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Clemson Leisure Skills Program Creates Thriving Fly Fishing Community

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You often hear people say, “there’s something in” Clemson’s hills, but there’s also something in its streams. That’s where you’ll find groups of Clemson University students casting flies when the weather’s right.

Mike Watts has been teaching fly fishing as part of the university’s leisure skills program for about 15 years, and estimates he’s taught about 800 students to tie flies, cast a fly rod and understand the ecosystem where the fish they’re hoping to catch thrive.

“Our classes are about fly fishing made simple, but also about the environment that supports the fish and why that’s important,” Watts says. “We also take the time to talk about conservation of our natural habitats and why that matters.”

Fly fishing is one of more than 150 one-credit learning options students can take in subjects such as dance, shotgun sports, yoga, fitness, outdoor recreation, sports and first aid. Class sections are taught by experts in each respective field and coordinated by Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department, which applies a research focus to course development and management.

Students take a leisure skills class for a number of reasons, such as introducing themselves to new activities, or exploring potential new hobbies or career options. Fly fishing is one of the program’s most popular class options.

Eleven years ago, the fly fishing class started growing exponentially, so Watts brought on another instructor to meet the demand. Watts and Mike Harvell have been splitting fly fishing classes ever since. Harvell has been fishing since 1960 and says that teaching the class has helped him continue to share his passion for the hobby with others.

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