MADAWASKA - Five years ago, Tom Gerard had an idea to share a sport he loved with his physical education students at Madawaska High School, and with some local support and a grant from the Perloff Family Foundation, his freshman students now enjoy two weeks of fly fishing instruction built into their curriculum each spring.
“It’s a life skill,” said Gerard. “I do it, and I’ve taught my family how to do it, and it brings you to so many pretty places on the planet. If it makes one or two kids want to do it, then it’s been successful.”
With the Perloff grant, the school was able to purchase fly fishing poles and gear, then all they needed was a place to fish. Through the generosity of Dan and Debbie Daigle at the Other Maine Cabins on Gagnon Road in Madawaska, students soon had the perfect location.
“When I started this project, I approached Dan and asked him if we could use his pond,” said Gerard.
Daigle agreed, asking only that the students who use his facility, including his stocked, man-made trout pond, respect his property. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife agreed to stock the pond with 250 trout each year for the project. Gerard buys his flies locally, from Eugene Lagasse. Another local supporter of his program is Doug Cyr of Cyr Travel who volunteers his time to assist the students and share his passion for the sport of fly fishing.
Gerard teaches primarily freshmen, but when he has other classes, he brings them fly fishing as well. With Daigle’s support, Gerard also brings kids from the rec department and clients from St. John Valley Associates to fish at the Other Maine Cabins each summer.
“It’s the perfect place for students,” said Gerard. “It exposes kids to something they would normally never do.”
Student fly fishers on May 17 echoed that sentiment.
“I like it a lot,” said Jillian Vanier. “I have gone fishing once, but it was nothing like this.”
Alexis Cote remembers ice-fishing with her pépère, but fly fishing was new to her.
“As a class, we’re very fortunate to be able to come here,” she said.
Gerard agreed, saying, “I try to take advantage of the fact that it’s here. The nice part is that it’s so close to the school so we can be here real quick.”
“I think it’s really unique to do this in gym class,” said Shannon Dionne, who said she hopes to do more fishing this summer now that Gerard has exposed her to it.
Matthieu Cyr has been fishing before, but he’s still happy for the opportunity to leave school during gym class to spend time at the pond.
“It’s something new to do,” he said.
“Fishing shows character,” said Gerard. “Some kids sit here and relax and enjoy it, others are impatient.”
Aaron Soucy enjoys it, but he might still be a little impatient for the fish to bite.
“It’s a lot harder than on the Wii,” he said.
“I try to teach them that it’s more than fishing, it’s about the environment and respecting the landowner and wildlife,” said Gerard.
As if on cue, a killdeer that has built her nest near the shore of the pond for the second year now began chirping and feigning a wounded wing when a student stepped too close to her nest for her comfort. The display was meant to draw predators away from her eggs in the nest by tricking them into thinking she was injured and an easy target. Gerard used the opportunity to teach his students to use caution around wildlife, reminding them that when they are enjoying the outdoors, they are in the animals’ territory and that they should respect the animals’ homes.
Daigle placed a wide ring of white rocks around the killdeer nest to help visitors to his pond identify its location.
At the end of each season, Gerard presents his students with a "diploma" qualifying them for the "fisherman's liars club."
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