“The call of the river is strong indeed, I cannot resist it. High hang the banks and swift flow the runs, the sound of the water like bells. Look for me close by a river. You will find Me on the banks of a river. I am happy by the side of a river, for there lies my hearts delight.”
What is it about this guy that leaves me so enamoured? I don’t know him, I have never met him, yet at any moment I can think of him. He’s there, looking over my shoulder when playing a fish in tight confines, any battle won by more than sheer luck is viewed with infinite pleasure, a tricky cast then a nudge at your fly is exactly as he would have done it, (or so you’d like to think). I’ve read so many books on fishing that at times they meld together, yet Scholes’ way with the pen still leaves me bare. Sure, there are some works which I don’t connect with, but others feel as is he has written them just for me, I’m there, standing beside him, willing him on, wanting to be part of his extraordinary world, and he appears only too happy to take me along. Endless good is the order of the day in the early works, his words seem to drive so many people to be the angler that in there heart they so long to be, yet as they continue a melancholy takes hold, a concern for his disappearing world, a sense of infinite sadness.
The release of Fly-Fisher In Tasmania in 1960 marked the beginning of what is probably still seen as the golden age of Tasmanian fly fishing, and this recognition can be pretty much laid at the feet of David Scholes. This book still inhabits the shelves of most anglers in Tasmania and is still used as the reference point for so many aspects of fishing in this state, beautifully written, accurate and timeless, sometimes they just don’t get any better. So much has been said and so much has been written that it would be remiss of me to even try to add anything, this is simply about saying how thankful we are he passed our way.
I remember quite clearly buying my first copy of Fly-Fisher In Tasmania at the Compleat Angler in Melbourne, it was a reprint but that didn’t matter, I was just pleased to have found my copy. When I first became interested in fly-fishingI headed straight for the classics, they filled me with expectation and hope, took me up tiny streams and to wonderful lakes with names I can no longer remember, yet it all seemed so distant, so far from my little family home in Melbourne. Time and luck would eventually bring me to my new life in Tasmania and to a world of fishing that as a boy I had only dreamed of. This was a place of wondrous opportunity and unlimited adventure, all the time accompanied with words from fisherman with names like Wigram, Scholes and Ritchie, I still look at the black and white images taken by these guys and marvel at the simplicity and ease with which they approached each wonderful day, little did I know, that things are not always as simple as they seem.
I have read Trout Questmany times and the chapter “There goes an Angler” still leaves me with mixed feelings, it seems to touch at the very core of fishing, taking the reader into this other world. You can feel the frailty, the very breath slipping away, its so real that you feel you are in the room, sitting on the edge of your chair with both of them, the fire crackling quietly as you listen to tales of times long past. I suppose the other side is that as anglers we become more and more attached to the natural world, with every journey you are drawn further in, you no longer just look, you become part of it. That brings with it some amazing moments, yet nature is also constantly reminding us that to all of this there is an end, She makes no bones about it and lets no one slip by, we will all have to pay our dues. Scholes leaves us with no doubts and gives us these timely reminders, all the time written with beauty and care.
Some sense of impending loss seems to creep into the later works, like his whole world was slipping away and the rivers and streams that he had so loved were being destroyed before his eyes. There is no doubt that the upper Yarra in Victoria was changed forever when the city of Melbourne began it’s relentless expansion, and his beloved Break ‘O’ Day river in Tasmania has been pushed to breaking point with changes in farming practices and irrigation, along with health issues in his older age, they seem to have left him a little exposed. These are things that I can only glean from the words of friends and the stories written, and oh how beautiful so many of those stories are. I personally don’t long for an age that has passed, the world that we now fish in might have changed, but this is the card we where dealt and it’s so very exciting to me. After so many years the words still have relevance, and it is to that fact that we remain so thankful.
David Scholes died on 25 May 2005 and to many it was the end of that very romantic era, a way with words that will pass into history. I think Scholes would have been horrified by the development of online shopping and creations like Facebook and Twitter, yet these are the tools to alert people to change, to let them know if places are at risk, how they can help, give them a voice or simply to share stories. That doesn’t mean that we no longer have the ability to appreciate a great writer, so next time you grab a dog eared John Gierach from the shelf or maybe go for a copy of FlyLife, don’t forget to reach up and grab that Scholes classic, get a tumbler of single malt, sit in front of the fire and let yourself be taken on some of the most enjoyable fishing days of his life.