In June, I took off on a journey to a friend’s cabin south of Yosemite. I have been taking fishing trips since the 1970s with guys I went to school and played rugby with. We have stayed close friends and every year we take a weekend to share our enjoyment of the mountains, fly-fishing and laughter.
While our camaraderie has remained a constant, our requirements for comfort have changed dramatically. What began with Volkswagen buses and old trucks, sleeping on the ground in mummy bags and living on beer and canned goods has given way to cabins with sleeping porches, gourmet dinners and fine pinot noirs.
Still, it’s all about the river. We continue to be in awe of it, wading in to catch trout with tiny barbless hooks called flies. Even though the feel of a fish taking the hook is cosmically exciting, I refer to fly-fishing as The Great Excuse. Regardless of whether I catch anything, fly-fishing is the excuse that takes me into the stream, surrounded by rushing waters, trees, wildflowers, birds and ever-changing sunlight. It’s awesome.
This year, we returned to the classic cabin one of our anglers built. The place sits deep in the wilderness near Mariposa, a four-hour drive from Sacramento. The last leg, a 10-mile trip up a rutted dirt road, ends in a meadow at 3,500 feet. There sits a cluster of cabins surrounded by soaring granite cliffs, cedars, sugar pines, manzanita and wildflowers. In June, the water level of the narrow stream is ideal for fishing for the small rainbow and brown trout that populate it.
Years ago, one of the guys told me that his dad, then in his 70s&emdash;and who had fished his entire life&emdash;finally had to stop fly-fishing in streams. Mr. Murphy could not get around in the water anymore. Upon hearing that, I was struck by the sad fact that there can come a day when a person could not stream fish anymore. I then vowed that such a day would never come. But now, I’m not so sure.
After our day of fishing, we soothed our sore bodies around a fire pit and joked about our growing need for magnifying eyeglasses and the growing prevalence of hurting knees, ankles and backs. We admitted that it is not so easy anymore to wade a stream, particularly one in which fast water, boulders and slick algae make for slippery surfaces; potential falls lurk with every step. Despite our regular workouts on treadmills and elliptical machines and in Spin classes, we 50-plus adventurers realized that walking in a river to catch fish is getting more physically challenging for us.
It saddens me to think that one of the things I enjoy the most I may not be able to do forever. One of the guys says he doubts his bad knees will enable him to fish the canyon next year&emdash;a depressing first. Is this the beginning of the end?
It occurred to me that a long life has three parts, each lasting about 25 or 30 years. As we anglers near the end of our second one-third, I now begrudgingly understand that the physical ability to enjoy some of life’s most precious experiences comes with a limited warranty.
Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Edward John Hurley, a fine man and friend with whom I shared a love of fly-fishing.