ON THE SIDELINES: When fishing is about more than just fishing
By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Henry David Thoreau, a 19th century writer and naturalist, once said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
So, if they’re not after fish, why do they load themselves down with expensive rods, reels, flies, bait, and waders? If not fish, what are they after?
They are after peace and a connection to the land.
A group of Cherokee Middle School sixth graders in Mathew Maney’s Wilderness class had a treat on Thursday, Aug. 18. They had a great opportunity to learn fly fishing from one of the best in the state, possibly one of the best upcoming fishermen in the country – Cherokee’s own Michael Bradley.
Bradley, an EBCI tribal member, is soft-spoken and gentle in his demeanor, but he is also incredibly passionate about the sport of fly fishing.
Several years ago, I wrote an article about him as he was climbing the ladder in the Trout Legend League – a title he won in 2014 and 2015. In it, we discussed his enjoyment of fishing and the sense of peacefulness it gives him. “It’s a lot more relaxing than anything I’ve ever done. It just gets me away from everything.”
Bradley also enjoys sharing his sport with others. “One of my favorite things is to watch somebody else catch a fish and for me to help them do it,” he told me during our discussion for the Trout Legend article.
Flash forward to Thursday afternoon, and he is standing in front of a group of middle school students on the bridge over the Oconaluftee River located just across the street from the school. It’s mid-August so the humidity is about 156 percent, but Bradley’s smile never stops peaking through his beard as he patiently talks to the students about fly lines, fly rods, flies, when fish bite, how to find fish, etc.
After a few minutes, the group proceeds to the bridge where Bradley lets the students try out their hand at fly casting with a piece of yarn tied to the end without a hook (for safety purposes).
After the first student tries his hand at it, Bradley asks who else would like to try.
“I do,” exclaimed Richard Mata who took the rod and after some brief instruction from Michael was getting into a nice rhythm. “This is fun, can I keep going?” asked Mata.
As Bradley spoke about fishing, the students thought they were learning about fly fishing, but they weren’t. They were learning about a sport that will take them into rivers and streams connecting them to the water and the world around them. They were learning about themselves and their place in nature.
Mathew Maney, CMS wilderness class teacher, commented, “We put a lot of science and a lot of culture into the Wilderness class.”
He said they use Cherokee language as much as possible when identifying wildlife, plants, and trees. “We identify and name the different things that the Cherokee used…we do talk about trout species and species that live in our streams around here.”
Maney said environmentalism is a large component for the class. “We try to teach them about protecting it, taking care of it, hopefully educating them on it and making them want to be out here and be a part of the outdoors. I think that’s important today because we know that they don’t get outdoors as much as they should.”
So, when looking at all of it together, fishing is much more than just fishing. It encompasses a lifeway of people coming together to learn from each other, share experiences, getting outside and off the computer for awhile, and just learning to enjoy the quiet and peacefulness that can come from a bluish-green mountain stream.
Kudos also to School Resource Office Tommy Teesateskie and the officers of the CIPD Juvenile Division for helping to set Thursday’s event up. It’s been proven that participation in sports and outdoor activities like fishing reduces juvenile crime, so job well done to all.