The Eyes of Experience

The Eyes of Experience

The first sign appeared over 10 years ago, when I was still-though just barely-in my thirties. I was fishing a twilight caddis hatch and was hooking brown

  • By: Paul Guernsey
The first sign appeared over 10 years ago, when I was still-though just barely-in my thirties. I was fishing a twilight caddis hatch and was hooking brown trout of up to 18 inches. Wading nearby, though as yet without a trout to his credit, was a young fisherman of 17 or 18 whom I knew only as "the kid." As dusk descended, the kid sidled up and asked me what fly I was using.

"I'll give you one," I said. "I don't have a light, though, and unless you've got one you'll never get that tiny thing on your tippet."

I knew he didn't have a light; hell, he didn't even have waders, and was fishing in shorts and old sneakers. But the kid held the little fly and the end of his tippet high above his face, framing them against twilight's dying gunmetal gleam-and 15 seconds later he was fishing.

The following day, when I related this feat to a 55-year-old co-worker, he sighed and said, "You just can't beat those young eyes, can you?"

Since then, there's been an increasing number of signs, all pointing in the same direction. I did my best to ignore them until earlier this year, when the frustration of taking 10 minutes to tie on a small fly in broad daylight finally tipped the scales against my reluctance to be seen wearing a pair of flip-up magnifiers on the bill of my hat, and I finally broke down and bought a pair. My optometrist assures me that I shouldn't feel singled out; he says anyone with an aging set of eyes, fly fishers and fighter pilots alike, eventually requires reading glasses and magnification for such close-up work as knotting on a size 20 fly.

While that is comforting, to be honest it isn't just my eyes on which time has taken something of a toll. For instance, although I'm lucky enough to be in excellent health, I am no longer quite as delighted as I once was to find myself chest-deep in a heavy push of tailwater current…

But I know I'm only singing to the choir, here. According to FR&R's latest reader survey, half of our subscribers are over age 54, so there's a good chance you know exactly what I'm talking about. And, like me, you probably don't waste much time complaining about it. For one thing, as the old saying goes, it doesn't do any good. For another, there just isn't time for it. Life doesn't go on forever, and there's a hell of a lot to get done in the meantime. There's work, there are family obligations-and of course, there's fishing. Every day you can fish is a day for celebration and gratitude.

And there's plenty to be grateful for. Experience is one of them; with my 50th birthday just around the corner, I'm a better fly caster than I've ever been in my life. Another is the no-longer-so-distant possibility of retirement. I don't know if I will ever completely retire, but if I do you can be sure I'll spend even more time fishing than I do right now. Meanwhile, it's awfully nice to dream about, and in this I know I'm not alone.

In fact, it is because so many FR&R readers are at an age when they're inclined to dream a little about going on a well-deserved, life-long fishing vacation that we decided to run the first of two "How to Retire into the Fly-Fishing Life" special sections in this issue. I hope you enjoy it-and you can expect our second retirement special in a spring 2006 issue.

Oh, and one last thing I'm grateful for: Those flip-up magnifiers. When I'm peering through those babies, I can tie on flies as well as any 18 year old.