Lessons from fly fishing

I’ve been journeying this summer, traveling and exploring. No matter where I’m at or what I’m doing, my teacher-brain is always working, whirling away as I relate everything to life in the classroom.  Almost every activity I do transports me to the schoolhouse.

I had this experience recently when fly fishing (sounds random, right?). As I was learning the ebb and flow of angling, my mind was thinking about what lessons translated to education.

Much of this reflection can from my observations of the instructor, Alex. He had been a college basketball player, towering at an intimidating 6 feet 7 inches. But despite his lofty height, he is a gentle giant and an amazingly patient teacher.  Alex had just retired from education, most recently as a high school principal. Now he spent his days teaching others how to enjoy his passion. Here are a few of the lessons I learned from this lifelong educator.

Comfort can be the foundation of relationship. Alex said that as principal, he made sure to never wear a suit when meeting parents. Why? It made many of his working class parents uncomfortable. When he dressed down, he felt it removed any hierarchical feelings and helped build trust—the beginnings of a partnership.

Relationship is important. Alex has a mantra: the day starts with clients and ends with friends. He takes the time to talk to his “students,” listening to their stories. I think that’s a beautiful goal for what we should hope for with the parents in our schools. We should work to closely tie the learning relationship with our students as the keystone.

Practice on dry land before wading into the water. Before fly fishing, we spent a lot of time back-casting in the parking lot. Then learning to tie flies. Then more casting. Without the possibility of a fish in sight. I think about how this relates to the craft of teaching. When learning the ins and outs of the profession, we need lots of practice before we move into the waters of the classroom with live students.

What looks “natural” is actually very intentional, learned, and thought out.  Not everyone can do it and it takes some mad skills. I’ve seen A River Runs Through It and fly fishing looked like a piece of cake. What I learned? Just because Brad Pitt makes it look easy doesn’t mean anyone can pick up a fly rod and rock out a cooler full of rainbow trout. It takes skills, practice, and many well thought out moves.  It takes time and practice.

Learning from each other leads to increased effectiveness.  I was fly fishing on my birthday, with the company of my father and boyfriend. I was good at casting, my dad at being patient, and my boyfriend at hooking the fish. By sharing our strengths and learning with each other, we were able to all grow.

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  • Laura at CK-12 Foundation

    Real World Learning

    Thanks for this post Megan. I love that you were able to find the real world application of education in something as far removed as fly fishing. You’re spot on when you say that you find applications to teaching and the classroom in almost everything you do. It is so important that we teach this same thing to our students so that they not only start to recognize the real world applications, but they also bring that learning into the classroom.

  • BriannaCrowley


    I SO related to your opening sentence about never having the classroom far from my mind. I too am constantly making connections between my experiences and how it relates to my passion for teaching and learning. 

    I love your point:

    What looks “natural” is actually very intentional, learned, and thought out. 

    I think this underscores one of the profession’s main issues. Teachers aren’t good promoters of themselves, their talent, or their expertise. In fact, we often see conversations around the “talent” of our profession as  somehow bragging or an embarrassing breach of humbleness. Tom Whitby recently wrote a blog post (“Sharing not Bragging”) about this which is a great conversation starter around this idea of teacher’s being unafraid to show the world what it takes to be good at what we do. 

    This is also where I feel that sometimes calling teaching “a calling” takes the conversation off track. It goes back to Malcolm Gladwell’s findings that those who excel put in 10,000+ hours of practice and study. We may be born with a personality or propensity toward teaching, but to become a skilled professional, we must be intentional about that process. If we don’t explain this to our parents and the public as a whole we risk perpetuating the notion that teachers are “born to teach” and therefore haven’t invested like doctors, lawyers, programers, or engineers to hone a craft. 

    One of my passions is to make the walls of our classroom transparent and then deconstruct the intentionality of every decision made by the professional. Why is the room arranged the way it is? What cause the teacher to continue the discussion for 5 extra minutes? What was the thinking behind the use of that particular graphic organizer? The more we show our intentionality, I believe the more we will be respected as professionals. 

  • TeemuYamada

    Natural design

    Fly Fishing is indeed a beautiful hobby. I would say it’s quite refined in it’s pureness and quality in teaching us the nature of life. Fly fishing requires a lot of awareness, similarly to teaching. This consciousness together with great effort in practice brings us to such elavated heights, what I like to call natural design. —Teemu Yamada.