WKU Fly Fishing: A Visit to Missoula, MT

Next Monday, I will be heading to Montana, joining with the WKU Fly Fishing group on a five- day experiential learning excursion in Missoula. A total of 13 individuals (eight students and five community members) will be embarking upon this trip to MT, the fifth trip that Professor Raymond Poff, from WKU’s Recreation Administration program, has led at WKU. The students and community members will receive individualized instruction to improve their understanding and proficiency in fly fishing.

Fly fishing is somewhat of a foreign sport for me. Even though I grew up in Paducah, KY, which is situated around one of the nicest man-made lakes in the region, I never EVER went fishing before, much less fly-fishing. My childhood focused around the swinging of a bat. Needless to say, my baseball swing needed to be altered a bit in order to replicate the recent instruction I received on the casting of my rod. Professor Poff had me join him on South Lawn earlier this month to show me the basics of fly fishing. After several attempts, I eventually did get the hang of the casting. A little to my advantage is that the action of fly fishing reminds me of swinging a bat in baseball and combine that with the throwing of a frisbee. In an effort not to provide too much comic relief on my explanation of this sport, fly casting seems to be quite an arduous art.

Fly fishing on the South Lawn on the campus of Western Kentucky University.
Fly fishing on the South Lawn on the campus of Western Kentucky University.

Although this instruction was a great introduction to fly fishing, my guess is that the South Lawn is very different than the Big Blackfoot River! My practice will definitely be put to the test since I am a rookie angler at best. In Missoula, we will have access to five species of trout: Rainbow, Brown, Cutthroat, Hybrid Cutbrow and Brook. My goal is to lure in a beautiful gray-green trout that is over 18 inches!! Our group will be on the Big Blackfoot River near Missoula, the same setting of which Norman Maclean’s 1976 book “A River Runs Through It” was set. You may be more familiar with the 1992 Robert Redford film adaptation of the book starring the young Brad Pitt. Just last month I read a great article on how fly-fishing in Montana is a rapturous experience: Fly-Fishing in Montana, Where a River Still Runs Through It . As an avid fisherman himself, the author emphasizes the sacredness of the Big Blackfoot River, and his experience on the river equivocal to that of the characters from “A River Runs Through It”:

 Just above the mouth of Belmont Creek, I hooked a rainbow of my own whose eponymous colors flashed in the sunlight. Shortly before I had left for Montana, the Orlando mass shooting had taken place. The day before my departure, Britain had voted to leave the European Union, threatening the global economy. A family member had recently received a serious medical diagnosis. But at that moment on the Big Blackfoot River, all that existed were the sun and the water and a fish on the other end of my line. “One great thing about fly fishing,” Maclean wrote, “is that after a while nothing exists of the world but thoughts about fly fishing.

I am hoping to capture that same revelation on the Big Blackfoot River, as Maclean described, a solidarity with the experience of the sport and the reflection on the instruction at hand. As I have said in previous blogs and the Impact magazine, experiential learning opportunities are extremely important for CHHS students. Experiential learning is the development of knowledge, abilities, values, behaviors and attitudes through first-hand experiences outside of the traditional classroom. In short, experiential learning involves “learning through doing”, but more importantly “learning through reflection on doing”.  Through continued strategic development, I aspire to expand experiential learning opportunities for both our students and faculty.  The WKU Fly Fishing group is a case in point of where students will develop unique skills and attitudes in Montana that one could not otherwise experience. I anticipate this trip will lead to a greater understanding and appreciation for the sport of fly fishing and a greater respect to the community that provides the instruction of the sport.

I have only passed through Missoula once, spending one night there, back in 1995. I do remember Missoula fondly—it is the home of the University of Montana and in the heart of the Rocky Mountains— upholding a very picturesque landscape. This time, I am even more excited about my venture to Missoula as it will definitely be more exciting and eventful in this outdoor paradise!

I encourage you to follow me @NealeChumbler, as I will highlight the trip in real time.

Until next time,




Neale R. Chumbler