(Editor's note: John Torchick is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Tenn. He is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association with credits in numerous websites and publications including Southern Trout Magazine and Fur, Fish and Game.)
Athletic fields at schools of all levels teem with energetic fervor. When driving by the an athletic field at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, you might see something different than soccer, lacrosse or any other sport. At first glance, it appears that people are standing around the perimeter of the field waving long, skinny sticks. But it is not a class in orchestral conducting. It is the Lee University Fly Fishing Club.
Dr. Guy DeLoach, professor at the Lee University School of Business, is the faculty sponsor of the club. His story begins with a neighbor who introduced Dr. DeLoach to fly fishing about sixteen years ago. Little did Dr. De Loach realize that this would lead to a total immersion in the sport of fly fishing.
A few short years later would see his son, Brian, become deeply involved in the sport. Fascination and dedication to the sport has opened the door for Brian to be recognized as a licensed instructor with the Fly Fishers International and the American Casting Association.
The Lee University Fly Fishing Club was started in 2014. Interest in fly fishing has shown tremendous growth, resulting in accreditation by the university. The curriculum for the 2020 spring semester starts with the basics for the new person but also serves as a review for those experienced fly fishers.
And yes, there is homework. What would a class be without homework? Members are assigned a YouTube video to familiarize themselves with the basics of casting a fly rod.
Attending a classroom session and taking a seat in a back corner, I heard a muted buzz of conversation as the club members arrived and greeted each other. Brian DeLoach used the board to explain the characteristics of the fly rod. This class was an explanation of the dynamics of the fly rod during the casting cycle. Glancing around the room, it was evident Brian had the complete attention of the group.
The class ended with the rods and reels handed out to be assembled and set up for a practice session using what they had learned. The instructors, Brian DeLoach and Blaze Benton, assist the students with the assembly, disassembly and care of the rod, reel and line.
Meeting outside allows plenty of elbow room for casting, putting into practice what was learned from the video and in the classroom. The class is organized in a logical sequence, starting with the basic casting techniques and progressing to catching fish. Catching a fish involves several steps- setting the hook, fighting the fish, netting the fish and safely releasing the fish.
Waders and wading boots are welcome to combat the cold water that is characteristic of trout waters. Instructions for their care and maintenance will result in many seasons of use.
Safety on the water is also emphasized, whether wading a symphonic mountain stream, navigating a large river or lake from a boat. Various types of personal flotation devices are worn to show what is available with the pros and cons of each type. Class time and outdoor interaction also emphasize proper etiquette either on the water or fishing from a boat.
The science of insects, entomology, is taught by biology professor, Dr. Michael Freake. Learning what lives in the water is matched with the life cycle of aquatic insects and learning what flies imitate their different life cycles.
Part of fly fishing is tying the flies to imitate insect life. Nothing is as rewarding as catching a fish on a fly of your own crafting. Other food sources considered are fish, amphibians and crustaceans. Tying vises, the tools and how they are used, combining materials as fur, feathers and synthetics to create the fly. Tying simple flies is a springboard to more complex flies. Videos are useful as the entire group can watch the process and not be limited to crowding around an instructor.
What would a class be without being able to put into practice what was learned? Musicians give recitals. Chemistry students go through a series of steps to identify a mystery substance. Fly fishers gather all they have learned by wading into a stream, determining what insects might be active or hatching that time of year and presenting the fly where a fish is most likely to be found. Final exams were never this much fun!
Club members have the option of trying out for the competitive fly fishing team. The fly fishing team has competitions with other colleges and universities in the some of the premier trout streams and rivers in the southeast. Competitions are coordinated by Benton, an accomplished fly angler and instructor. As with any organized competition, there are rules in place that put everyone on an equal basis. The fishing area is divided onto areas called beats. Teams consists of two anglers. One person fishes. When a fish is caught, the other team member begins to fish. Fishing is done in timed segments with each fish measured and released.
The coronavirus has cancelled spring semester activities. There were planned fishing trips around the area which translate into on-the-job training. Or should we say on-the-water training? As conditions improve, opportunities for fishing, fun and fellowship with the club members will abound.