The flyfishing development of both my teenage sons has been anything but linear. The younger one, Sean, threw himself into the sport at the tender age of 12 – some interest one minute, daily obsession the next. However, there was then a bit of an easing off as other attractions and responsibilities competed for a share of the calendar.
Meanwhile, Daniel never had more than passing enthusiasm for flyfishing. He was happy enough to participate if the action was fast and furious, or his peer group was involved. But otherwise, he seemed destined to escape flyfishing’s clutches.
Then, out of the blue this last winter, came a gumboots and borrowed flyrods trip to Moorabool Reservoir, with one of their mates Rory (a lure fisher).
I, their supposedly expert flyfishing guide and writer Dad, was a mere observer from afar that day. I don’t think I even knew the boys had gone fishing, until Sean phoned from the lake to describe what sounded like a big trout chasing baitfish. I suggested a fly, and was then politely but quickly dispensed with. Hours later, another call requested a pickup so I could take Sean and Rory home, while Daniel drove his newly-licenced self to some other appointment.
It wasn’t the nicest of days weatherwise at Moorabool (they seldom are in the highlands in winter). However, slightly later than the appointed time, Daniel, Rory and Sean, looking a bit muddy and wet, came striding up the track through the trees towards my waiting car.
I couldn’t help but hope there had been a small miracle; although realistically, I knew I would have most likely received another call if something significant had been caught – and by significant, I mean a fish of any description. Sure enough, when they put their gear in the back and climbed into the passenger seats, it was confirmed that nothing had taken their flies or Rory’s lure. Yet their excited chatter suggested anything but defeat, and I suspected another outing wouldn’t be far away. Jim Allen’s ‘might’ factor – their future fishing possibilities – was clearly at play.
Three months later, and that is exactly how things have panned out. Daniel and Sean head off flyfishing about as often as their busy lives permit – which is mostly just a few hours at a time. They have now caught plenty of trout, notwithstanding a decent sprinkling of failures and disappointments – like the afternoon Sean dropped five nice stream trout in a row, or yesterday evening, when Daniel lost what would have been his biggest lake trout in ages, right at the net.
Variously, the boys have been joined by friends Rory and Lachie, who have both taken up flyfishing, and once even by their cousin Jay. All three have now caught trout on fly under Sean and Daniel’s guidance.
While I’ve played an occasional bit part on the water, due to clashing commitments, my role has usually been more one of absent advisor. As a professional guide, I felt bad about that at the beginning, but I now see that my reduced direct participation has been ideal. With Daniel and Sean’s young ‘learning-friendly’ minds, excellent senses (especially eyesight), and effortless athleticism and stamina, only a little direct guidance is needed. Youth and enthusiasm do the rest. They make the odd mistake of course, such as choosing the wrong location, wrong fly – or not persisting with the right fly long enough! It’s only natural for a parent to want the best for their kids, and you can imagine the temptation I’ve felt to be a real ‘helicopter’ guide. However, it turns out it really is true that experience, good and bad, is the best teacher.
Which brings me to the main point: are we really doing young anglers a favour by trying to make fishing, and in this case flyfishing, appear easier than it actually is? Simultaneously, is social media setting expectations too high with endless videos and pictures of Twizel canal monsters, huge trout from North America’s Great Lakes streams, or even Snowy Mountains spawn-run fishing? Don’t misunderstand me – I love catching big trout (and hate losing them!) as do my boys. But I’m delighted they get virtually as much joy from a 10 inch fish, as from a 5 pounder. The excited calls and texts I receive about small stream trout, are almost indistinguishable from those about Moorabool monsters. I’m relieved Daniel and Sean don’t need to catch a stocked stonker, even though I’m sure they’d like to try if the opportunity presented. The truth is, that kind of ‘hit’ isn’t sustainable for most of us in real life fishing, and it would be a crying shame if it became a requirement for flyfishing enjoyment.
I’ve written before that I think my love of fishing, and then flyfishing, came about at least in part because my dad was learning at the same time I was. Instead of teacher/ pupil, we were more partners. I got the thrill of solving flyfishing problems and finding flyfishing places; a thrill made sweeter by the inevitable failures sprinkled through. And although I didn’t plan it that way, I think things are working out in a similar fashion for my sons.