It was then that I got to think about how this applied to me. I don’t think of fly fishing as being a hobby; it’s everything that defines my life, being both an all-consuming passion and my income on many fronts (fly rod development/sales, guiding for Snakehead and Gourami, teaching flycasting, Sexyloops). My whole world revolves around fly fishing; trying to fish every damned day, to solve problems and improve my skills and understanding, all the while pitting these against fish. In fact one of the reasons that I married my wife was because I enjoy fishing with her so much (there are other reasons!).
But also I have a hobby, which is triathlon. It’s not so much that I love triathlon itself, more that I looked at the different ways of being fit in my late 20s that decided that I would like to try this one. I could run and always enjoyed the feeling of flying through the air with out-of-body experiences and the “after-buzz”. It had the added bonus that I would have to learn to swim “properly” too – because I was a very poor swimmer and not a little bit frightened of the water at that time. Which I always felt problematic, since I spend so much time on and in it! Sometimes unintentionally.
I started off by doing some, what are now called “Olympic” distance 1.5/40/10 swim/bike/run (km) triathlons in Noosa, Australia. My best 10k time on that was 36mins which was pretty good although 2hr15 for the whole thing was not earth-shattering. Then I stopped… and about 10 years later did four Ironman distance events in Hungary 3.8/180/42.2. I finished three and had problems on the fourth, when the temps were close to 40C and I pulled out for safety. But none of those were what I would call remotely “fast”, all painful and while thrilling to finish, that was about all I could say. Maybe I had found that my ability to accept pain was greater than I had previously thought, so that was a bonus!
More recently, my sister Charlotte, discovered a passion for cycling and so I encouraged her to take up triathlon and we have completed a few 1/2 Ironmans each together 1.9/90/21.1 in France and Portugal, however I never got fit enough for these and really struggled to finish (although I did finish and in one she beat me!).
Turning 49 a couple of years back made me have a bit of a rethink. If I don’t train I start to look like Fat Buddha alarmingly quickly. I don’t think that’s very healthy for a long life or practical for adventurous outdoor fly fishing. Inspired by one of my fishing guests who had recently set himself a difficult turning 50 challenge, I planned to do 5 Ironmans in that year to celebrate, kickstart my fitness, hopefully maintain and improve it this time, and so I initially booked two 1/2 Ironmans to refocus my training. Covid hit and everything was delayed, but that didn’t stop the training.
Next month I have the first of these postponed triathlons in Desaru, here in Malaysia. I really don’t know how it’s going to go. Running in Malaysia I find extremely hard work. My runs, when I’m in town, are only 10km long and only now is that starting to feel comfortable. And I’m not running them in 36 minutes I can tell you! In fact I’m quite sure I will never run 10km in 36 minutes again!!
I initially dropped around 20kg in the first year of indoor bike riding. On the boat most days I swim and indoor bike. When I’m in town I run. Training/exercising daily definitely makes me feel good and allows me to do things physically that many people can’t. Although now that I’m fifty (and coming into my prime) it’s a long slow hard process to get fitter.
The thing about the Ironman is that it’s an endurance challenge. Everyone has their own personal goals within one. Some people are trying to win. One or two might be trying to set a new world record. Some are competing within an age group. Others (which is most I believe) are competing against themselves as a personal goal. And a few are just hoping they don’t die before the finish line. I hover somewhere between those last two!
I think that’s healthy both physically and mentally. Flycasting is different for me. At least in some events. 5WT distance I am only ever trying to win. I haven’t won the World Championships yet but that’s certainly why I go. I don’t care if I come 2nd or last, that means nothing to me in this event, I only want the gold. Accuracy, if I could get a medal, any medal, I would be over the moon. I don’t expect ever to reach the finals in the other events.
The underlying reasons for my involvement in both triathlon and casting sport are actually quite similar and, of course, both come back to fly fishing. I do 5WT distance because I think it makes me a better fly caster and hence a better fly fisherman. The skills I’ve learned and honed allow me to make fast accurate shots in just about any wind. I do triathlon because it gives focus to my physical training, which in turn should give me a healthier, longer and more active fly fishing life.
The purpose of this story is to make the case for setting “goals”. Creating manageable bite-sized goals for ourselves, that continually push us to be better. Whether that be flycasting, flyfishing or something else entirely different. Setting these goals within an organised framework of competition isn’t for everyone, but competing against ourselves surely is the very meaning of a personal goal. And you find that in all competitive frameworks; I’m never going to win a triathlon for example but I certainly can achieve a personal goal within one.
The moment we stop setting goals is not only the moment we stop progressing, but it’s actually the starting point of a decline. If you don’t practise you lose ability to perform. It’s very important for us to continually set goals so that we can keep climbing. It’s a little bit like climbing a never-ending moving staircase, one that is slowly travelling the wrong way! Stop climbing and we travel slowly backwards. Set the right goals and we can travel a long way and often to dizzy heights.
Educators understand this. That’s why when you practise your flycasting you need to set goals for improvement. Whether that’s distance, a higher accuracy score, or tighter loops on a Spey Cast. That’s why many anglers take instructor exams; as a challenge. Although this one might be a better alternative:
The real secret to fly casting is not just to practise or train. It’s to enjoy practising and training, continually improving and getting those “epiphany” fly casting moments that we get along the way.