In the summer of 2004 “The Art, Science and Ethics of Fly Fishing” was first offered at Western Washington University by Professor of Environmental Science Leo Bodensteiner and Adjunct Instructor Steve Meyer, and the class has since become a summer staple for students and local community members.
“The Art, Science and Ethics of Fly Fishing” is a four-week course that covers organism identification, fly fishing techniques, knowledge of conservation and stream ecology around streams.
This three-credit course is not only for Western students, but is open to anyone.
“It serves as an elective for students across campus,” said Bodensteiner. “But we really thought it was important to also let people in the community take the class.”
In a way, the class began in the community. When a group of people in town got together to create the Liam Wood Fly Fishing and River Guardians School to honor Liam Wood, an 18-year-old boy and avid fly fisher who died in the Olympic Pipeline Explosion in Bellingham in 1999, they knew education needed to be a key component.
“Everyone loved the idea and it brought a lot of people together in the community, but it was also really hard for them to get the course off the ground,” said Meyer.
When Bodensteiner heard about the effort to get the class started, his interest was piqued.
“When Steve was my grad student, he kept telling me, ‘You need to start fly fishing again,’ and so I told him about this idea and we got it started,” said Bodensteiner.
Bodensteiner and Meyer met with the community, designed the course, and found a venue for it at Western, while working alongside valuable community partners like the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA).
“When people who are into fishing learn more about the stream ecology, they are likely to develop more respect and appreciation for the stream habitat that the fish call home,” said Rachel Vasak, executive director of NSEA.
NSEA assisted in the development of funds and securing sponsorships for the program when it first launched, but now the program has become self-sustaining and is offered, like all WWU summer classes, though Extended Education.
Wood’s stepfather, Bruce Brabec, is still an active part of the class. Brabec took “The Art, Science and Ethics of Fly Fishing” the first year it was offered and has continued to give the final message to the participants of each class.
“Bruce talks about Liam’s life and the opportunity that the students are given,” said Meyer. “Participants may not start out with the incredible passion for fly fishing that Liam had, but we hope they have a passion about something.”
This message is presented at the end of the class camping trip that provides students a chance to bring what they learned in the classroom to the rivers and streams.
This year the group went to the Methow Valley near Winthrop for the first time giving students the opportunity to fish the creeks and rivers on the east side of the Cascades.
Other courses under the Liam Wood Fly Fishing and River Guardians School can be found in Missoula, Montana’s Watershed Educational Network and through Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.
After completing “The Art, Science and Ethics of Fly Fishing,” students and community members have the opportunity to take the sequel class, “Advanced Fly Fishing: River Stewardship, Reflection, and Native Trout,” which further explores the concepts discussed in the first class.
Reflecting on the 14 summers he has taught the class, Bodensteiner said it is hard to beat a beautiful morning on a quiet river, watching his students, some who had never picked up a fly rod before the class started, wade confidently into the stream and start to cast.
“Fly fishing is a lifetime pursuit wherein one’s ability and desire to participate may wax and wane but the draw of the natural beauty of a river will always be present,” said Bodensteiner.