Steve Schoenwald of Hinckley receives some fly fishing tips at Wade Lagoon from Case Western Reserve University Professor John Orlock. Orlock is teaching a class on the sport - and art - of fly fishing.
To understand the great lit erature spawned by the sport of fly fishing - books written as long as 500 years ago - pick up a fly rod and learn to cast and catch fish.
So says Case Western Reserve University Professor John Orlock.
Orlock is teaching freshmen the art of fly fishing and quite a bit more this fall with his course "Reflections on the Water: The Metaphysics, Sport and Literature of Fly Fishing."
On Thursday morning, Orlock had a dozen young men and women waving fly rods and casting a small fluff of orange yarn into the still waters of Wade Lagoon, dappling the reflection of the nearby Cleveland Museum of Art.
"The course is an examination of fly fishing with an integration of academic skills, providing an introduction to outdoor life," said Orlock, who, not surprisingly, is an avid fly fisherman. "Fly fishing, like no other sport, has been responsible for a proliferation of great literature."
A part of the college's SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship) undergraduate program, the course has been a collaborative effort, said Orlock. Molly Berger and Peter Whiting, deans of the College of Arts and Sciences, encouraged Orlock. So did steelhead trout fisherman Bill Siebenschuh, chairman of CWRU's English Department, as well as college librarian Bill Klaspy.
Klaspy, also a fly fisherman, is guiding the students through a wealth of literature on the sport.
Ray McCready, president of Orvis - a leading maker of fly tackle - donated rods and reels. The equipment prompted Orlock to offer the course twice each year.
Orlock pointed to Stephanie Jackson, a student from Moon Township, Pa.
"On Monday, she couldn't make a cast," he said. "Now, she's showing a lot of skill."
A great help, said Orlock, was a session this week with George Vosmik, a local master of fly casting and fly tying who has taught hundreds of people the art of fly fishing over the years.
A smiling Xi Chen of Solon, who had never fished before, was adeptly making roll casts.
"It's my favorite class," said Tyler Smith of North Ridgeville. "Maybe because it gets us out of the classroom. But it has been fun, learning to fly fish and reading a lot of great books."
The course reading assignments include:
Norman Maclean's "A River Runs Through It," which became a popular movie credited with rejuvenating the sport.
"Uncommon Waters: Women Write About Fishing," edited by Holly Morris.
And, of course, the ever-popular "A Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle." The book, penned by Dame Julianna Berner in 1496, was the first on sport fishing.
"There is such emotion in fly-fishing literature," said Penny Tucker of Stanton, Tenn., co-instructor of the course, as she collected rods and reels at the end of the class. "It was hard not to tear up at the end of 'A River Runs Through It.' "
A burning question is whether a sport can be considered art.
Orlock has the credentials to make such a determination. The former head of the theater department at CWRU, he was awarded the Samuel B. and Virginia C. Knight Chair in the Humanities in 2000. He's also a playwright, whose works have been featured at such major theaters as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Play House and the Focus Theatre of Dublin, Ireland, among others.
"Fly fishing is like dance," said Orlock. He points out that the great fly fisher Joan Wulff was a dancer before she took up and excelled at the sport.
"I thoroughly enjoy fly fishing, and fly fishing literature," said Orlock. "Introducing both to students has been a terrific experience. I believe it is an introduction for them into a new and wonderful world."