Featured | Responsible Recreation

Chance to go back to school a lockdown surprise

George Daniel (bottom) is the lead instructor for Penn State University's fly fishing program, whose previous leaders include the legendary Joe Humphreys.
(Courtesy of Penn State University)

By Mark Taylor 
 
In normal times, as winter’s gray turns to spring’s green, those of us who love to fish would be eager to get on the water. 

But these aren’t normal times, which has forced many of us to change our ways. When allowed by lockdown mandates, some of us are still fishing, close to home and keeping our distance from our companions, if we even have companions. 

And we’re doing other things to satiate our addiction. We’re tying flies. Reading books. Watching videos. 

I was casually watching one of those ubiquitous how-to videos on YouTube the other evening when something the host said about a fly he was using caught my ear. 

“This is the one we tied in class the other day,” he said. 

And then I put it together. 

The host was George Daniel, a well-known expert angler who recently was named the lead instructor in Penn State University’s fly fishing program. This wasn’t just any video. This was a college class lecture. 

George Daniel, the lead instructor for Penn State University’s fly fishing program, is putting his class lessons on line during the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused schools worldwide to transition to online instruction.

Forced into online instruction, like so many, Daniel has gone afield with a camera to do his best to replicate class lectures and field trips that couldn’t happen in person. And he is sharing the “classes” with the public.  

Lucky us! 
 
Sitting in on college classes for which one is not registered is not a new thing. It’s called auditing. You get to enjoy and benefit from the lectures without having to take tests or do papers — or pay tuition. The goal is self-enrichment, not college credit. 

That said, how many of us regularly audited college classes? Not me. 

Until now. 

There are tens of thousands of instructive fishing videos online. I’ve watched a bunch. Many are quite good. 

Daniel’s class videos are super informative. They aren’t slickly produced. Again, it’s basically a guy talking to students. It just happens that he’s on a stream with a fly rod, rigging up and fishing while talking. 

For many years I’ve been envious of the Penn State kids who have been able to take fly fishing classes. They got to learn from legends such as George Harvey, who launched the program seven decades ago, and Joe Humphreys, Daniel’s mentor and a man whose amazing career is highlighted in the film “Live the Stream.” 

Honestly, I almost feel a little guilty for being an interloper.  
 
“Don’t mind me kids. I’m just a guy (who went to a rival Big 10 school!) getting the same thing for free that you (well, your parents) are paying quite a bit of money for.” 

I’ve got plenty of company in auditing Daniel’s classes. One of his videos already has close to 20,000 views. 
 
These are difficult, troubling times. We’re coping, in part, by looking for silver linings. 

I didn’t expect that one for me would be having the chance to go back to college. 

Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s eastern communications director. The closest he came to getting fly fishing instruction in school was his first reading of Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” for pleasure on his way to a high school track meet.