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Liam Wood Flyfishers and River Guardians


ESCI 315 Art, Science, and Ethics of Flyfishing &

ESCI 316 Advanced Flyfishing: River Stewardship, Reflection, and Native Trout


Liam Wood’s passion and love for flyfishing were firmly established by the time he celebrated his ninth birthday. His mother, Marlene Robinson, took him to a flyfishing shop in Oregon, where Liam was outfitted and learned some basic casting methods. For the next several years, Liam practiced his craft.


In 1994, when Liam was 14 years old, he, Marlene and Liam’s stepfather, Bruce Brabec, moved north from Corvallis to Bellingham. Liam’s fervor for flyfishing came with him. He mastered the science of learning how to read water, how to predict where the fish were and how to tie his own flies. He read books on flyfishing, wrote short stories, and sought out not only the mystery and wonder of flyfishing, but also experienced the infinite, often subtle lessons revealed along the way. Through these experiences, Liam cultivated a respect for fish, flyfishing, and the natural world and wild places that sustain fish. 


In June 1999, Liam graduated from Sehome High School. A few days later, on June 10, Liam went to H and H Outdoors Sports where he was working. He was not needed for work that day, so he decided to—what else—go flyfishing. Liam was standing in Whatcom Creek, flyfishing for trout when Olympic Pipeline Company’s gas pipeline burst upstream, sending 229,950 gallons of gasoline in the creek, before exploding.  Liam was overtaken by the fumes, passed out and drowned. He was 18 years old.


 The idea of starting a flyfishing education program in Bellingham, Washington came from renowned Northwest author, David James Duncan, who has written, among a variety of books, The River Why and My Story as Told by Water.


Shortly after the pipeline tragedy, Duncan learned that his writings were a source of inspiration to Liam. Duncan came to Bellingham for a book signing in 2001 and took some time to investigate Whatcom Creek and learn more about Liam’s short life and passion for flyfishing. Duncan shared his thoughts about the creek and Liam and subsequently came up with the idea of starting a flyfishing school in Bellingham in honor of Liam.


The name chosen by Liam’s family and others is the Liam Wood Flyfishing and River Guardian School. The name reflects the intent of the program: to introduce youth students and other community members to flyfishing with the hope that their experiences with flyfishing will engender a respect of the natural world and river ecosystems, and compel action toward conservation and stewardship of these places.


The initial step was the creation of a summer class in 2004 at Western Washington University in Bellingham, called The Art, Science and Ethics of Flyfishing. This three-credit course, offered by Dr. Leo Bodensteiner and Steve Meyer, has the dual purpose of teaching students how to flyfish and using flyfishing as a window into the structure, function, and restoration of river ecosystems and will be offered again in 2012.  Again in  2013 we are offering both a morning and of an evening section so students will have the choice of getting up bright and early or falling gently asleep, perhaps with rod still in hand.


PARTNERSHIPS:  Several partners have provided financial and in-kind support.  Thanks to Whatcom County Community Foundation, Patagonia, Sage, Fourth Corner Fly Fishers, and David Duncan, and Glen Brackett. 


VISIT the Paul and Mary Ann Ford Fly Fishing Collection at Wilson Library, WWU.


More information can be obtained from:

Leo Bodensteiner, WWU Huxley College of the Environment  (360) 650-7375 Leo.Bodensteiner@wwu.edu or

Steve Meyer, flicaster@gmail.com