age.

Anyway, the conclusion Chris and I arrived at, is this is pretty much a ‘goldilocks’ time for us. We’re still fit enough to venture into wilderness, while being armed with a fair bit of experience – not to mention carrying enough accumulated good gear and gadgets to supply a small fishing store for a week or two! We just need to keep up the fitness, stay open-minded to the old as well as the new techniques, and keep on exploring.