In January, students at St. John’s Academy will have the option of adding fly fishing to a curriculum that includes world studies, theology, and Latin.
St. John’s Academy is the first school in Ohio to take part in the "National Fishing in Schools Program" that teaches fly fishing as a regular for-credit class. It will be offered as an “enrichment” course at St. John’s, like band and choir.
“I saw this as an opportunity to bring in something new, and something I see as having a lot of value,” said principal Bryon Borgelt, who will teach the fishing class next semester. “We love doing creative things, and this certainly fits that description.”
Borgelt received formal training to become a certified instructor with the course on Monday from NFSP volunteer Jeff Recker, who also gave about a dozen St. John’s Academy students hands-on lessons in some of the basics of fly fishing in the auxiliary gym.
“It is great that they are giving these students the opportunity to learn the correct method of fly casting when they are young,” Recker said. “Adults are tougher to teach, because they’ve usually developed bad habits. This program teaches a standardized, step-by-step method that you can continually reinforce.”
Borgelt, who runs the fly fishing club at St. John’s High School and also directs a summer fishing program for about 50 middle school-aged students, said he plans to offer the course for seventh and eighth graders next semester, and has already had about 15 students express interest in taking the fly fishing class.
“I learned on my own, and I spent years trying to figure it out. I’ve been fly fishing for about 20 years, and I’m pretty impressed with what this course involves,” said Borgelt, who added that the fly fishing class could be added at the high school level in the future, if the interest level is present.
The curriculum is designed to provide 10 classes of 50 minutes in length, and the course kit and materials St. John’s will purchase from NFSP includes 10 complete fly rod and reel outfits, casting targets, visual aids, flies, leaders, fly-tying materials, and a large banner that displays the proper casting technique.
Borgelt said St. John’s will cover the approximate $3,200 cost of the course, which includes the instructor training session and access to additional educational materials. St. John’s also has donated fly fishing equipment on hand, he said.
Recker said that in other states where the program has been in place longer, such as Tennessee and Virginia, the state department of natural resources or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has provided grant money to cover the cost of the instructional kits.
“In Ohio, we don’t have the grant support from ODNR yet, but I think they are just waiting to see how it works out,” he said. “We think the funding will come along, and we hope to see the program grow dramatically here.”
The University of Alabama held a training session for course instructors recently and will add fly fishing as a required class for all students majoring in an outdoors-related curriculum, Recker said.
“There’s a lot of interest because we’re not just teaching kids to fish. They are learning stewardship, conservation, ecology, and a respect for the outdoors at the same time,” he said.
The National Fishing in Schools Program is a Nebraska-based nonprofit that receives funding from the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and from private donations, according to Recker, who is a telecommunications worker from Tennessee.
The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, a consortium of state and federal natural resources agencies, the fishing and boating industry, and public interest groups, is funded by the Sport Fish Restoration Program created by the Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950. That legislation provides grant money through the collection of excise taxes on fishing equipment, import duties on fishing tackle, yachts and pleasure boats, and a portion of the gasoline tax attributable to motorboats and small engines.
Borgelt said he plans to take the students enrolled in the St. John’s fly fishing course to area ponds to work on their skills, with outings to rivers in Ohio and Michigan also a possibility.
“Once they have the basics, ideally you want to get them out on a stream and let them have the full experience,” he said.
His fly fishing club members from the high school have traveled to the Muskegon and Au Sable rivers in Michigan on summer trips, and recently visited the Sunnybrook Trout Club near Sandusky. The school also has a drift boat for fishing outings.
“This is a great opportunity for these younger guys to learn a sport they will be able to enjoy for a lifetime,” said James Stephens, a St. John’s sophomore from Holland and a member of the school’s fly fishing club.
“You really connect with nature when you’re fly fishing. You see that trout rise to take the fly, and then you feel its energy and see the beauty of the fish in your hands. Fly fishing is an art, so why not teach it at school.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor
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