Environmental Sciences 315: The Art, Science, and Ethics of Flyfishing

3 credits

Summer Quarter 2013 Morning (AM) Section:  June 24—July 19 (4 weeks)

Summer Quarter 2013 Evening (PM) Section:  June 24—July 21 (4 weeks)

 Instructors: Leo Bodensteiner and Steve Meyer, Dept. of Environmental Sciences, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University

Offices: Environmental Studies 442

Phones: 650-7375

Email: Leo Bodensteiner & Steve Meyer

Purpose:  The twofold purpose of this class is to: (1) learn how to fly fish; and (2) use flyfishing as a window into environmental studies and, more specifically, into the structure and function of river ecosystems and how people interact with them. This course will combine lectures, discussions, and laboratory and field exercises to gain insight into river structure and function with flyfishing as a motivating activity.  To accomplish this we will integrate science, ethics, and environmental management.  From a scientific perspective, aspects of hydrology, water quality, taxonomy of stream organisms (fish and macroinvertebrates), and ecological processes will be addressed.  Environmental ethics will be examined and discussed in historical, literary, and aesthetic contexts.  Environmental management will focus on preservation, mitigation and restoration philosophies applied to streams.  Classroom activities to achieve these objectives will include identification of stream organisms, fly tying, flycasting, and rod building.  Selections from related literature and film will expose students to applied and philosophical elements of watershed management.  Thus, in addition to gaining an science-based understanding of stream ecology, students will learn to flyfish, providing them with a new perspective on conservation and a basis for rapport with a large segment of the population of Washington state and the U.S. 

This course was proposed by Northwest author and flyfishing advocate David James Duncan and developed through a series of discussions involving a number of community members:  Wendy Scherrer (former Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) executive director), Dr. David Hooper (WWU Biology Dept., NSEA Board), Bret Simmons (attorney, flyfisher, NSEA Board member), Leo Bodensteiner, (WWU Huxley College), Klaus Lohse (Fourth Corner Fly Fishers), and Bruce Brabec and Marlene Robinson (parents of Liam Wood).  Other partners in this effort include Fred Meyer, Patagonia, Sage, Fourth Corner Fly Fishers, the Northwest Women Flyfishers, and the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association.

Audience:  The intended target is students pursuing degrees in environmental studies, current secondary teachers interested in incorporating these themes in their classroom curricula, other environmental educators, and exceptional individuals with knowledge of ecology.  Efforts will be focused on enrolling students that have had little exposure to recreational fishing.

Rationale:  Angling often represents one of the most significant early childhood experiences in which we interact with nature.  For many it becomes a lifelong pursuit, which involves not only catching fish, but instills a desire to become more environmentally responsible. In Washington State in 2001 nearly 1 million anglers spent 12.8 million days and 854 million dollars pursuing fish.  The dedicated federal excise tax on fishing equipment provides more than 200 million dollars annually to the states for management, conservation, and restoration of fishery resources.  Perhaps most importantly, on an individual level angling has stimulated a concern for the natural environment and provided the impetus for environmental activism, ranging from spending weekends planting trees and clearing brush in streamside restoration efforts to political lobbying to address larger scale environmental issues.  Certainly, this concern is evident in local efforts and activities by organizations such as the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, to which Huxley has close ties.

In Bellingham, we also have a heightened awareness of the threats to our streams and to our community as a result of the environmental catastrophe and the human tragedy caused by the gasoline spill and subsequent fire in the Whatcom Creek basin on June 10, 1999.  Three lives were lost and an entire ecosystem was altered.  To honor the memory of the young man who was fishing at the time of the fire and to create an opportunity to promulgate this environmental awareness, the Liam Wood Flyfishing and River Guardian School fund established at the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association Foundation is spearheading the development of an educational program designed to foster a greater understanding of rivers and streams of the Pacific Northwest and the creatures that inhabit them.

Class size: 16 students

Class meetings: AM section from 8:30 to 12 and PM section from 5 to 8:30 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in Environmental Studies 318; the last week concludes with a field trip to the Upper Skagit River in BC (AM 7/13-7/15; PM 7/15-7/17).  Outside of class we will have fishing trips and video nights.

Office Hours: 12-1 MWF

Web site: Flyfishing Course Website

Course Grade:

Grading for this class will be based on:

1)     Attendance and participation (10%),

2)     Quizzes and lab practical (15%)

3)     Book report (15%)

4)     Flyfisher's tour project (60%)

Attendance and Participation – Skipping chemistry class to go fishing is okay by us, but skipping fly-fishing class to mix up some acids and bases?  If you have other commitments that might make it difficult to attend class, you should reconsider enrolling.  This class will be a great learning experience.  It’s also a great way to spend the first month of summer learning how to fool and respect our finned friends. However, the class will be exponentially more fun for everyone if you have a positive attitude and help make the class succeed. This will be reflected in your grade.

Quizzes & Lab practical – Basic fish identification is a critical tool to the conservation-minded angler. We will test you throughout the four weeks on fish and bug identification. If you pay attention, the big quiz in week four should be no problem.

The Book Report - To further immerse yourself in the world of flyfishing, you will select a book that is ostensibly about flyfishing to read.  In week 4 you will give an oral report on the metaphorical and ecological implications of flyfishing to the story you have chosen.  Check out the Paul and Mary Ann Ford Collection in Wilson Library for some ideas.

The Project – The project will be a short research paper describing a five day fishing trip you will plan to anywhere in the world. It will be due the last day of the quarter before we leave for the final field trip. You will hand in a hard copy and a copy on disk or CD so we can load it on the class website. Use pictures to make it look good. Creativity is one of the goals here.

What could be better than sitting at your computer dreaming about standing ankle deep in the Bighorn casting a size 20 trico spinner at a rising 20” brown, AND writing a term paper at the same time!  Here are the rules... you will plan a trip to a “region” (ex. western Montana, North Idaho, France...) of the World. You have an unlimited budget. You will be fishing for at least five days on at least three different bodies of water. In your paper you need to:

At the end of your paper you should list the sources you used. Since this is not a scientific paper you do not need to cite your sources in the paper itself. You should use at least five, and web sites are fine (author, date of access, and web address as follows <http://www.fishinghole.com>).  

Grading -  A:92+; A-:90-91; B+:88-90; B:83-88; B-:80-82; C+:78-80; C:73-78; C-:70-72; D:60-70

Course materials:

Students will be expected to have a valid Washington Sport Fishing License (freshwater $21.90).  Students will also be expected to purchase a license for fishing in British Columbia waters for two days (one-day $20 CAN).  Rods, reels, lines and other materials will be provided.


Materials needed for classroom exercises will be provided.  We recommend purchasing one of the texts, depending on your interests, to further educate yourself about Washington lakes and streams.


Murdoch, Thomas B., Martha Cheo, and Kate O'Laughlin.  2001.  Streamkeeper’s Field Guide: Watershed Inventory and Stream Monitoring Methods.  Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, Everett, Washington.

Flyfisher's Guide to Washington (The Wilderness Adventures Flyfisher's Guide Series).  Wilderness Adventures Press, Belgrade Montana.

Wydoski, R. S., and R. R. Whitney. 2003. Inland Fishes of Washington, 2nd edition.  University of Washington Press, Seattle.



Select one of the following six books for your summer reading assignment.

River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

River Why by David James Duncan

Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway

The Earth Is Enough by Harry Middleton

My Story As Told By Water By David James Duncan

An Entirely Synthetic Fish by Anders Halverson


Selected essays will also be provided for discussion.


2012 Course Schedule for AM (8:30-12) and PM (5-8:30) sections

Week 1 - Fish and Flyfishing

Day 1  Introduction to flyfishing equipment rods, reels, lines, how to rig up, flies; Knots & casting

Day 2  Field trip to Squalicum Lake for casting practice and fishing - license required

Thurs.  Video night and pot luck dinner – A River Runs through It - Leo's house

Day 3  Common sport fish species in Washington; Fly fishing strategies for fishing creeks, rivers, and lakes;  Regulations and management

Week 2 - Stream Ecology

Day 4  Fish, food webs, and productivity; Stream structure and function; River Continuum Concept; Tying the woolly bugger - Fourth Corner Fly Fishers

Day 5  Chuckanut Creek / Whatcom Creek collecting; Biology of the bugs; Imitating Western insects

Thur.    Video night and dessert - Running the Gauntlet - Leo's house

Day 6  Field trip to Whatcom Cr. – fish, bugs, and fishing

Week 3 - Habitat

Day 7  The art of the bamboo rod; Book reports; Tying the elkhair caddis - Fourth  Corner Fly Fishers

Day 8  Independence Day holiday - University closed

Day 9  Field trip to a Middle Fork Nooksack River watershed

Week 4 - Integrating ethics and ecology

Day 10 Habitat conservation and management; Stream restoration; Tying the pheasant tail nymph - Fourth Corner Fly Fishers

Days 11-13 AM Section: Field trip to the Upper Skagit River, BC / Hozemeen campground,  Wed-Fri

                     PM Section: Field trip to the Upper Skagit River, BC / Hozemeen campground, Fri-Sun