Jeffrey Dende has been teaching the Lansing Recreation Department’s annual fly-fishing class for four years now, and he gets a little put out if you ask him how much he gets paid to do it.
Dende has been fishing for more than 25 years, since his father first put a fly rod in his hand as a boy. He took a course in tying the tiny feathered lures when he was 14 and has fished almost constantly since.
“Fly fishing is a defining factor in my life,” he said. “I do this to give back to the sport.”
Fly casting differs from the more common spin casting in that the line, not the lure, provides the weight and therefore the momentum to send the nearly weightless flies wafting out over the stream and to the fish.
Seven or so Lansing residents gathered at a pond on Armstrong Road for four nights last week to learn the art and craft from Dende and his partner, Phil Koons.
Dende started the camp with Lansing athletic director, coach and fisherman Adam Heck four years ago. Fellow fisherman Joe Hopkins has helped for three of those years.
Koons lends his expertise in entomology for “bug night” and helped generally this year in Hopkins’ absence.
Day one focuses on the basics – assembling the rod and learning its parts and basic casting. Day two takes the students into more advanced casts and when to use them and introduces the knots needed on the stream.
Day three is Koons’ “bug night,” where students delve into buckets of invertebrates to learn how they lead the food chain that leads to trout and how to use that knowledge to lure the fish to their flies.
Finally, day four takes the students to the stream – the open part of Salmon Creek below the Myers Road bridge – where they can try out their skills on real water and trout.
The goal is to bring people to the sport, to teach the basic skills for the casual participant and to share the fierce love of fly casting shared by Dende, Koons, Hopkins and Heck.
Dende spends four weekends a year working with the Brattleboro Retreat’s Uniformed Service Program in Vermont, a program for men and women in uniform (active or retired) who are struggling with serious duty-related problems including PTSD, depression and addiction.
“I got involved through Adam, and his brother Ryan,” Dende said. “I helped guide the first year. At the start, it was just an excuse to fish the Black River.”
Now, Dende goes four weekends a year, Dende said. They have since expanded, adding an emergency room doctor and a maternity nurse.
They teach casting the first morning and then spend two days on the water.
“A lot of the vets won’t do yoga,” Dende said. “But you can teach the same ideas with fly-fishing. It’s a great, great program.”
Koons is heavily involved with the local Leon Chandler Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“We are working with the Cayuga Lake group ‘Discover Cayuga’ to develop the ‘Trout in the Classroom’ program,” Koons said. “We are teaching biology, stream ecology, involvement in natural work, conservation of cold-water resources. We have a tank in every elementary school in Ithaca and one in every school in Tompkins County.”
Koons talked about the sometimes-heroic efforts made by Trout Unlimited to preserve great trout streams, detailing a project in Pennsylvania where a stream made acidic by coal mining run-off is treated by a large limestone filter before reaching the larger river.
“The appeal of fly fishing is that you never stop learning,” he said. “It takes about a week and a half on the creek to get solid, about 10,000 casts.”
Mike Petrich and his sons Ben and Bode are not anywhere near that number but were back a second time to refine their skills.
“I’ve been fishing since I was six years old but only going about one time a year,” Petrich said. “My uncle in northern Maine would take us out to a brook to fly fish for trout. I want to get the kids into it and go a couple times a year.”
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