Reel Adventure: Shi Institute hosts Fly Fishing MayX course

Last updated May 22, 2024

By Web Admin

“Ever since I was very young, I have had a passion for freshwater and the organisms that live in it,” said Biology major Emily Baxter ’25. “I grew up on Lake Hartwell and have fished my whole life, so once I realized I could have a career that helps anglers and the fisheries industry at the same time, I knew I had to pursuit it!”

“From the very beginning, I knew this class would push me out of my comfort zone,” said Physics major Aubin Vertueux Dzossa Bontse ’27, a native of Cameroon. “I had never fished before and, having lived in the United States for only a year, I didn’t know much about how fishing is done here.”

Though coming from completely different backgrounds, both were excited to be part of this year’s May Experience course, “Fly Fishing and River Conservation,” taught by the Shi Institute’s Mike Winiski and guest instructor Jamie Calkin.

Walhalla State Fish HatcheryAs part of the three-week course, 11 undergraduate students learned the history of fly fishing, stream structure and river conservation. They studied trout biology and behavior, aquatic insects and other species. They also considered their roles in nature and how humans interact with their environment.

Trips to fishing spots, including the Saluda, Davidson and Chattooga rivers, Jones Gap State Park and Pisgah National Forest are all part of the experience. Students learned about the gestalt of fly fishing and discussed selected fly fishing literature from authors such as Norman Maclean, who wrote the classic novel, “A River Runs Through It.” Their final projects included creating a StoryMap, a visual diary with maps that captured the spirit of their fishing adventures.

Though the class didn’t directly relate to his major, Business Administration major Max Berhold ’25 said he enjoyed the opportunity to learn outdoors and try something new. “This is a class that asks for you to show up and have a growth mindset,” he said.

The class was also an easy choice for Vertueux Dzossa Bontse, who plans to pursue his interest in sustainability science as he prepares for a career in engineering. The time spent outdoors was also invaluable, to not only get to know classmates, but to appreciate the beauty of the area’s mountains, rivers and streams, he said.

“Fishing enabled us to establish an immersive connection with nature. When in those rivers, it seemed to us like nothing existed besides the fish and nature surrounding us,” he said. “The fishing experience in this class also enabled me to develop patience and persistence, in addition to various fly fishing techniques.”

One week, the class visited the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery in Mountain Rest, S.C. where they learned about the life cycles of various trout species and the vital role of hatcheries in replenishing natural populations in the region from Manager Scott Poore.

Emily BaxterFor Baxter, the time spent at the hatchery gave her a preview of her summer work. She began as an intern at the hatchery June 3 and will continue there through the start of the fall semester.

“I’ll get to learn a variety of things such as how the hatchery staff raise, feed and stock different variations of trout,” said Baxter.  “I will also get to travel with the other freshwater fisheries interns of South Carolina and learn about a variety of other hatcheries in the state. I’m extremely excited!”

Baxter says she’ll be taking experiences and her newly-acquired fly fishing skills from her May class with her.

“Before this class, I had no experience with fly fishing at all… I feel as if this experience has opened my eyes to a different way of fishing that has refueled my passion for the activity!” she said. “While I’m working at the hatchery this summer, I intend on fishing the rivers nearby on the weekends and getting better with my casting and knots! I’m excited to start my own journey now and learn even more!”