by Joseph Horn
For the second summer in a row, Maine Outdoor School was asked to do a fly-tying workshop with the students of CCLC’s River Camp program at Downeast Salmon Federation’s Wigwams Camp on the Machias River. Fly-tying is the traditional handcraft of using thread to tie various natural materials onto a hook to create a nearly weightless lure that can be used in fly-fishing to catch fish. So it was only natural that this year CCLC also wanted the students to have an opportunity to try their hand at fly-casting as well.
The fly the students worked on was the mohair leech—a fly which is tied using turkey marabou feathers and angora goat wool yarn which imitates leeches or minnows depending on the colors and how the fly is fished. After the group had successfully tied 26 of these flies, they moved on to fly-casting.
First they worked on the 10 o’clock/ 2 o’clock casting stroke with a single hand and a single rod’s length of line out in front of them before they began to draw out more line, use their second hand in combination with their rod hand, and cast out further. “That felt so good!” one student exclaimed after executing a perfect cast across the field, leaving the colorful proof of the cast laid out in forty feet of fly line in the grass for all to see.
As the sun fell low in the sky, all but one student packed up their rods and headed into the cabin to put on dinner, write letters to family, and chat in the bug-free common space of the cabin. The one student that left his rod out shuffled off to the picnic table where he had tied his flies, tied one on, and headed down to the bank.
Over dinner the students reflected on the day. The student that had gone down the river to fly-fish announce to the group that today was not only the first time he had ever tied a fly, cast a fly rod, or fly-fished, but also the day when he caught the largest fish of his life—a 15-inch fall fish.
Fly-tying, casting, and fishing may seem like an odd pursuit for a conservation-based summer program, but these traditional pursuits represent some of the only ways that folks can have authentic experiences with the fisheries. Otherwise, the aquatic ecosystem goes generally unnoticed by our terrestrial communities. By teaching responsible ways of fishing, Maine Outdoor School and CCLC is able to teach the next generation to care for and conserve fish and the aquatic ecosystems they rely on.
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