Fennel's blog - alone but not lonely

Alone but Not Lonely

My previous article for the Flyfishers’ Journal (Rewilding Flyfishing: Part 2) ended with me commenting about the ‘far-from-delicate balance between what we fear and what we relish: the heartbeat that quickens when we’re forced to live in the moment.’ Well, there was more to the comment than the article revealed. 

My time upon the Welsh mountain, living wild and fishing for my supper, made me appreciate the potential intensity and vulnerability of life. I’d connected with my wild side, and that of fly fishing, and proved that our sport can take us into the heart of nature. But I was also seeking to connect to something – or rather someone – I was missing.

The adventure had been made possible following a chance meeting with Moc Morgan (in my opinion Wales’ greatest fisherman) during Tregaron Angling Association’s annual dinner last year. I was there to give the after-dinner speech and Moc – as patron of the Association – was my host at the head table. He and I chatted about flyfishing, writing and broadcasting, and how fishing helps to cleanse us of the stresses of life.

“Enough mechanics!” said Moc, as we discussed the state of the modern angling press, “Just being in the countryside and being part of the pageantry of nature is pleasure in itself.”

I sat in awe of his experience and wisdom, listening to and reflecting upon his words. His final comment, for which he was known, was that when fishing we are “Alone but not lonely.” Four words that summed up everything I’ve attempted to write about in my 12 books. 

As part of my speech, I’d commented that I’ve never had the good fortune to catch a sewin (sea trout). When I returned to the table and sat down next to Moc, he immediately offered to help me catch my first fish. “It is said that the sewin was the last fish to be created on that fifth day of creation.” said Moc, “After ample practice on all other species, at last came forth perfection. You’ve had your practice. Now we will fish for perfection!” We agreed to meet upon the banks of the River Teifi in June, when we would sit together, drink tea and talk softly as we awaited the arrival of sewin into the pools. Alas, it was not to be. Moc died suddenly on the 25th May 2015, aged 86. His passing was mourned by a nation of Welsh anglers and an equal number of friends and followers from elsewhere in the world. In my grief, I travelled to the Teifi Pools attempting to connect with the true spirit of flyfishing and to the master whose printed words had put fishing in Wales firmly in the hearts of flyfishers everywhere.

My calling came while watching Moc’s ‘Life in Fishing’ programme, recorded for the Fieldsports Channel on YouTube. Filmed with his son Hywel Morgan, the four-minute piece was set at Teifi Pools and contained his Eternal words:

“I am in my earthly paradise now. This is where I come to escape from the madding crowds. …You switch off when you’re here. Alone but never lonely, because this is wild country and I’m part of it when I come here. …Fishing is a breakaway to take you to a different world. And you must realise that this is religion really with us – and not a sport. A way of life. …The world turns around fishing, and fishing has given my life a purpose. But you really live for the time that you’ve got to spare – and really the times you haven’t got to spare. …God we’ve got a lot to be grateful for. And I thank the Lord that I have been able to spend my time and my life here. Alone but not lonely.”

And so I sought to be ‘alone but not lonely’, practising my religion in the same Welsh hills, amongst the same llyns, that Moc had called home.

You know how my story panned out. But this chapter is about what happened next. It’s about the man whom I met only once, but knew (though his writing) my entire life; and about how I came to witness the unveiling of his memorial stone while standing proud, shoulder to shoulder, amongst his friends and family.

Morgan John ‘Moc’ Morgan was born on the 7th November 1928. He grew up in Doldre, Tregaron where he was mentored by renowned local fisherman Dai Lewis. Moc described him to me as “One of the giants of the fishing world, whose guidance when casting to a rising fish was ‘never to cast above,’ so the trout can get a good look at the fly; ‘rather just to the side and close to its eye’ so that it only gets a glimpse of the fly and instinctively rises.” Moc explained that Dai had always insisted on casting accurately – “that you must be able to land the fly within two inches of your target”, and Moc had championed this advice when coaching the Welsh Flyfishing Team to their first-ever victory in an international competition. It was the 1967 International Championship and, Moc said with a glint in his eye, “The one where we gave the English a right good thrashing on the way!” A teacher by profession, Moc taught first at Pontrhydfenigaid School. He later took the headmaster post at Lampeter Primary School. Education was in his veins, even as an angler, and throughout his life young people flocked to him for advice. As his wife Julia explained, “They loved him, buzzing around him like bees to a honey pot. He always said that he learned as much from them as he taught them. He always spoke to them as equal, never raising his voice, always able to get them to agree by coming at things from a different angle. Confrontation was never necessary.”

Moc’s profile grew in the 1960s when he was invited onto a Welsh television programme to discuss his love of angling. This led to him hosting a show called Country Life on Radio Cymru, and later the television programmes Moc’s Country and Moc’s World for S4C. He wrote five English language fishing books, including Fishing (1977), Fly Patterns for the Rivers and Lakes of Wales (1984), Successful Sea Trout Angling (co-authored with Graeme Harris, 1989), Fishing in Wales: A Guide to the Lakes and Rivers of Rural Wales (1990), and Trout and Salmon Flies of Wales (1996). He was a longstanding columnist in the Western Mail, and wrote the regular Welsh river reports in Trout & Salmon. (He said to me when we met, “You have to keep writing. Why? Because the best fishing is often found in books.”) His works led to him becoming the authority on fishing in Wales. In 1986 the former American president Jimmy Carter – a keen flyfisher – employed Moc as a fishing guide when visiting mid-Wales. In 1991 Moc was awarded the OBE for organising the World Fly Fishing Championship, also in Wales. He was three times president of the International Fly Fishing Association, secretary (and later chairman and president) of the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association, managed the Welsh International Fly Fishing Team for nearly 30 years, was founding chairman and Chief Executive of the Federation of Welsh Anglers, and was head of Fly Fishing for the Disabled. He was passionate about getting everyone into fishing, and so set up the Welsh Youth and Women’s fishing teams. His life was dedicated to fishing. And yet throughout he remained grounded, irrespective of his achievements. 

For over fifty years Moc always began the first day of the season at Bont Llanio on the River Teifi. And so it was rather fitting that his memorial service, and unveiling of a stone in his honour, was held at this location on Thursday 3rd March 2016: the first day of the fishing season. It was here that Moc had greeted members of Tregaron Angling Association, always saying a few words to commemorate the new season, while ‘blessing’ the river with a few drops of Penderyn Welsh whisky. The tradition was shared this year. His son Hywel provided the blessing, while commemorative words – this time in Moc’s honour – were said by Donald Patterson, chairman of Tregaron AA. Scripture readings were given by Rev. Phillip Davies, a tribute was paid by Rhys Llywelyn (Fishing Development Manager for Wales), and a vote of thanks was given by Eifion Davies (Natural Resources Wales). Finally the commemorative stone and plaque were unveiled by Julia Morgan. I was there among Moc’s friends, family and fellow anglers, and the entire event was filmed by S4C.

With the exception of Donald Patterson’s address, the whole service was conducted in Welsh. So, Englishman that I am, I cannot tell you what was said. But this didn’t give me any less of an understanding of the love being shared for such a great and treasured man. All the inflections, tears and smiles when they gazed skywards. I understood. 

Thankfully the order of service provided a translation of the inscription carved upon the plaque. It said:

“The silver river of Bont Llanio
Gilded by Sun Fly
Was Moc Morgan’s heaven
Skilful Kingfisher.”

A fitting tribute, therefore, which also acknowledged Dai Lewis’ fly that Moc fished all around the world, describing it as his “masterpiece of deception”.

While speaking to attendees after the service, asking them if they could sum up Moc in a single sentence, I noticed that none of them were able to do so. But all of them paused before speaking of the great man. It was the pause that said it all. A reflection. A love. A loss. An emptiness. Julia’s response was best: “I cannot sum him up, or adequately say how I feel, in English. The word is ‘Hiraeth’ but it doesn’t translate from Welsh. Its closest English words are ‘homesickness’ and ‘yearning’, with a strong sense of rootedness, place and belonging. But it’s much, much more than this – a real thing that crushes with its weight; it impacts one’s existence, keeping us awake at night and controlling us by day. Moc is gone. Hiraeth is here.” And that’s what quickens me. 

There’s no greater reason than life and death to speed our heartbeat and our actions. People do not live forever. Places change. We may not always have the opportunity or strength to do the things we love. There is only the moment.

But as anglers, we know that even if we find ourselves alone, we’re never lonely.

 


This article originally appeared in The Flyfishers' Journal, Summer 2016.

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