The scenic Teller Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis became an outdoor classroom for a group of 35 lucky youngsters on Sunday afternoon during the annual Bitterroot Buggers fly-fishing excursion.
Now in its 15th year, the Bitterroot Buggers are local kids that are taught every step of fly-fishing by local experts from the Bitterroot Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
"This is a great program for the kids," said Greg Chaster of Bitterroot Trout Unlimited. "It teaches them to start thinking more about conservation. They learn entomology [the scientific study of insects], trout feeding habits, fishing etiquette, stream safety and fish identification."
Although the fish weren't exactly leaping out of the water at Thompson Pond on Sunday afternoon, the youngsters barely seemed to care that they weren't having much luck. Hence, the allure of fly-fishing.
"You never have a bad day of fishing, even if you don't catch any fish," Chaster said with a grin. "Catching fish is secondary. This is another way to try fishing. Most fly-fishermen and women release the fish they catch. Also, fly-fishing doesn't injure the fish as much."
Ten-year-old Brianna Muller, using a fly-rod for the first time ever, actually had a nice form to her cast. She carefully watched her fly, then with graceful motions created a nearly perfect arcing rainbow with her line before the fly came to rest on the water about 15 feet in front of her. No bites, but the smile on Muller's face belied the satisfaction she gained from one almost perfect cast.
"I usually fish with bobbers," she said with a wide smile. "That's easier. But this is really fun."
Ria Overholt of the Hamilton School District, is the director of the Keystone to Discovery Enrichment Program that coordinates with Trout Unlimited on the outing.
"This is a completely free program for the kids," she explained. "It's all volunteer hours as well. Flyfishers of the Bitterroot and Trout Unlimited all donate their time, money and effort to help these kids. They subsidize the cost of buying rods and they underwrite the fly-tying kits. It makes this sport accessible to these kids."
Chris Clancy from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks also taught the youngsters about proper fish licensing and identification, as well as limits on certain species. There are beginner and advanced classes as well.
Twelve-year-old Minica Casbara of Hamilton Middle School is a student in the advanced classes. This summer, for the third year in a row, she will go on an all-expenses paid trip, courtesy of Trout Unlimited, to Georgetown Lake for a fishing summer camp.
"They are going to take us to a secret creek that nobody ever goes," she said. "It's going to be really fun."
As the sun broke over the group and the smell of hamburgers wafted through the air, young fisherman Chance Schmitt of Hamilton gazed out over the calm blue waters, and 10-year-old Colton Mason of Corvallis Primary school watched keenly as instructor Kurt McChesney fixed a fly. The serenity of fly-fishing is something that is appreciated by both young and old.
As veteran fly-fishermen explained the finer points of untangling a fly from a stump or the best way to grip a rod, it was evident that the mentors gain almost as much as the apprentices during the outing.
"We have a great time teaching these kids," Chaster said. "It's something they can do for the rest of their lives, and it gives them an awareness about the ecosystem here."
According to Overholt, fly-fishing is an activity that transcends generations.
"It's a family activity, that's what's so great about it," she said. "Parents and grandparents can do this with their kids."
Reporter David Erickson can be reached at 363-3300 or email@example.com.