Says Hugh: 'Those who know me especially well, namely my wife and kids, have long understood the reason why I fish. For one Father's Day early on in my parenting career, I was presented with a coaster that still lives on my bed side table, saying simply: "Fishing….A jerk at one end waiting for a jerk at the other". I only know that the comment must be heartfelt.
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We can build a tottering superstructure of somniferous sophistry about touching the atavistic hunter-gatherer in our soul. We mutter about the smell of fynbos, of Slovenian wild garlic and wood smoke on a crisp mountain morning, the hint of thyme when bringing a fish to hand, the fish eagle or bald eagle or bloody merganser. We rabbit on about the aesthetics of whichever new toys really catch our transient fancies, and all-in-all produce more hot air than a lifelong supply of camp baked beans, or dare I mention the bean soup at the riverside restaurant in Slovenia's Vintgar Gorge. I fish for none of that.
I suspect many of us fish for the right to tell an unambiguous whopper. However, it might best be said about fly-fisher people, that they didn't kiss the Blarney Stone, they slept with it. Indeed, my approach to my fishing life has always been unconstrained. It needed to be, because it took me about 10 years of benighted perseverance in the face of incessant blanking to figure out how to rarely catch a fish. But the satisfaction has been especially great. I had not experienced such consistency since my batting career was crowned by the perennial Golden Duck. So in the interim I learned to pretend with great authority.
It seemed to me that it otherwise would have been a great waste of my UCT and Oxford medical training, were I not to be able to expound on any topic with a maximum of assurity and confidence, even in the face of a significant data insufficiency.
So this week, I found myself in the company of old and new, now all good, friends in the fly fisher’s dreamland that is Slovenia. Taff is 'mean and green boys' with an insatiable appetite for large fish in tight places. Tom is officially known as Herr Flick, Das Fliegenfischenfuhrer, abhors gold beads and is the Zen master of the induced take with the unweighted nymph to upstream sighted fish.
Josko is a serene and relaxed exponent of the dry fly and brings a grace to everything.
I was the bankside arborist, in the footsteps of the immortal Roger the Shrubber, spending 85% of my time retrieving lines from trees and retying tippets, 10% swearing in three languages, and 5% fishing.
We waded and fished, from karstic chalk streams, to hard-wading pocket water with wary, very large trout, to fast running and freezing Alpine streams of crystal water, sparse hatches and jeweled wild trout. The Slovenia grand slam of brown trout, rainbow, grayling and the elusive marble trout was achieved.
We spent 10 hours a day wading, in waters so fast that a dropped rod, or one that was put down to release a fish, could rapidly disappear downstream in the blink of an eye.
The condition of the fish was impressive, all wild, all clean with pristine fins and tails. I learnt. I learnt that a long upstream cast was needed for the little river browns. I learnt about the restorative power of a respite from what Wordsworth called “The world is too much with us, late and soon”. His response to the Industrial Revolution is equally and perhaps as potently true in our modern world of technology and 24/7 relentlessness. In these mountains, with these friends, in the hope a trout will rise, I find a brief and perfect peace, which is why I am so blessed to fish.'
(Hugh Rosen is a molecular medical research scientist with the Scripps Research Institute in California.)