The Columns

Fish Stories

— by on March 26th, 2012

Robert Humston was a member of the Virginia Military Institute faculty from 2004 to 2008 before he crossed the street to join W&L’s faculty as assistant professor of biology. Ever since, he’s thought there ought to be more and better interaction between W&L and VMI.

To that end, Robert (pronounced row-BEAR) collaborated with Col. Lee Dewald, a professor of math at VMI and faculty adviser of VMI’s Fishing Club, to organize an unusual event — the first Virginia Military Institute-Washington and Lee University fly-fishing tournament.

Held this past weekend along Dunlap Creek in Alleghany County at Escatawba Farm, the tournament featured 10 pairs of anglers — one W&L student with one VMI cadet — competing to see which duo could hook the largest fish in an allotted time period.

Fish aside, the spirit of the event was captured in the first item on the official rules: “This tournament is held in the spirit of camaraderie, fellowship, and good times on good water.  On this day we dismiss cross-campus rivalries and dispense with its manufactured acrimony, and rally around the common cause of convincing a fish to eat a hook with a feather on it.”

Added Humston: “Lee has the VMI kids doing incredible stream cleanup work every year, and I’d like to see the W&L students helping with that.  I’d also like to see more interaction between W&L and VMI in general.  That was the impetus for the format.  Team fishing requires good communication and good chemistry to be successful.”

The event began in miserable conditions, with a deluge soaking the contestants. At the end, however, they had a rather dramatic finish. The team that had finished eighth in the morning session — Nate Naughton ’12 of W&L and Will Shehan of VMI — caught nine fish in the afternoon to surge into the lead, while the leading team from the morning session caught a fish with only one minute left in the afternoon period. That forced a tie. According to the tiebreaker (biggest fish, most points in a single fishing period), the Naughton-Shehan team was the winner over the second-place team of Will Travis ’14 of W&L and Carl Ellison of VMI. Third went to Charlie Gentry ’15 of W&L and Frank Hargrove of VMI.

The winners received laser-engraved wooden fly boxes from Stonefly Studio (www.stoneflystudio.com). Humston singled out several other individuals and organizations whose assistance made the first event work so well that it garnered local media attention from both the Roanoke Times and WDBJ-TV (be sure to check out the video).

W&L alum Wes Tetsworth, a 2010 graduate, works for the national office of Trout Unlimited (TU) and served as a “beat” official. (A beat is a section of the river assigned to a team, and each beat has an official who oversees the competition for that area). With Wes’ help, Trout Unlimited provided financial support for the tournament and items for the prize table, and the Skyline Chapter of TU provided financial support and volunteer officials. The W&L Outing Club and the VMI Office of Cadet Life also supported the event. Another member of W&L’s Class of 2010, Nate Adkins, was a volunteer official. He is studying in the Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation graduate program at Virginia Tech.

The tournament benefited from a welcome to Escatawba Farms by Derrick Barr. “Dunlap Creek is one of the greatest stretches of private fishing water in Virginia,” said Robert. “The conditions were difficult, but the fishing was still great and the facility was perfect.” Lunch was catered by Lexington’s Pure Eats.

“The support that we received was not only incredible but also essential to make this work,” Robert said. “We plan to do this again next year and would love to get more W&L alumni involved.”