Tom Brokaw once said, “If fishing is like religion, then fly fishing is high church.”
President of Western’s Fly Fishing Club, Cole Leishman and vice president Colton Gully would agree.
It’s February and all the local rivers are closed, but that doesn’t prevent the members of the fly fishing club from engaging in fly fishing activities. In fact, Leishman has been hard at work this winter preparing several dozen flies for the upcoming spring season.
Unfortunately, those flies will have to wait until spring.
The Nooksack, Skagit and several other Washington rivers are closed. But this doesn’t come as a surprise to Leishman and Gully. The declining number of returning Wild Steelhead is nothing new.
“We don’t have a lot of trout in our rivers around here. They’re really sterile. If we do have trout they’re anadromous (sea-run),” Leishman said.
While acknowledging the influence biology plays in determining the local river fish populations, Leishman attributed the majority of the dismal return populations to habitat loss and other ecologically harmful factors that have stifled the natural reproduction of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most prized resources, fish.
However, despite how discouraging the current situation may be, Western’s fly fishing club is optimistic and passionate about the future of sport fishing. They hope that their activism and support of other more powerful organizations can spur change.
Right now the club is attempting to gain a partnership with Trout Unlimited National and Costa Del Mar Sunglasses by participating in a program in which fishing clubs are encouraged to be engaged philanthropically.
“It’s all based in outreach, raising money for the club, community service and environmental stewardship,” Gully said.
“It’s cool and if we do it we get Costa endorsements and pro deals from a bunch of different suppliers,” Gully said.
Like other fly fishermen, Leishman ties his own flies using thread and a knowledge of entomology, or the study of insects, to replicate and duplicate the aspects of the fly that attract fish.
“I’ll pump out 8 or 10 flies a day,” Leishman said.
When he’s trying to fill a box it’s annoying, especially when tying the RS-2, Leishman said. Replicating a smaller species of fly called a midge, the RS-2 is difficult to tie because of its size.
Leishman possesses an arsenal of fly boxes ranging from the smaller ‘blue-winged olive’ to the larger ‘squidro.’ Each season and condition warrants a different tie.
For Leishman and Gully, the Fly Fishing Club at Western is much more than an extension of their hobby.
“It’s not really a hobby, it’s a lifestyle,” Leishman said.
Leishman has been fly fishing for 11 years, but said his passion has become more serious in the last four years, inspiring him to revitalize fly fishing interests at Western.
Leo Bodensteiner, instructor at Huxley College of the Environment, was a large part of that inspiration.
Bodensteiner took students to the Saint Joe River in Idaho as a part of ESCI 316, Advanced Flyfishing, a course dedicated to advanced fly fishing, which eventually led to Leishman and fellow founder Drew Fisher to start the club.
“It’s a really good time for people to get into [fly fishing] and learn how to do it because they can get gear for so cheap,” Leishman said.
Leishman and Gully agreed that no matter how advanced your gear is, the same exact ability to catch fish and enjoy the sport remains.
“I used to fish with a rod I found in the trash,” Gully said.
Trout Unlimited National is politically invested in ecology, Gully said.
But the club’s interests and activities don’t end with environmental activism.
Leishman and Gully are currently pushing club members to obtain the correct gear for spring for a camping trip to Lake Lenice and Lake Nunnally in the Columbia River Basin.
“Starting March 1, a lot of lakes in the Columbia River Basin will open up. We need people to get boats, watercraft, essentially,” Leishman said.
Leishman and Gully strongly encourage people considering fly fishing to join Western’s club.
“There’s a ridiculous amount of information on the internet about where to fish, what flies to use and how to cast,” Leishman said.
Leishman is more than willing to answer questions and help students learn the different aspects of fly fishing.