Galax Elementary Enrichment: Fly Fishing

During the week of February 9th, BRDC participated in the Galax Elementary Enrichment Week. This was a fantastic offering by the Galax Public School System where students got to take in-depth courses on particular subjects. One of the programs we offered was all about fly fishing. 32 enthusiastic second and fourth graders signed up for our five day, 15-hour fly fishing course.

We began the program by introducing them to the concept of journalling and diagramming while handing out their personal journals for the week. They split into groups to research the Blue Ridge Mountains and the essence of fly fishing in a Self Organized Learning Environment (S.O.L.E). After they finished their collaborative poster boards they presented their findings to the rest of the class. The students proved to be very resourceful in their research but shy in their presentations. Although some of the students knew each other, most had never met being that they were from different grades. By the end of the day a sense of camaraderie had developed with the students and new friendships were forming.

The second day of the course was dedicated to teaching them all about the equipment and techniques of fly fishing in preparation for a field trip to the creek the next day. The students braved the cold February wind as we taught them a basic fly cast through the National Fishing in the Schools method. They learned how to put their rods together, string them up, and execute the "11 steps to a basic fly cast".  At the end of the day, we finished in a circle, telling rounds of completely honest fish stories!

Wednesday was the only day of the week forecasted for sunshine, so we dedicated that day to the outdoors and went fishing! We were blessed with a wind-free, sunny and 50 degree day in early February! The kids had come prepared for arctic weather but where shedding layers as soon as they stepped off the bus at Dannely Park. They spent the day swapping waders and casting flies into Chestnut Creek with a Tenkara fly rod. The ones who weren't fly fishing were picking through aquatic insects and identifying them under the microscope. Although no fish were caught (we used hookless flies) Volunteer, Lisa Benish was able to spot two sizable rainbow trout in the cold clear water. Of all of the great activities we did this week the one that I reflect on most fondly was watching the kids cast on the creek. Kids this age are a ball of energy and their focus is often measured in seconds, but when they put the waders on, stepped into the creek and began casting, their attention became singular and they each cast for twenty minutes straight without saying much other than "this is awesome".

On the fourth day the subject was bugs. To start the day the young fly fishermen got some energy out in the gym during an "aquatic macro-invertebrate relay" as part of the NFSP curriculum. They learned about the three most important types of trout food: Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddisflies. The rest of the class was dedicated to patiently tying imitative flies with equipment generously loaned from Ernie Barker of Trout Unlimited. We set up vises and hooks for each student and they used feathers, chenille and thread to tie a "Wolly Bugger" and a "Griffith's Gnat".  This was a major challenge for this age group, but they stepped up and each student completed their flies for take home at the end of the course.

Our final day together was dedicated to competition! We took over the gymnasium and put the fly rods together. In pairs, the students learned to cast with "rod" hand and "line" hand. As their skills increased they casted for "Real Fake Fish" while learning about different sport fish species. We concluded with a casting competition where the students competed in pairs to hit the bull's eye target on ten sequential casts. At the end of the day the kids went home with their journals, chock-full of of the things they learned during the week.

I am amazed at how much these kids soaked up in five days and I hope that it made an impression on them for a lifetime.

Many thanks to Lisa Benish for her dedicated efforts for the program. Her enthusiasm for the sport of fly fishing is surpassed by none! Thanks to Ernie Barker! His loan of the fly tying equipment took the program to another level. Also many thanks to "Mr. Rob" and Mrs. Webb for their tireless efforts to make sure each kid got the most out of the program. A special thanks to Mike Floyd and Roald Kirby for assisting at the creek.