Summer quarter at Western is a special time – the sun emerges from behind the clouds seemingly every day and the busy crowds have dispersed. Yet somehow things seem to actually speed up. A shortened schedule keeps classes moving along briskly, but there is a class that manages to work at a slower pace while finding time to enjoy summer in Bellingham: flyfishing.
The art, science and ethics of flyfishing is a unique class at Western taught only during the summer. For the past 12 years, Leo Bodensteiner and Steve Meyer have taught this class as an interdisciplinary course.
The course acts as a liaison for students studying environmental studies who want to learn how to fish and about basic fish ecology, although anyone is allowed to take the class.
The class is based outdoors with frequent field trips to different watersheds around Whatcom County. It gives students a chance to break from the traditional classroom setting by providing them with direct access to fishing at local rivers, streams and lakes.
The introduction to flyfishing takes people who don’t have a lot of prior fishing experience and introduces them to the sport in a way that provides them with the framework to look at fishing consciously, Meyer said.
“Most of these [students] have never fished before, and they don’t know much about fishing or fish,” Meyer said. “So we wanted to make sure when they were fishermen, they knew as much possible to have this sort of conservation minded ethic.”
The class teaches a wide variety of subjects, Meyer said.
“It’s a bit of everything,” Meyer said. “This class is sort of an introduction to flyfishing but we teach literature, we teach fish ecology, we teach stream ecology and we teach aquatic entomology.”
The group of new anglers recently went down to Whatcom Creek as well as Chuckanut Creek to take macroinvertebrate samples. These samples are a good indicator for ecological health, and in general, the more species of invertebrate found the healthier the creek is, Bodensteiner said.
“When you learn how to fly fish it’s not just about casting and tying your own flies,” Meyer said. “You have to be able to identify the fish you’re trying to catch.”
To catch a fish they must know what they eat, which can range hour-to-hour, Meyer explained when talking about what types of flies to use for catching trout. Macroinvertebrates are some of the fish’s favorite foods and in particular they prefer fly nymphs.
During the class, Meyer instructs the students on ways of creating different flies for bait. He explained that different flies represent real flies at different stages of the life cycle.
Dan Evans, a new angler and Western student, heard about the class from a friend who took it last summer. Evans said he had never fished before, but was pleased with the first fly he created based off of Meyer’s instruction.
Evans said he thought it would be difficult to gage how much of each material you need for each part of the fly, and he was surprised at how fun making flies was and described it as similar to arts and crafts.
Bodensteiner and Meyer formed the class after author Dave Duncan approached Bodensteiner with the idea of creating a curriculum as a way of honoring flyfisher Liam Wood’s life. Wood was killed while flyfishing in Whatcom Creek when the Olympic Pipeline burst in 1999, sending Wood and gasoline into the creek, Meyer said.