Just getting there

Warning: there is not a lot about angling in this post so many of you may want to skip this ramble through my physical woes and tribulations. I will write a cheerier post very soon!

Upper Lough Mask

Just getting to the fishing used to be one of the delights of a day out for me but my ever decreasing mobility is draining the good out of tramping across the lush Irish countryside. After a sustained period of steady improvement my arthritis has been getting worse since the turn of the year, significantly increasing pain levels and making even short walks a major challenge. Lugging bags / boxes / fishing rods / lunch / etc with me simply adds to the problem, so I need a change of strategy if I am going to keep fishing.

In my youth I could never have contemplated being so restricted in movement. Long walks across difficult terrain were enjoyable. Wading the rivers of Scotland and Ireland was part of the sport, not something to dread.

The Fae Me Well pool on the Upper Parkhill beat of the Don
The Fae Me Well pool on the Upper Parkhill beat of the Don

I’ve been battling arthritis since my mid-thirties and during that time the pain in my ankles and feet has grown worse to the point where any walking at all was next to impossible. By changing my diet I managed to push back its worst effects but now the disease seems to have adapted to that and it is seriously affecting my life once more. So, those hard scrambles down to the limpet clad ledges on rocky coastlines are now a thing of the past, consigned to my memory. For instance, I will never again climb down that cliff face below the ruined school house where they filmed some of the scenes for the film ‘Ryan’s daughter’ in Kerry. Even in my heyday that was a hairy descent, but worth the fear and scrapes when the float trembled, bobbed and then shot straight down into the green Atlantic, a hefty Ballan wrasse having inhaled my bait. I spent the whole day there, catching huge Wrasse, the males resplendent in electric blue and orange and females garbed in dowdy shades of olive green, until finally the light started to leave the sky and I had to retrace my steps back up the sheer rocks. Going up was much easier than coming down. I recall standing on the edge when I regained the top, panting and breathless . The vista across the sea as the sun set was immensely beautiful and I promised myself I would return again one day. I never did and now it is too late.

Deep wading is also off the list of things I can enjoy. Again, I took for granted the freedom and skills that you need to safely wade in deep, fast water. I learned on the big Scottish rivers to take short, shuffling steps and how to use a trusted wading stick. I had my duckings of course, there can be few salmon fly fishers who have not come a cropper when they misjudged the depth/speed/stability of the bottom. But entering the fish’s domain only happened to me a few times and never did I feel in any great danger. Now, deep wading causes me severe pain and my ankle joints almost seize up in anything deeper than my knees. So just getting to the right spot in the river to fish properly can be a real challenge for me now, one which is frustrating when I know where I want to be but simply can’t get there.

The Aberdeenshire Dee, deep wading is a must on a lot of this river
The Aberdeenshire Dee, deep wading is a must on many beats of this river

These days I generally confine my pursuit of salmon to outings on boats on loughs such as Beltra or Carrowmore and apart from heaving the heavy outboard engine onto the boat this branch of the sport is fairly easy on my poor auld joints. The Owenmore river and some smaller spate rivers in the immediate area are now my favourite haunts for grilse fishing in flowing water. Even walking the banks of such small, intimate rivers pushes me to my limit now and after a day fishing on a spate river I pay dearly in pain when I get home.

The Owenduff and some typical rough backs to negotiate
The Owenduff and some typical rough banks to negotiate

OK, enough moaning about it – what can I do to alleviate all this self-inflicted misery? Let me split the answers into two groups, the mental and the physical. I’ll start with the human mind.

  • Lower my expectations. Like everyone else I seem to find it impossible to come to terms with the fact that I am getting older. I can’t do the same things I could when I was 20, 30 or even 40 years old. By not expecting to be able to fish hard all day or tramp a dozen miles to that favourite lough out in the bog I can reduce the frustration when I fail to meet my targets. For someone like me this is very difficult to actually do, to accept I am less than I used to be.
  • Meditate. Yep, I am a firm believer in meditation and in the past it formed a central plank in my fight against arthritis. I’ve slipped lately and I need to get back to my old meditation routines. In particular, I have used autogenics and found it to be stunningly effective.

On the physical side there is a lot I can do to help myself overcome the pain. Diet is hugely important and there is a lengthy list of foods I need to avoid:

  • Sugar is the worst culprit. In all its forms sugar makes my joints swell within an hour of consumption. Just not adding sugar to my coffee and avoiding fizzy drinks is not enough, it turns up in pretty much every processed food.
  • Alcohol. Hmmm, this is a thorny question! I do enjoy a glass of wine with a meal or a pint of porter on occasion but the dreaded sugar is present in all alcoholic drinks. I will try my best to reduce intake.
  • Bread. The humble loaf certainly adds to my woes, probably because it contains sugar. I am not going to rule out the staff of life completely from my diet but I will reduce the amount of it I eat.
  • Fruit. This might sound odd as surely fruit is good for you? It is in general but in my case I need to be careful not to eat too much. Fructose is another form of sugar so too many berries can cause inflammation.

There are some good foods though to balance the ones I need to give up. Luckily, they are things I really enjoy eating so there is no real hardship involved for me if I eat more of them.

  • Fish! Yes, the oils in fresh fish are good for my joints so I can eat it frequently. First though I need to catch some!
  • Rice. Brown rice is also very good for me as are pulses like lentils and chickpeas.
  • Turmeric. Proven to reduce inflammation, I need to get back to taking some every day. About one teaspoon daily is good.
  • Vegetables in all forms are good too. As a pescatarian, increasing my intake of greens is not going to be a problem either

There are also benefits from gentle stretching exercises which I can do at home. I am going to experiement with heat treatment too. I find that one of the best ways to treat the pain when it gets REALLY bad is to apply heat to the swollen joints, so I am thinking that applying heat more regularly may be benficial. Oh, I nearly forgot – if I know that I am going to be doing some walking I take a stick with me. This helps me enormously!

As I said earlier, I hope you did not find this diatribe too depressing. The simple joys of making your way to the riverbank, wading in the river or digging for bait on the shoreline should never be taken for granted. If, like me, you are finding arthitis is becoming ever more painful please try some of the ideas in this post.

not for me!

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