Wabash Blogs Freshman Tutorial: Fly Fishing in Montana

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Hadley Has No Doubts Fly Fishing is THE Liberal Art

Professor David Hadley - I have taken considerable ribbing from colleagues and friends about this class I am teaching this semester—Fly Fishing: THE Liberal Art. With an immersion trip to Montana to boot! Chuckle, chuckle. Two days of fly fishing. A tour of Yellowstone Park. All topped off with a white water rafting trip down the Yellowstone River. “And we pay you for that?” asked one. You call this education, a few probably wondered.

Yes, on both counts. That became clear today as we rafted down the Yellowstone.
I think education, especially liberal arts education, opens us to seeing the world in new and different ways. As we moved down the river today and I listened to the conversations among these twelve young men, I knew that their education had begun. They already were seeing their world, or an important part of it, differently.
Something they had seen many times before --water in a river--had become something more. They looked at the water for the places where fish would hold waiting for their next meal. They recognized seams in the water’s flow where faster moving current would dump insects into slowly moving, energy conserving eddies for fish to feast upon. As we passed through clouds of insects, some saw a “hatch.” These were not just bugs swarming around in the air, but insects emerging from their larval stage spent under water. They knew the water at the bottom of the river was teaming with creepy, crawly life that sustained the fish and gave them their beautiful rainbows, the brilliant orange swooshes that marked the cutthroats, and the distinctive spots identifying the healthy brown trout. When they passed huge irrigation systems spraying water drawn from the river onto fields in full-sun, 90-degree heat, they saw water wasted that could be used for the same purpose, but more efficiently and helping to preserve and conserve the water for other uses, including sport and recreation.    
As we drew near the end of the raft trip, I knew these young men’s liberal education had begun. Snippets of their conversations, interspersed with the banter and silliness that has been increasing throughout the week, convinced me that they would seldom drive across a bridge or along a stream and see it as just another creek or river. They will see or wonder about its health, its fishability, where it goes and how it gets there, what impedes it, for what and how well is it used. This is education.
And, yes, I do get paid for it. Not more money, but the reward of eyes opened to seeing the world in new and different ways. Is that enough reward for beginning my 41st year at Wabash a week early?
Yep, I guess it must be.  It was reward enough to make me, just days shy of a birthday I would just a soon not celebrate,  join the class in climbing onto the railing of a bridge 20 feet above the Yellowstone River and jumping with them into the cold waters below. It seemed a most fitting way to end this immersion trip. What a way for us all to jump into their Wabash education—with a leap into the swirling opal waters of the Yellowstone River. It was exciting, exhilarating, and more than a little scary. But we took the plunge together.

In photos: Top right, Hadley talking with Brian Grossenbacher '90 while the students got their fishing license. Lower left, the members of the freshman Fly Fishing Tutorial with Aus Brooks on the left and Hadley standing far right.


Well said - what a great learning opportunity!

Sounds like a nice relaxing time with nature. A great time to reflect on the triumphs of the past and the opportunities of the future!

As much as Prof. Hadley was thrilled to be in the company of students, it must be added:

how fortunate those young men just beginning their serious academic journeys are to be doing so in the company a truly great teacher like Dr. Hadley.

I know. I've studied a bit with him on streams, myself!

Great to see others making aliving from fishing, and great to hear you had willing students. Fly fishing is great fun.