Have you ever sat down and had a really good look at what you carry around in your fly box?
I had a shock when I looked at mine for the first time in two years recently.
Life has been fairly unkind these last few years, no - make that the last 7 years. The will to fish was slowly sapped away by the tensions we were going through as a family, the trials we had to face due to other peoples cock-ups and then their inability to admit that they had made mistakes, the need for legal recourse and all the pain and damage that go with it.
As we have slowly stood up and shaken ourselves off, the will to go and enjoy ourselves has gradually returned, prompting a quick 4 day trip to see the flowering heather in the north of Scotland and a couple of wet, blowy days in a campsite right up almost as far as one can go on the British mainland.
The prospect of a free meal of mackerel sushi prompted the unpacking of the passage cupboard, where all the fishing gear is kept. Bag after bag emerged, reels galore - some I'd forgotten I owned, purchased during better and happier days - and box after box of self-made fishing flies.
Like old friends reacquainting themselves with me, the boxes tumbled down onto my head, necessitating the re-installation of a lot that had worked themselves loose from the foam bondage inside the boxes.
Flies for still waters, flies for the river, flies for dace, flies for grayling, flies for late season trout, UK salt water and even a box specifically tied for a trip to South Africa, where trout and salt water fishing was on the cards.
It was the arrangement of the flies which started to intrigue me, and the decision-making process that dictated what went where and which flies were of highest priority.
One box in particular - my still water trout box - took me back to days of competitions, when I felt the need to beat the boys in order to be accepted as one of them - it didn't work - those that 'would' accepted me anyway and those that 'wouldn't' simply got jealous and ugly.
Flies which allowed me to win sat proudly in the bottom left corner - the enticers of the biggest fish - waiting for that emergency day when they could be eased out of the box and pressed into service again. That is - despite the fact that they were already residing in my personal hall of fame. The 5lb plus flies...
Then there was the row of 'can't fails' - the last resorts for days when bagging up seemed an ever fading prospect and the need to pull the rabbit out of the bag would overwhelm the desire to fish the natural in order to prove myself a worthy fisherman. These were the lures, full of golds and silvers - shiny tinsel and long tails. The types called the 'Goldilocks', the 'goldfinch', 'budgie', and 'killer'. Lures for stripping simply for the sake of not going home empty handed.
The row of damsels reared their fluffy tails as a breeze came through the house. A multitude of greens and golds, and brass - small simple designs and large flamboyant ones.
The 'secret ingredient' flies sat in their own section. These were the flies under development, some of which were going through the process of being proven. '50 fish required on 50 different days' before the fly is sold as worth it's salt. Others were in the early stages of tweaking. Some even sans points, in order to test their kill rate without endangering a full day's fishing. Hard pulls as the flies were brought back through the water counted as 'hits', and on the odd occasion, a fish would clamp down hard enough on the dressing to get it almost to the bank before it would open up and realise it had actually been free to go all along.
On the other side, in neatly ordered positioning were the dry flies - all my own patterns, and I saw my hand stroking them, aware of a pride in my work. These are the prototypes of the flies I sell now - proven over a decade of successful catches, and almost season-less in their effectiveness. Change a bit of colour here and a hook size there, and you have a series of dries that work from start to end of season, all the same basic design. All JbT patterns.
Then there were the flashy blood worms, red, green, claret, brown and even black. Garish in their shape with long legs that flailed as I shook the box, so deadly on the tippet that even I was afraid to use them for fear I would get banned. There as a backup, not because I felt I wanted to use them.
As so it went on, the memories of the days out in the fresh air, the days of fishing at the edge of the water and the people I used to fish with, none of them real friends to stand by in my time of trouble, with the only genuine friend now a fly name memory and food for the worms.
I grew sad as I thought of my friend, and yet beneath all that was a glimmer of desire to take my myriad of boxes out into the world, thread up my rod and go fishing again.
There too, was the realisation that what we carry in our fly boxes is not only an excessive quantity of seldom used fish-enticers, but also years and years of life in the form of memories.
Memories which bring with them a sense of achievement and provide encouragement for the future.