Walking from the parking area, each step in my wading boots crunched against the gravel. I love that sound as it usually means I am headed to a stream. This walk was a little different; I was taking a detour to look at a stone monument near the entrance of the park before heading to the stream. The monument near Big Hunting Creek is the Joe Brooks Memorial. The masonry monument has a bronze plaque that states the creed of the Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock. I have to admit that at the time I was reading the creed and appreciating the Memorial, I did not have much knowledge of the life and significance of Joe Brooks. I knew he was considered one of the founding fathers of modern fly fishing, that he was born in Baltimore, and was considered a mentor by Lefty Kreh. I felt a little bit ashamed reading the creed that I should know more about Joe Brooks. I made a mental note that I was going to research about the life of Joe Brooks.
The following day, I was meeting with my friend Kevin for a day of fishing. I hadn’t seen Kevin since before COVID. In a normal year, we would be going to Ravens games and seeing each other regularly. I look forward to and have missed my time with Kevin, talking about family, life, football, and whatever comes to mind. He is fun, thoughtful and very intelligent. Kevin asked me if I would show him the basics of fly fishing, and it was the perfect chance to meet up and get in some fishing time.
As someone who has been fly fishing for a little over five years, I am a little self-conscious about my ability or credibility to provide fishing instructions. I have spent a lot of time fishing, reading, and tying flies, but I still think of myself as someone who is learning. I started to teach my kids the basics of casting, the different types of flies, how to read water, and how to control the line and rod to cast, hook, and land fish. I was a little nervous that Kevin may get frustrated with my instruction.
Kevin and I met early in the morning. It was great to see him and catch up. I started explaining the concepts of casting, the drift feeding tendency of trout, how to present a fly, and how to manage the line. Kevin has spent a good amount of time spin fishing and had the tendency to flick the line and fly like you would cast a spinning rod. I showed him how I casted, and he quickly caught on and was able to water load and roll cast, and he started to learn the overhead cast. Water levels were low, and the fish were spooky. We didn’t end up catching any trout, but it was great to spend the time on the river, to talk, and to watch him pick up elements of fly fishing so quickly.
He mentioned to me that the casting motions were easier to learn when he watched me cast. It reminded me of some of my work training about the learning styles of adult education. Most people have a preferred learning style of auditory, kinesthetic, or visual learning. Often information has to be communicated using a variety of those methods. I thought back to when I first started to learn how to fly fish, and I realized how much information I have absorbed and applied since then. I appreciate all the effort others put in to provide me the ability to learn. I’ve been aided by so many teachers.
I grew up a teacher’s son, seeing my mom’s dedication to being an elementary school teacher. My mother-in-law and my step-mother also are elementary school teachers and have dedicated their lives to helping children advance their knowledge and meet their potential. American Historian Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he (or she) can never tell where his (or her) influence stops.” A commitment to teaching others opens new opportunities for those who learn. I appreciate the hard work and generosity of all the teachers in my life.
Following a great day with Kevin on the stream, I went back to research Joe Brooks. I found the documentary on the life of Joe Brooks created by Michael and Joe Brooks, his great nephews. They created a poignant film, titled Finding Joe Brooks. It documents Joe’s life, beginning with his struggle with alcoholism and anger. He reached a very low point in life where he was destitute and alone. He found sobriety and reconnected to fly fishing, which he loved as a young man. He dedicated his life to conservation and helping others learn about fly fishing. I realized that Joe Brooks is largely responsible for fly fishing being an activity and industry in the United States. He was a tremendous ambassador and teacher for so many people.
The creed embossed on the Joe Brooks Memorial shows the dedication he had to passing on conservation, respect and knowledge through the group he helped establish, the Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock. He also helped start other conservation and education groups such as Trout Unlimited, of which I am a member. I realize that my ability to connect with fly fishing is due to the efforts of Joe Brooks, a committed teacher and force for passing on the knowledge and love he had for fishing. As I pass along some of my knowledge to Kevin, I am thankful for my time with him on the river and for Joe Brooks setting the foundation for fly fishing education.