The Classroom of Fishing

Life Long Learner. It’s a popular buzz phrase in the world of education. 24 years ago I chose to become a teacher and, not surprisingly, this phrase is a core value in most everything I do. More importantly, I have learned the importance of reflection as a key component to success in learning. The process of reflection provides us the knowledge to be informed, to adapt our behavior and to grow.

It seems simple…learning over time and progressing as people. I believe strongly in this process of progression in order to be more human. I want that, and as I age, I want to pass that on to my own kids. The problem comes with figuring out how to share my experiences and learnings with them without it sounding like a lecture.

When I reflect on my experience and interaction with fishing and GFW, I realize it has been one of the most important classrooms of my existence. While I don’t get grades for each experience or every time out, there are definitely times when I feel like I “aced” it, as well as times I “bombed.” In that way, it is just like life. But without reflecting on why we ace parts of our lives and why we fail, we will never grow; we will never learn. The best way I know how to evolve my relationship with fishing, or any relationship, is to reflect.

So, I decided to try and put in words what I have learned from fishing. What has 30 years on the river taught me? It sounds cheesy, but again, thinking deeply about something I love makes sense. And sharing that with others in the hopes of passing on knowledge is sewn into the fabric of my being…I’m a teacher.


This seems like a no-brainer. The delicate nature that defines the act of fly fishing demands attention. When learning how to cast, I came to understand the design and purpose of the fly rod and line. They are to work together in order to work at all. Speed, tempo, and timing are at the center of it all when it comes to casting a fly, and it won’t ever work without patience. Just when you think you have it figured out, the fish moves a little further out and you have to adjust your cast.

That’s what patience is…the calm desire to change, adjust and adapt. It is the central characteristic for any successful fisherman, who’s prey can most often be described as “finicky.” I am a classic trout bum and have experienced day’s when fishing is easy; however, most days it tests my patience.

Not only have I learned the value of patience on the river, it has been invaluable in helping me grow as a teacher, a husband, a dad, a brother, a son, a friend, and every other “hat” I wear. As a middle school teacher, patience has certainly played a significant role in my being able to continue working with kids. When we are able to transfer skills from one aspect of our lives to another, we are truly learning.


There seems to be a big difference between solitude and loneliness. I think the biggest differentiator is desire. With solitude, the desire exists to be alone. Or at least, I don’t mind when I am by myself. I used to get nervous going fishing alone. You hear stories about people going off into the wilderness, never to return, their car found a few days later at the trailhead. That happens more than I’d like out here in the west. So it seems to always be in the back of my mind when I go out for a day of fishing with no company. However, over time I have come to cherish and understand the time alone on these day long fishing excursions….the solitude.

It allows me to be unfiltered in a way that brings any and all thought about subjects and topics that just sort of appear from the depths of my brain. And yes, there are times when I discuss my opinion or give my take out loud…a conversation with myself. Now I just need to figure out how to avoid these “aloud” conversations with myself when others are present.

On the flipside, and probably the more important learning I have gained, is how to shut the hell up and just be quiet, listening to all that is happening around me. A day alone on the river provides an environment to observe. I definitely learn through observation, through being quiet and taking in my surroundings. Yes, solitude has taught me how to be to be a better listener, which seems ironic, but is true.

Knowing when to observe and listen and understanding when to speak has made me a better husband, father and teacher. I don’t always get it right, just ask my wife, but I get it right a lot more than I used to. Over time I have gotten comfortable with being alone. Solitude brings comfort. Fishing has given me this gift.


Fishing is therapy. Ok, maybe not in the sense that the fish can probe me with questions to get to something deeper in my conscience like a real therapist would do. I’m not saying that. However, time spent fly fishing on a river brings a sense of calm to my world.

I come from a family of therapists and people with psychology backgrounds. As a kid, it was rare that I could come to the breakfast table with the sharing of a dream without one of the standard follow up questions from my dad, “What do you think that means?” or “How does that make you feel?” So when I think about fishing as catharsis, there is a connection.

The whole point of a therapist is to help teach you the unconscious patterns of thinking and behaviors you exhibit when you experience obstacles or trauma in your life. The idea is that you learn how to better understand yourself and better navigate your world. As a therapist helps you with self discovery, it allows you to change your behaviors and thinking to something more beneficial and healthy; it brings a sense of calm to your life. This is the parallel to fishing.

When fishing with friends, they listen and offer advice to the happenings in my life. When fishing alone, the conversations with myself (as mentioned earlier, many times out loud) provide a relief from the stress or obstacles that present themselves. People always say that journaling can bring this same kind of relief…just writing down your thoughts can help dump stuff from your head. Through the years, fishing has provided me an avenue to create this “emotional dumping ground” while doing something I truly love. Fishing has taught me the importance and necessity of this cathartic practice.


The hippie in me sometimes shines bright, especially with preservation. As the world population grows, and it seems to be growing at an alarming rate, it also seems logical that the pressure to preserve the ecology will grow.

As I walk river banks and stream sides, I observe. I look for traces of human contact…garbage. I always try to haul out the remnants someone has left behind. It isn’t always just people being ignorant and littering; often, the ebbs and flows of water lever in a river as a result of runoff and damn releases pushes “stuff” around. Add to that some intense high wind storms blowing peoples’ garbage cans over and occasionally trash just ends up where it isn’t supposed to. I like to think it’s more a case of the latter, but I know that isn’t likely. No matter, I always try to “hike out” trash I find whenever I go fishing. It seems simple enough, and it doesn’t require anything difficult on my part. Just a willingness to leave the place better than I found it.

I want to be able to fish when I am older (as long as possible); the only way to experience longevity is through preservation. When people use the outdoors and experience all that it provides, it seems logical to me that preservation would be at the forefront of every person’s thinking. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Often when I bend down to pick up a piece of trash, a Grateful Dead tune starts playing in my head…it’s that hippie thing again. Yes, fishing has definitely taught me the importance of preservation.


The best of all things, friendship! Through the years, fishing has been the platform for pulling together a group of people who I consider my closest friends. They are the people I analyze with, confide in, laugh with, listen to, argue with, and make sense of; they are the people whom I most deeply share my life.

The staple Guys Fishing Weekend trip has given me the joy of discovery in what real connectedness means. As a male trying to navigate the often difficult messages and expectations our culture sets, these friendships give me a safe place to explore, to be unyielding, to be exposed, and to be vulnerable. A true relationship allows you to experience these raw emotions, and I am lucky that I have found this in my friendships with these guys. This learning is the most important of all.

We have discovered the hard work it takes to develop and maintain these kinds of relationships. Friendship is a two way street; longevity requires patience, dedication, and devotion…from everyone. When you have that, you experience true connectedness.

I feel a similar connectedness when standing in the middle of a stream, reading it, casting to a trout I know is there. Fishing has been the provider of these incredible teachings and experiences with these friends and the outdoors.

I don’t consider myself an expert in anything. Perhaps fishing has also taught me humility. It’s taught me a whole bunch of useful stuff I carry into my life. And that’s the beauty of it. I’m not even aware of the multitude of things fishing has given me. But here’s what I do know…whenever I reflect on it, think about it, plan it, and schedule it, fishing brings joy…true happiness and joy. I want to fill my life with as much of this as I can.

Reflection has allowed me to view fishing as a classroom. For many, that might ruin the experience, as they have a negative connotation with schooling. However, for me…this process helps me to discover new value in what I do and love. It opens my mind to experience more…to learn more.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top