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September 14, 1995

Pitt-Bradford students "hooked" on newest campus phys ed course

Fly fishing for credit. It's exactly what students at Pitt's Bradford campus (UPB) are doing this fall.

The first-ever fly fishing class offered as part of UPB's physical education program was among the earliest courses to fill up during the spring pre-registration period.

And since then Carol Baker, UPB dean of Academic Affairs, has been approached by numerous other students trying to wrangle their way into the class. "It's very popular," she notes.

Baker and UPB President Richard McDowell, both of whom are fly fishers, originally discussed offering a fly fishing class a couple of years ago when Tunungwant Creek, which flows along the edge of campus, was first stocked with trout by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Then two Bradford teachers, Carl Zandi and Steve Skvarka, approached UPB administrators about offering a summer fly fishing school.

When that summer 1994 program proved successful, Baker talked to Skvarka about offering a fly fishing class as part of UPB's physical education curriculum. Skvarka and Rebecca Mowrey, chair of UPB's physical education department, then met and worked out the details for the unusual class.

"In good weather," says Baker, "students will be outside practicing their casting, and in bad weather [they'll be] inside learning how to tie flies and fly fishing theory." The class is part of a larger effort by UPB to make Tunungwant Creek or, as it is known locally, "The Tuna," more a part of the campus environment. It is an effort that began about two years ago with an accident that almost got UPB Director of Facilities Management Peter Buchheit arrested.

It started with a work crew sealing road surfaces on campus. Before the job was finished, an unpredicted rain shower struck and, unknown to Buchheit or anyone else, washed some of the sealant into Tunungwant Creek.

At home that evening, Buchheit found himself confronted by waterways conservation officers from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission holding five-gallon buckets of dead fish, mainly suckers, minnows and sculpins.

"They were ready to arrest me and haul me off. I thought I was going to jail," Buchheit recalls.

Before bringing out the handcuffs, however, the officers listened to Buchheit's explanation of what had happened. He assured them that the fish kill had been an accident and that UPB would take whatever steps were necessary to make amends.

Because of that incident, Buchheit eventually became friends with waterways conservation officers in the Bradford area. From them, he learned that the commission had long wanted to stock trout in the Tunungwant, but had been stopped by landowners along it who did not want anglers on their property. To stock a stream with trout, the Fish and Boat Commission requires that at least one contiguous mile be open to public fishing, according to Buchheit. That length can be shorter, however, if the stocked section is designated a special regulation project, such as catch-and-release or fly fishing only.

Buchheit also knew that Baker and McDowell were interested in having The Tuna stocked with trout. So Buchheit asked the Fish and Boat Commission if it wanted to make UPB's eight-tenths of a mile of stream into a special regulation project.

The commission jumped at the opportunity. It made UPB's portion of the stream a delayed harvest, artificial lures only project. The designation means that anglers can fish in the project year-round, but only with artificial lures, no bait is permitted. Anglers also are prohibited from keeping fish, except for the period June 15 to Sept. 1, and then only three fish per day, as opposed to the usual six fish per day limit on most other waters.

The purpose of the delayed harvest, artificial lures only regulation is to insure that the project maintains a high population of fish for anglers to enjoy.

Since the Fish and Boat Commission began stocking UPB's portion of The Tuna two years ago, the stream on campus has turned into a local recreation spot.

"It's become almost like a park for the community," says Baker. "Parents often bring children to the stream because it is close to town and has good access. They also will drop their kids off and pick them up a few hours later like they might at a park. Or they use the roads and trails around the stream as bike paths. It has just become a pleasant place to be whether you are fishing or not." Buchheit says the original reason for having The Tuna stocked with trout was to provide additional recreational opportunities for UPB students, staff and faculty, as well as to give the public more of an opportunity to visit the campus.

"We're really proud of what we have here and we just thought this is another way to introduce the public to the campus," he explains. "It was a natural. It was here. It cost the University no money other than a little bit of litter clean up from time to time. And we didn't have to do a thing other than tell the Fish and Boat Commission they could use it." Like Baker and McDowell, Buchheit also enjoys fly fishing. He says the Tunungwant contains only a fair amount of aquatic insect life, a main food source for trout, but that its water quality is good. The town of Bradford actually draws its water from a dam upstream of the UPB campus.

Baker says she often finds herself stopping at the stream for a half hour after work to relax, which has caused something of a problem for her. Those half hours have a way of routinely stretching into two hours and getting in the way of things she had planned to do after work.

"It sometimes makes it tough to get things done at home," she complains, but with a smile.

The Tuna has provided Baker with one of her most memorable trout fishing experiences, too, one that still makes her eyes gleam with delight. A native of Florida, Baker has fished all of her life, but for warm water and saltwater species such as bass and redfish. She did not begin fishing for trout until about six years ago, when she came to UPB from the University of San Diego.

She reached what was the pinnacle of her trout fishing experience to date one evening on The Tuna when she hooked an 18-inch brook trout that she says must either have been a wild fish or one that had survived from the previous year's stocking.

"It had an intense salmon-colored belly," she recalls. "I mean the color was bright, bright, bright. And it had a hooked jaw like the salmon on the West Coast. I had never seen that in a trout before." Although UPB originally sought to have The Tuna stocked for recreational purposes, the move also has led to the stream being incorporated more into campus life. Baker says when she first arrived at UPB people paid little attention to the waterway except when it flooded.

Now, though, thanks to the park atmosphere that has sprung up around The Tuna, plans have been developed in UPB's physical master plan to open views to the stream and keep it clean. Students, too, have been making good use of the stream since it was first stocked. Baker says The Tuna is "well fished. But that is by Bradford standards, which means if you see other people that's heavy fishing." The upstream end of the project is near the residence halls and students often can be seen fishing in it. Baker remembers a young man in his early 20s who she met on the stream one day during finals week.

When she struck up a conversation with the man, she learned he was a student. He told her he had been fishing the stream for the past few days, which caused Baker to wonder what he was doing on a trout stream during such an important week.

"I thought to myself," she says, "'Here is a guy spending all of his time fishing. He's not studying. I bet I'll see him on the dismissal list pretty soon.' I was not feeling too good about it." The next time Baker saw the young man, however, was during ceremonies involving Alpha Lambda Delta, the freshman honor society. The student who had troubled her was being installed as the president. A few months later, she also presented him an award for being UPB's top engineering student.

"It turned out the young man was using the stream to relax before tests," Baker says.

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 2

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