Writer and photographer Jack Berryman visited Western on Tuesday, July 11, to speak about pioneers of the sport of fly fishing in the Pacific Northwest. The event was part of Western’s Heritage Resources Distinguished Speakers series, which aims to feature four or more speakers per year who have used the Heritage Resources division of the library significantly in their research.
Berryman has done extensive research on fly fishing and his research resonates with the fly-fishing collection at Western. The presentation, titled “Three Steelhead Fly Fishing Pioneers in the Northwest: Wahl, Olson and Knudson, 1900-1990,” shed light on some of the main proponents who moved the world of fly fishing forward.
The comprehensive fly-fishing collection at Western was started in 2003 and contains rare books, oral history, fishing rods, flies and photographs. Tamara Belts, special collections manager, said roughly 40 people attended Tuesday’s event, many of whom were part of the tight knit community of fly fishers, including members from the Fidalgo Fly Fishers club.
“I think it’s energizing to get a different mind and a different view of something other than just a regular lecture,” Belts said. These presentations promote lifelong learning, Belts said.
According to Berryman’s website, he was raised in central Pennsylvania and earned a degree from the University of Maryland. In 1975, he was hired by the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. That was also the year he caught his first steelhead trout. Reeling in the 8-pound fish from the Samish River would send Berryman down a career path centered around environmental journalism and photography.
Since then, he has published more than 300 articles and photographs in a wide variety of outdoor magazines. His book, “Fly Fishing Pioneers & Legends of the Northwest” was published in 2006 and won the 2007 Outdoor Writers Association of America’s Excellence in Craft Award for best book.
Berryman describes fly fishing as a feel-good, lifelong sport and said it teaches valuable lessons such as patience and persistence. He views the sport as a competition of wits between him and the fish.
“You are not going to win all the time, the fish win mostly” Berryman said. “It’s pretty exciting when you can catch a wild fish on this creation that you just made.”
He also included historic photography displayed on an old-time slide projector and detailed the lives of those who helped to pioneer the sport of fly fishing. One pioneer, Ralph E. Wahl, was born and raised in Bellingham. Wahl began fly fishing in 1927. His art and photography are stored in Western’s special collection vault.
“I love this collection,” Berryman said.
Wahl helped form the Federation of Fly Fishers. He developed new flies every year and began proving you could catch steelhead during the winter months using a fly. He also contributed to changes in regulated and competitive fly fishing.
The sport is healthy, quiet and relaxing and gives the fishers a chance to be a part of nature, Berryman said. Most of the catches he makes while wading through mountain streams are either released or become hatchery fish; others are filleted and barbequed.
Director of Heritage Resources Elizabeth Joffrion said the speaker’s series was started four years ago and is geared towards getting students and the community involved with learning about Western’s special collections. The archives consist of three units within the library, including center for Pacific Northwest studies, special collections and university archives.
The special collections are just part of Westerns connection to the sport of fly fishing. The university offers several classes in the environmental science department such as Art, Science and Ethics of Fly fishing and Advanced Fly fishing: River Stewardship, Reflection and Native Trout. The university also has a fly-fishing club that teaches the technical skill of tying flies and casting lines. Club members take fishing trips on the Nooksack and Skagit Rivers.
The library is also currently featuring the “Rising Tide in Cascadia” exhibit in galleries two and four in Wilson Library. The exhibit displays photographs of local landmarks with photoshopped effects of rising sea levels. Descriptive commentary about climate change are included with each of the matted images. The exhibit was previously held at the Mindport Museum in Bellingham.