Waterways and wild places are always under threat from human impacts, and it is sometimes proposed that the best way to look after them is to keep people out, or at least limit use. But if people don’t engage with nature, how will they learn to care for it?
Many conservationists try to mitigate against complacency by bringing nature to the masses, and there’s little doubt that the wide availability of wilderness calendars and wildlife videos has helped account for Tasmania’s general opposition to logging in old-growth forests. Still, Tasmanians recently elected governments, state and federal, that vowed to rescind large parts of their World Heritage wilderness.
From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, the only way to ensure that advocacy is maintained is to ensure that human interactions with wild places are sustained and encouraged. We need to foster relationships with nature that are more akin to meaningful life-long marriages than mere fantasies or one-night stands.
Greg French believes that fly fishers have discovered how to develop physical and spiritual connections with nature that are completely sustainable. ‘Trout are found in some of the most wild, romantic and scenically diverse habitats on Earth, and fly fishers the world over share a unique camaraderie, something universally profound and sincere. But the main reason people like me fish is because we get to closely observe and interact with trout and the natural environment. We end up seeing things other people do not.’
Greg revels in quirky storytelling, stunning landscapes, foreign culture and exotic food. But for him, a truly great trout fishery must involve wild fish in wild environments, because wild equals complex and exhilarating. ‘A world-class fishery typically offers consistent opportunities for hunting down the quarry (sight fishing), though I am prepared to make concessions for some culturally important fisheries, especially those centred on sea-run stocks or those with especially inspiring conservation stories. In any case, the fishing needs to be good enough that typical anglers can reasonably expect success, but complex enough to provide the opportunity for a lifetime of learning and refinement.’
The essence of the world’s best fishing lies in the local landscapes and culture, and can not be replicated elsewhere: the only way you can experience it is by making a concerted effort to go there. And these days, when you can buy strawberries in winter, when your mail arrives on the other side of the world a millisecond after it has been sent, the fact that trout foods and behaviours are stubbornly unpredictable – the fact that they remain beholden to the temperamental whimsy of the seasons and the weather – seems wonderfully refreshing. ‘The imperfect rhythm of the seasons lies at the very core of why we fly fishers persist with the sport throughout our lives. The serendipity of what we do comes to define how we think and who we are.’
Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis stresses that different lifestyles, passions and cultural imperatives enable ways of thinking and perceiving that are not available, or even possible, to those confined to urban environments and burdened by ‘modern prejudices’. He says that to argue for the cessation of religious, cultural or tribal practices is to desecrate humanity’s achievements and deplete our wellsprings of understanding. Greg French insists that, as a fly fisher, he is part of a global tribe. And there is no doubt that his writing will help you understand the natural world in ways you have never imagined.
‘I want our waterways to be preserved because I strongly believe that wild fish and wild places are vital components of our shared humanity.’
The Last Wild Trout is out in August.