In the kiln of fly angling we harden the cure for the maladies within our daily lives. In the forge of fly angling we temper our resolve as good stewards. I deliver to the youth of Marshall High School these principles of our lives as modern fly anglers. These youth who are so much like me, and whom I share so many common traits with. I share my experiences, stories, and time to help create a brighter future for all of us. That is why I am here for them and for the rest of my community.
I tell them, “Patience, Problem-Solving, and Rejection – these are the life lessons that fly angling will teach you. I can show you how to cast a fly rod. I can show you how to tie a fly. I can show you where fish should be holding and how to read water. I can show you how to figure out what fish are eating in and above the water. I can show you how to tie knots and maintain your gear. I can show you why it’s important to be an active steward of the rivers and streams you will visit. Everything I show you comes back to those first three things: Patience, Problem-Solving, and Rejection.”
This is how I am helping the at-risk youth of Marshall High School in Bend, Oregon and this is how I can create an element of sustainability toward stewardship.
Reflecting back to my youth my mother asked me, “How do you think your life would have turned out if a program like this was available for you?” While I might agree that my career path surely would have been influenced by such a thing, I have ended up here in this situation because of the choices I have made.
I see myself in these youth. I see them trailing off when I start to get boring. I see their focus and how eyes light up when I am interesting. I know at this time how many of them are just searching for something to call their own. Something that can be a rock in their unsure surroundings, and something that they are interested in learning more about. These are the youth who, by their own or outside influence, have been separated from the herd. They are on a path unique to their circumstance, and they have asked me to help them.
At the age 14 I was considered to be an at-risk youth by any definition you care to use. I was labeled “Beyond Parental Control” and subsequently spent the next 3 years in and out of juvenile detention facilities, foster homes, group homes, and alternative education schools. I learned a great deal from this experience about human nature, patience, problem-solving, and rejection. Since this education came to me without a fun outdoor activity to tie it to, the lessons took a bit longer to become part of my daily life. If I can tie those lessons to a fun activity for them now, maybe I can help these youth be better and sooner prepared.
In 2013 a teacher at Marshall High School named Kurt Taylor reached out to the Bend Casting Club to help him with a program. As the P.E. Instructor, he thought it might be fun for the kids to learn a bit about fly angling. Since the Bend Casting Club was/is a group of fly angling young adults, he thought we might be able to connect better with these kids. I spent 2-4 hours a day for 4 days helping Kurt teach them the fundamentals including safety, technique, and overview of the sport.
In 2014, Kurt was at another school and spent much less time with the kids at Marshall.
In 2015 Kurt came back to Marshall. I don’t think he expected what happened next. To tell the truth, I don’t think anyone was ready for it. That’s why this is so important.
Upon getting back to Marshall High, Kurt was approached by some of the kids who were part of the 2013 class who got their introduction to fly fishing. Not only did they remember the program, but they asked for more. These kids had been thinking about this program for 2 years and now requested their own after-school program.
I remember fondly a young lady who on the second day of the 2013 session said,
“So I went to the library last night after your talk yesterday about how important it is to know what kind of bugs are in the water, so I wanted to learn some more about the bugs, and I was reading about the Stoneflies you were talking about and how big they are, and how their life cycle has to do with the water temperature, and how when they crawl out onto the grass how they enter into a metamorphosis, and…” I interrupted her enthusiastic presentation on Salmon Flies and asked, “Wait. Full Stop for a second. How did you get to the library?” “I took the bus” she said.
I listened to the rest of what she learned the previous evening. Between the two classes I sat down and thought about what she said and a chill ran over me, “She took the bus to the library?” A young man came up and told me about how he was looking up different fishing videos last night on YouTube. Another young man came up and asked if there was anywhere in Bend I could recommend to ride a bike to catch fish. These kids are taking of their time to not play video games, listen to music, or bounce around on social media – they are spending time learning. They are taking busses to libraries, searching out information on the web. Then they are asking me for more help and information.
We went through the program that week in 2013 and the end of the week, we took the kids out to a local stock pond and passed out fishing licenses to each who participated for the previous 3 days.
They started whipping rods around and you could hear the tell-tale “POW” of a size 8 olive bead-headed bugger breaking the speed of sound. Each time it happened, I had a backup ready for them to tie back on, and I would tell them,
“You know why we call that a $3 cast? That fly is gone forever, and it cost you $3. Now let’s use problem solving to deal with your cast so it doesn’t cost you $20 in flies when you go fishing. Remember what we talked about when we were practicing our cast out in the football field yesterday? Use a little patience to see where you might be going a little early or late on your cast that causes that “POW”.” “Ok, I’ll slow down. I’m just excited about catching fish” he says. I say,” Me too! I know how you feel, but if you run out of flies, you can’t fish right?”
As I walk away he slows down and false casts a couple times then runs out about 40′ without snapping off the fly.
I hear someone else murmuring various expletives. “Damn fish! It’s right there!! It’s right in ront of you!!! Why don’t you just f’in EAT IT!!!” I walk over and ask him what’s up.
“I’m doing just like you said. I’m casting it out, stripping it back, and I can see it going by the fish right in front of it’s face. Why isn’t it eating it?” I tell him, “First, congrats on the cast – it’s looking good. I noticed you’re really taking your time.” I go on, “So why do you think the fish isn’t eating it?” “I don’t know” he says. I say, “Ok, so you just learned about Rejection. Do do you think you’re stripping it too fast or too slow? Is the bugger too high or too low for the fish? Maybe it’s the wrong size bugger, or the shape or color? Now we’re getting into the problem solving part of fishing. Use a little patience and ask these questions. Then test those results by trying those different things. You just might catch that fish.”
I walk away, I see him going a little slower on his stripping. He doesn’t hook the fish, but he’s also not sitting there cursing the fish.
These life lessons are crucial to successful fly angling, and also in life. This is the time in their lives where these lessons can profoundly change their future. The feelings, thoughts, and emotions which fly angling brings have changed their lives without them knowing it – yet.
Maybe through these lessons one of them figures out the next great leap in technology and create a booming business. Who knows, maybe they take such an interest in the outdoor lifestyle they try to go on to become a guide/outfitter? Maybe they even take a keen interest in one particular aspect of the outdoors and go on to college to become a wildlife biologist? Or maybe they just end up working somewhere and take a little time to be advocates for the rivers and streams they frequent. Any of these outcomes is better than what we normally see in the news about our schools.
I NEED YOUR HELP TO CREATE THIS OPPORTUNITY FOR THESE KIDS WHO SHOW UP. DESERVE THAT CHANCE AND OUR HELP. IT TAKES MY TIME AND YOUR GENEROUS DONATIONS. There are between 8-18 of these kids at Marshall High who show up each week for the past 4 weeks to learn more. I need your help to succeed with them. I need to raise nearly $5,000 to provide them with fly angling equipment, fly tying vices and materials, fishing licenses, and transportation needs. Please contact me with your inquiries and assistance. I have a 501c(3) number that contributors may utilize for tax filing requirements. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP!