Series note: This is the fourth in a five-part series examining gym classes offered at Penn State.
Penn State’s heritage is deeply rooted in agriculture and the outdoors — and three kinesiology classes allow students to get in touch with that heritage by learning the sport of fly fishing.
The classes trace back to the 1930s, when a “young fellow” by the name of George Harvey went fishing with the dean of the College of Agriculture, course instructor Mark Belden said.
The dean was so impressed with Harvey’s ability to tie flies to fish that he asked Harvey to teach him and other faculty members. In 1947, Harvey was hired by the university to teach fly fishing for credit. This made Penn State one of the first universities to offer collegiate fly fishing, Belden said.
“And here we are nearly 70 years later, still teaching the fly fishing class,” Belden said.
Penn State continues to be recognized as a leader in fly fishing education, Belden said.
Since its origin, the fly fishing curriculum has expanded to include KINES 004 (Principles and Practices of Fly Fishing for Trout), KINES 008 (Introduction to Casting) and KINES 093 (Masters of Fly Fishing).
“The classes are a lot of fun — excuse the pun, but after we get the kids going a couple classes, we’ve got them hooked,” Belden said.
Before actually taking to the water, students learn important information and techniques in Rec Hall. Some of the necessary skills include tying flies, learning how to cast, reading water and learning basic entomology such as the bugs that will be found on the water, Bill Steudler (senior-geography) said.
Once these skills are acquired, students venture outdoors to actually put what they have learned into practice.
“Our laboratory is a place called Fly Fisher’s Paradise,” Belden said.
Located roughly six miles from campus, Fly Fisher’s Paradise is a part of Spring Creek Canyon and a part of the tremendous outdoor environment that is available in the area, Belden said.
“This is actually a destination area for fishing. A lot of people come here to fish and sometimes that is lost. A lot of people don’t have a clue,” Steudler said.
While outdoors, students concentrate on being problem solvers and really understanding the stream, Belden said.
“You have to learn to interpret what the stream is telling you and interpret where the bugs are because that’s usually where the fish are going to focus,” Belden said.
Once these skills are mastered, students will have an activity that they can enjoy long into their lives, Belden said.
Fly fishing can also serve as a great alternative activity during the college years, Patrick Williams said.
“The best thing I think it can do for a student, in light of the whole party environment, is give them something constructive to do that doesn’t involve drinking,” Williams (graduate-aerospace engineering) said.