The Global FlyFisher
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When lightning strikes
This is a story about how life doesn't always develop as you expect, and how events beyond your control can severely affect your life - and your fishing.
Some years ago I was on the island Bornholm fishing with a group of close friends. We have taken these trips many times (12-15 years actually), and still do ... although the destination Bornholm has been replaced with first Fyn and now our home shores of Zealand.
Well, that's another story.
This one begins on the rocky island of Bornholm.
We scooted around as always and fished all available locations on the island, and I was one of those among us who particularly enjoyed the rough shores of Bornholm, the rocky bottom and challenging wading.
I've never had any problems with walking or wading, and in my group of friends I have been known to take quite a few chances while fishing. A trip around the "Rolling Rock Point" with its slippery football size rocks, wading in the large boulders of Vang or the rocks of Rø, all notoriously difficult places to wade, was not something that made my fishing worse.
And wading staff? Nonsense!
Landing net? Not me!
No wading jacket and rolled up sleeves, that was more my style.
It was therefore with some surprise that I fell a few times while wading, and it not even on the most challenging locations. I wasn't old or weak, but in my mid-forties and in my "best age," and very unaccustomed to feeling insecure or just using a wading staff, even on the rocky island. It was very strange to fall in twice on the same trip, and have to sacrifice camera and cellphone to the gods of the sea.
Later that same season I twisted while wading and got a swollen knee and on the whole, my wading became a bit more uncertain and unstable.
During a trip to Djursland here in Denmark the year after I noticed it particularly. I was on Helgenæs, and as always I walked many miles and ended on a spectacular reef with the most phenomenal bottom conditions and a great view towards the port of Denmark's second largest city Aarhus.
On the way back I noticed an odd buzzing sensation in the shins.
It did not go away
It didn't get worse, but did not go away either, and after a while I went to see the doctor. He found nothing wrong apart from my complaining about the buzzing. He told me to go home, and return if it didn't go away.
I continued as usual with my life and my many fishing trips. During a good year they amounted to approximately 60-70 fishing days.
One January day, something strange happened. One of my feet was asleep and would not wake up. The numb foot felt exactly as if I had been in a position which had squeezed the nerves and caused the familiar numbness. Normally it would just go away when I got up and contact was reestablished, but this didn't disappear!
After a day I went to the doctor, and I could see from his worried look that it wasn't anything good he was thinking of. He sent me directly to the neurology department at the local hospital, and here I was hospitalized for a day and studied high and low, set to be MR scanned and submitted to several examinations. This was my first and only stay in a hospital ever... and I'm 52! So, as you can see, I was definitely not used to having health problems.
But that was about to change.
MS - Multiple Sclerosis!
To make an already too long story short, I was summoned a month later, and told that I had MS or Multiple Sclerosis.
At that time I had already prepared myself for a message like that, seeing all the grievous faces on the doctors who had examined me and considering what type of examinations they submitted me to. But even though was no big surprise, it was still one of the more dramatic moments in my life and a day I won't forget right away.
For those who don't know it, MS a disease that breaks down the nervous system and can cause everything from reduced sensation in the legs and arms to complete lack of control of the same limbs, and even blindness and brain damage. MS develops very differently from patient to patient, but many end up in wheelchairs and some even tied to a bed without the ability to move.
The cause of MS is unknown.
And for good measure MS is incurable.
In the beginning there wasn't much to notice. My legs worked again, and all that was left was the same buzzing sensation. I had to go to the toilet more often, and I, who was known to be able to fish all day without having to pee, now had to get out of the water several times a day to take care of business. But then again, I wasn't the only 50-year-old, who was loosing control of my bladder, so no worries.
But I also started to wade and walk with a bit less confidence. I had to start using my homemade wading staff, and even had to buy a sturdier one that gave more support. When I was walking on rocks and uneven ground, it was with great care. I was in salmon fishing in BC, and my fellow anglers dubbed me Mr. Wobbly, which says something about my gait.
Gradually, however, it wasn't only on rock bottom and current that caused problems, but also flat sand, and after a few years, I was in such a bad shape that it was inconvenient, unsafe and nearly impossible for me to fish wading.
Time to take the ferry
My fishing was now so difficult (if not impossible) that I had to do something drastic, and the solution was a pontoon boat. The boat is a relatively small, compact, but comfortable, vessel that can be packed into a (very large) bag and fits in the boot of a car when deflated.
It allows me to use the arms instead of the legs to move around in the water. I have a small anchor and a drift anchor to control my drifting, and apart from being cumbersome to unpack and pack down, I can now move around and fish almost as before.
I fish much as I used to, and sailing does not necessarily mean going far out or fishing deep water. I like to move between my wading companions, although I also take the opportunity of getting further out than the wading anglers can.
However, I have had my struggles, because fishing is not quite as easy as it was. One step, one cast does not work in a pontoon boat. You tend to drift where the wind and currents bring you, and even when you lie still, you rarely point in the direction you want to in relation to the wind and the water that you want to fish.
My legs are not good enough to control the boat with flippers, so I'm forced to row myself in position. Oars, anchor rope, pins, D-rings and tube butts have an impressive ability to catch a fly line, even though there's a stripping basket mounted on the boat. Just as I have decided that now it's time to cast, the loose line sticks in a place where I can't reach it.
Flies are invariably stuck in the straps, loops, boots and everything you can imagine. And always just out of reach.
Landing the fish is not as it was. I have never used a landing net, but I do now.
Just to take a picture of a fellow angler fighting a fish can be a challenge. The boat will drift to wherever it wishes, and mostly pointing in the wrong direction. It's not easy to vary your angle of view and height when sitting in a seat, fixed as you are.
One of the most annoying aspects of the boat in combination with the disease, is that I am very dependent on others.
I know that they all say that I should not worry about it, and I have also become better at asking for help, but it's not easy to have to have someone to assist with everything. Sometimes I even have problems taking off my waders without help!
My whole life I've been used to just go, pack a rod, a roll of tippet and a fly box, and go when it suited me. Now I need someone to carry the boat, help me inflate and assemble it, help me down to the water and on board and in general help with many things, which I did not even think about before.
I get tired quickly - fatigued as it is called. It's a special kind of tiredness where you lose the ability to control muscles. The strength is there, the control is not. In my case it's the legs, which fail, and after a long drive from home, unpacking the pontoon boat, inflating it and dragging it to the water's edge, I can hardly drag myself back to the car to close and lock it. And the car is rarely parked far away, because I don't fish anywhere where there is a walk from the car to the water.
A new life
When I look at my fishing reports, I can see that I have been out to fish less than 20 days this year. That should be compared to the 90 days , which is my previous record and the 60-70 days per year that used to my norm just few years ago.
It has simply become inconvenient.
I still enjoy fishing, and once I'm there it's great, but the way to the water's edge is long and tiring.
I only fish places where you can drive right down to the water, and long walks are now superseded by shorter rowing trips. I always fish with someone, but still more in solitude because I sail while they wade.
My stream fishing and salmon fishing is over for now. I can't wade, and certainly not in running water, and I can't even walk along a river anymore. I have also become dependent on a cane, and only have one hand free. Even an uneven lawn can be a challenge to cross.
And what can we learn from that?
I say it every time I meet people who tell me about their future plans, about the adventures they are going to go on when they have saved up, the things they want to experience when they have the time and the many fishing trips they will go on when they retire.
If you are planning on doing something, do it now!
Not in a year or two, let alone ten, but now!
I am in the fortunate situation that I have trekked in the High Sierras and the Rocky Mountains fishing for cutthroat.
I've caught bonefish and tarpon in the Carribean.
I've been to Iceland and BC catching salmon.
I have traveled and fished many places in the world and made those trips while I could still stand on my feet.
If I look back over my "fishing career", there's not much that I miss. I will most likely never go to New Zealand as I had dreamed of, and when I think back on the only time I had planned a trip there, I can bite my own tongue for having canceled it because of work.
Some stupid excuse!
Never again will work prevent me from doing anything I want to... if I can that is...
Because of this, I say to people with plans for the distant future: Do it! Get going! Enjoy! Fish!
Don't use all sorts of lame excuses for postponing what you want to do, because one day, all of a sudden it might be you who is sitting opposite a doctor who gives you the message that changes your life forever.
And at that moment work, finances and family obligations are your smallest problems! Soon after you may simply not be physically able to do what you want.
Of course I hope that this never happens, but plan your life as if it's going to happen, and do nothing in the belief that you will become richer, healthier, have more time or even a greater urge or more enery to do things.
Do it now! The sooner the better.
Since I wrote and published this in 2011 things have changed a bit. First of all I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on this article... like A LOT. And I thank all those who have contacted me here and by other channels, expressing their support or telling their own story. I have also come to terms with my disease, which has become a part of my life to an extend where I hardly remember how my body felt without it.
Back when I wrote this, I was actually in a pretty miserable state having been through a fairly long period of getting worse. Luckily it didn't last and my MS has actually been stable since then, which is about the best you can hope for when you have MS. Unfortunately being stable does not mean getting better... at least not much better. The body has an amazing ability to recoup from damage, and mine has done its best to repair the damage in my nerve system, meaning that I'm not quite as numb anymore and definitely better mentally - since the outlook isn't as bad as it was. But I'm in a wheelchair and not able to walk far, and get tired just packing my gear. So I don't fish much anymore, I have to admit. It doesn't add up many days in a year, but I do get out a bit, in particular when I go on the week long trips I take twice a year with good friends.
I don't fish much on these trips, but certainly enjoy being out and being with good friends.
I can't wade, but I do use my pontoon boat and my kayak now and then, but actually prefer just sitting in a chair or my wheelchair casting. It's not the most productive way of fishing, but it's fishing.