Fly fishing school moves to Pocahontas County
A leading conservation group relocated its annual fly fishing school to Pocahontas County.
The West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited (WVCTU), a non-profit organization with the mission to conserve, restore and protect coldwater fisheries, conducted its 34th annual fly fishing weekend at the 4-H Camp near Thornwood.
Nationwide, Trout Unlimited has tens of thousands of members in more than 400 chapters. At the national level, the group employs a professional staff of more than 120 scientists, lawyers, policy experts and organizers to work through legal and legislative channels to improve and protect the health of North American rivers. Trout Unlimited spearheaded the use of advanced scientific tools, such as infra-red satellite imagery and fish tracking devices, to fight problems such as pollution, habitat loss and climate change.
In West Virginia, WVCTU includes nine chapters and more than 1,600 members. The group formerly held its annual event in Beverly, but moved to Pocahontas County this year, for a variety of reasons.
WVCTU coordinator Bubba Holt took over responsibility for the fly fishing school last year. Holt is a guest expert on the TV show Flyrod Chronicles with Curtis Fleming, on the Sportsman's Channel. The expert said the Thornwood camp offered numerous advantages.
"It's perfect," he said. "We've got trout streams all around. Now, we can incorporate reading the water - actually looking at aquatic life right out our back door. We've got a great kitchen facility, mess hall, bunks - it's a great facility for a large group of people for any kind of event."
Students receive a light dinner on Friday, three meals Saturday and breakfast and a sack lunch on Sunday. Holt said students should expect to be well-fed.
"The meals," he said. "Friday night we have finger food, something for when you come in after registration. Saturday morning is home-cooked breakfast - bacon and eggs, sausage, home fries, hash browns, fruit. We've also got lunch meat and bread from a local deli. Saturday night, we have a big feed: ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, green beans, biscuits. You just can't beat the food."
The coordinator said the weekend culminates with a guided fishing excursion on a nearby river.
"We provide you with a bag lunch when you go out with your guide on Sunday," Holt said. "That's the climax of the trip. You're getting well-fed and the best thing about this school - not only do you get the instruction, you also get a one-on-one guide on Sunday to take you on a stream of your choosing and you fish all day. The whole school only costs you $270."
Holt said the group would be returning to Pocahontas County next year.
"Definitely, this is the spot for us," he said.
Seven volunteer instructors from WVCTU chapters around the state arrived on Friday and welcomed 13 students to this year's clinic. Attendance has ranged between 15-30 students every year. Holt said he hoped the new location and increased advertising would increase next year's attendance.
Students pay $270 for the three-day clinic, which includes home-cooked meals, bunkhouse lodging, equipment, a box of flies, personalized instruction and a one-year membership in WVCTU. Saturday's lunch featured gourmet barbecue and ham from Sandy Creek Farms in Ravenswood. All money raised goes to support WVCTU programs.
Instructor Rick Bebout, of Morgantown, said a goal of the school was to reduce frustration while learning the sport.
"It's not a real difficult sport to learn," he said. "But, if you're walking into a store and have no idea about fly fishing - you don't know what equipment you need, when to use what, and the goal of this school is to cut the learning curve. Most of the volunteers here didn't have a school It was trial and error and probably a lot of frustration. This school will point people in the right direction very quickly."
WVCTU tells students not to buy equipment for the course.
"Bubba has told them, 'don't buy anything until you've come to the class and seen what works and seen what you like, then you can make a more educated purchase,'" Bebout said.
The instructor said he was very happy with the new location in Pocahontas County.
"It's excellent," he said. " We've got this big spacious ground. We've got a trout stream here and a trout stream there and you can make it very hands-on. Right after lunch today, we're going to walk down to the stream and turn over some rocks and look at some aquatic insects. That's just something you can't duplicate if you don't have a living stream."
Instructor Randy Ash, of Huntington, said the best part of fly fishing was being outdoors.
"I use it as an excuse to get out into nature," he said. "I do a lot of back country fly fishing. It gives me an opportunity and an excuse to hike West Virginia hills and hollows. Sure, I catch some fish, but I put them all back. It's not about catching fish and taking them home, for me. It's about the adventure of being outdoors in this beautiful state."
"Fish don't live in ugly places," Bebout concurred. "You get out and it's a de-stressor. When I load up the truck and I'm headed for the mountains, I can tune out everything else and enjoy myself and escape for a little while."
Ash said fly fishing in West Virginia is among the best in the United States.
"West Virginia is a great place for fly fishing," he said. One of our instructors made the comment, last night, that he has fished from Maine to North Carolina and all over the West. He said he'd caught trout in every western state except Washington. This guy travels and fishes. He said he would put trout fishing in West Virginia up against anything on the East Coast."
Fly fishing student George McKinnon, a retired aircraft mechanic living in Lewisburg, was enjoying the weekend.
"I have no illnesses but it's on my bucket list of things to do," he said. "I've always wanted to do it and I finally got the time and opportunity to do it. It's the best weekend I've had in quite awhile."
Cecil Shrader, of Princeton, was attending the school with his son, Christopher. Cecil said he would recommend the course to anyone interested in fly fishing.
"I've probably learned as much in a day as I have my whole life as far as fly fishing," he said. "It's beautiful scenery here in Pocahontas County. I love it - I've been hunting here for more than 30 years. A lot of people don't realize how many rivers we have in this state or the abundance of natural resources we have right here in Pocahontas County."
For more information on WVCTU fly fishing school, see wvctu.org or call Bubba Holt at 304-299-9617.