How To Major in Fly-Fishing

How To Major in Fly-Fishing

In college I majored in trout, with a minor in smallmouth bass. No, I wasn't a fisheries student but an obsessed angler. The small college I went through

  • By: W. D. Wetherell
In college I majored in trout, with a minor in smallmouth bass. No, I wasn't a fisheries student but an obsessed angler. The small college I went through the motions of attending was located in the Green Mountains of Vermont, with trout streams on one side and Lake Champlain on the other. The nearby water was the primary reason I chose to go there, and I took full advantage. I'd cut class in the afternoon, hitchhike up to the New Haven River, amuse the trout there with my novice casting, then do the same with the bigger trout in Otter Creek.Occasionally, I'd manage to find someone to drive me over to the White River, which was at its peak in those days so even a novice like me could hook a few good fish. This was time well spent (at least I thought so; the dean however, thought otherwise). Not only did I absorb more philosophy out on the river than I did in the classroom, but if you combine my "field work" with the journal I was writing back in my dorm at night, I was acquiring the basis of what would later turn out to be a semi-marketable skill. I've been remembering those days lately as my daughter, Erin, a junior in high school as I write this, begins the long and painful process of applying to college. Between college fairs, those awful US News&World Report rankings, guidance counselors and SAT prep courses, the college admissions process has become a big, complicated mess. In the midst of all this, it occurred to me that she could do worse than pick her college based on the quality and availability of the nearby fishing. The way I see it, my daughter (who likes to fly-fish, by the way) will spend four years (at least) at whatever school she chooses. And chances are I'll be paying her frequent visits over that time. So it makes sense to have some nearby recreational opportunities when I visit. I should also add that Dad will be footing the majority of the tuition bill, so my input is no small matter. Not too long ago I was visiting a college in upstate New York with my daughter. On the campus tour for prospective students and their parents I noticed with some interest that the campus adjoined a beautiful lake. One father on that tour asked, "What's your acceptance ratio at med schools?" Another parent demanded, "What's the average amount of your scholarship-aid package?" Raising my hand I asked, "Are there trout in there? Your lake; any trout?" The student guide just blinked in puzzlement. My daughter was not amused-yet later in the motel, she admitted that yes, it might be nice having a campus where, between classes, you could cast for trout. That got me thinking, and I decided prospective college applicants (and their angling-minded parents) needed a top-10 list of colleges based on the kinds of fly-fishing opportunities to be had nearby. OK, maybe this is not as important as, say, the student-to-faculty ratio or the ever-important financial aid program, but I think there's plenty of kids and parents out there to whom fishing is an important factor. Please keep in mind however, that these are my own personal rankings, tailored to my own fishing interests (excuse me-my daughter's); the North is given more prominence than the South, and trout are given more weight than other species. Of course, someone else could come up with a list just as mouthwatering focusing on, say, the South and saltwater. Also, one of the things I considered is that the academic year doesn't always correspond to the best fishing months; some of my choices were made simply because the nearby fishing is good most of the year, and not just in summer. A Portrait of the Angler as an Undergraduate A recent graduate remembers the late, great good old days Not to get too deep or anything, but the fact is that college pretty much ruled. Now, I won't go and say that it was the best time of my life but, honestly, it was pretty good. That I spent a good part of my undergraduate tenure fly-fishing played no small role in this assignment (along with equal parts adult freedom, post-adolescent irresponsibility and, of course, college girls). However, you won't find my alma mater, the University of Missouri, ranked on any top-10 list of fly-fishing colleges, which I guess is appropriate, as central Missouri isn't much of a fly-angling destination in the first place. But, like dozens of other colleges and universities also not on W.D. Wetherell's top-10 list-and I'm particularly thinking of all the colleges ringing the Appalachian and Smoky mountains-this doesn't mean there's no fishing to be had near MU. Far from it, in fact. During my protracted undergraduate career (Five years is like the new four years) I found on the land surrounding the campus a bevy of streams, ponds and rivers where I spent many afternoons and evenings tossing hoppers and Buggers to bass when I could (and perhaps should) have been studying. Now, I'd be lying if I told you I used to head to the river in those days to escape the pressures and stress of my rigorous academic studies and to reconnect with nature and all that. Maybe that was in there somewhere, but my prime motives were simply 1) the desire to skip class, 2) the urge to drink cold beer in the afternoon sun, and 3) I was absolutely sure there was a four-pound smallmouth living in that bend pool of the creek running just south of campus. It was common for my buddies, Mike and Matt, and me to meet at my apartment around noon for a couple lunchtime beers and a game of horseshoes between classes. If the day were warm and sunny we'd often decide then and there to cut class for the afternoon and go fishing at a nearby farm pond or stream. In a more extreme case, Fridays were viewed as completely expendable, and on those days we'd cut class and drive the two hours south to fish for rainbows and browns on the Current River for the weekend. This was not without its costs, though. I can recall many late-evening Sunday drives back to campus from a weekend trip to the river with my stomach in knots over the project I had to finish for class on Tuesday or the all-nighter that lay before me when we got back. In my more learned, late-college years I would simply bring my notebook and assignments with me to look over during the drive, which proves that responsibility does indeed come with age. Despite all that, I didn't totally ignore my studies. The simple truth is that there's not a whole lot of fly-fishing to be had in central Missouri during the winter, so during those cold months I made up for my spring and fall absenteeism. But even then, there was still plenty to keep me busy and distracted: fly-tying, beer and (God bless 'em) college girls. I reckon I did well enough in my majors of history and journalism to land an internship (and eventually a job) in a somewhat respectable field upon graduation. But sometimes I wonder whether, if I had hit the books a bit more and fished a bit less in college, I might not now have a successful and prestigious job as say, a lawyer or accountant. Jim Reilly graduated in 2003, and is now FR&R's assistant editor.