University Level Fly Fishing Courses

On this page are two syllabi I have developed and used in teaching full-credit courses related to fly fishing.  The fist one is for an Interdisciplinary Studies course I taught several times at Gettysburg College, in Pennsylvania.  The second syllabus is for an upper-level Religious Studies seminar that I taught several times at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. I now offer the class (second syllabus) as an Honors College course at Washington State University.

© Kenneth H. Lokensgard, 2009-2023.

Syllabus One:

IDS 204: Fly-fishing in Spirit, Language and Practice

 Description and Goals of Course:

This course is an introduction to the history, cultural significance and practice of fly-fishing.  In “Fly-fishing in Spirit, Language and Practice,” you will examine the religious themes often attached to fly-fishing, which have been expressed in some of the most loved writings in the English language.  You will also gain a basic knowledge of fly-fishing and an understanding of the ecological issues surrounding well as basic streamside ecology, entomology, and trout biology.  The course will also address the prominent roles certain Pennsylvanians and certain streams within Pennsylvania have played in American angling history.

Numerous class sessions will be led by guest-lecturers, drawn from both within and without the college.  Specifically, we will enjoy visits from GRAB members (who will discuss outdoor safety), representatives of Trout Unlimited, a professional fly-casting instructor, an expert on fly-fishing in the colonial era, a rabbit who writes about fishing, and several scientists (who will discuss topics relevant to class).

Outside of class, you will be given the opportunity to fish.  Your decision to participate or not to participate in these fishing events will have no impact upon your grade.

Tentative Reading List:

The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation, by Isaac Walton and Charles Cotton.  This is the third most published book in the English language.  It was first published in 1653.

A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean.  This beautiful 1976 novella was the first work of fiction published by the University of Chicago.

The River Why?, by David James Duncan.  This 1982 novel ties fishing not only to Christianity (as The Compleat Angler and A River Runs through It do), but also to Buddhism and a variety of other religious traditions.

Fishing and Thinking, by A.A. Luce.  This 1959 book presents an interesting perspective upon fly-fishing, from a respected English philosopher

The Science of Fly-fishing, by Stan L. Ulanski.  This 2005 book  explores nearly every aspect of fly fishing from a scientific perspective.  For instance, it covers the physics of casting, stream morphology, and trout biology.

Selected literary essays (see below), by such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Arnold Gingrich, and others.

Academic articles and essays on Christianity during the Age of Reason, Mysticism, Ritual, and Sport (see below).

Requirements and Grading:

You must write three ten to twelve page papers (12 pt. font, 1 in. margins).  The first paper should be a synthesis and analysis of the first several pieces of literature read in class.  The second paper will deal with religious themes in fishing or other sports literature; this paper can be constructed as either a reflective paper or a research paper.  The third paper will deal with one scientific aspect of fly-fishing; it should be constructed as a research paper. Each of these papers is worth 15 points.  Writing guidelines will be provided throughout the semester.

You are required to take three tests.  These will be given at the conclusion of each section of the course.  The first two tests are worth 10 points.  The final, cumulative exam is worth 15 points.  Ten points are reserved for short, “pop” quizzes.  Ten points are reserved for attendance, which will be taken randomly ten times during the semester.

Cheating is a violation of the Honor Code and will not be tolerated.  This act will be punished according to Gettysburg College guidelines.  In order to avoid plagiarism in your papers, you must cite all quotations and paraphrases that are not your own or are not common knowledge.

Late assignments will absolutely not be accepted unless prior arrangements are made or if a documentable emergency occurs.

You must hand in hard copies of all assignments.  Assignments will not be accepted via email, unless prior arrangements are made.

 Course Structure:

Part One — Fishing in “Western” Literature and History: Contemplation and Escape


Aelian, On the Nature of Animals excerpt (handout).

Dame Juliana Berners, A Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle (handout).

Isaac Walton and Charles Cotton, The Compleat Angler: fore matter; ch’s. 1, 3, 4, 5, 21; Part 2: fore matter, ch’s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Paul Schullery: “Carlisle Mornings” (handout).

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

Arnold Gingrich, “Horsing them in with Hemingway” (handout), Fishing in Print excerpt (handout).

Ernest Hemingway, “Big Two-Hearted River” (handout), selected letters (handout).

Guest Lecturers: Emily Zeiders, MFA, of Yellow Breeches Anglers.

Tentative Paper due date: February 14.

Tentative Exam date: February 21.

Part Two — Fishing and Culture: Emotion, Thought, and “Nature”


David James Duncan, The River Why?

A.A. Luce, Fishing and Thinking.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience excerpt (handout).

Thomas Merton, New Seed of Contemplation excerpt (handout).

Victor Turner, The Ritual Process excerpt (handout).

Sam Snyder, “New Streams of Religion: Fly Fishing as a Lived Religion of Nature” (handout).

Guest Lecturers: Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, Dave Swope of Adams County Trout Unlimited,  Rod Cross of Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited.

Tentative Paper Due Date: March 20.

Tentative Exam Date: March 27.

Part Three — Fishing and Science: The Trout, its Environment, and Pennsylvania.


Stan Ulanski, The Science of Fly-fishing.

Jim Gilford and Norm Shires, editors, Limestone Legends: Papers and Recollections of the Fly Fishers’ Club of Harrisburg 1947-1997excerpts (handouts).

Selected Newspaper Articles (handouts).

Guests Lecturers: Prof. Bret Crawford, Prof. Alex Schreiber, Dr. Gene Macri, Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, local Trout Unlimited representative.

Tentative Paper Due Date: April 24.

Final Exam Date and Time: Monday May 5, 1:30 – 4:30.

Syllabus Two:

“Religion, Sport, and Water: Contemplation and Conservation

in over 500 years of Fishing Literature”

 RELI 438, Religion, Nature, and Environment


This course is an introduction to the literary history, religious significance, and cultural impact of fishing.  Students will read historically and culturally important texts ranging from those written in Ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, and in contemporary North America.  All of these texts emphasize a relationship between religious experience, fishing, and the environment.  We will explore this relationship, considering the cultural settings of each text while also learning about the overlapping aesthetic, ritual, and ecological dimensions ascribed to fishing—particularly fly fishing—by some of the most notable writers and intellectuals in European and Euro-American history.  For comparisons’ sake, we will briefly examine religion and fishing in cultures outside of the European and North American literary worlds, as well.  In addition to fishing literature, students will read relevant theoretical texts on religious experience, conservation, ecology, and “nature.”

As a whole, this course will serve as a focused study of the role that water, the environment in general, and religious practice play in the European, North American, and other cultural contexts.  Thus, the course will introduce students to literature and ways of thinking that can be applied to any implicitly or explicitly religious phenomena that are practiced in so-called “natural” places.  Moreover, the course will introduce students to the often religious significance that conservation and other ecologically informed practices play in the lives of many contemporary people.

As an upper-level seminar, this course is both reading and writing intensive.  Most of the readings, however, were originally written for a popular audience.  Also, the writing assignments will allow the student to incorporate his or her own, carefully examined reactions to these readings in his or her papers and essays.  Therefore, this class is intended to be entertaining and engaging.  Yet, it is designed for the student who is willing to consider religion within its broadest contours, who can devote concerted time to readings, and who is willing to engage in regular and thoughtful writing.  If you are not such a student, then, this course is not designed for you.


Required Books:

Swearer, Donald. Ecology and the Environment: Perspectives from the Humanities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Browning, Mark, Haunted by Waters: Fly Fishing in North American Literature (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998).

Walton, Izaak and Charles Cotton, The Compleat Angler, Oxford World’s Classics. (New York: Oxford University Press, USA: World’s Classics, 2009).

Luce, A.A., Fishing and Thinking (Shrewsbury, UK: Swan Hill Press, 2002).

Maclean, Norman, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Duncan, David James, The River Why, Twentieth-Anniversary Edition (Sierra Club Books, 2002).

Other readings are listed in the tentative schedule and will be accessible online.

Films and Guest Lectures will also serve as important resources.  The films are listed in the tentative schedule, below. Informal guest lectures will be delivered by bamboo rod maker Munsey Wheby, fly tier Brad Kern (, professor and author Craig Nova (, artist Michael Simon (, and others, at dates to be announced.  Each guest will address the aesthetic and spiritual dimensions of fly fishing, from his or her perspective as an artist or craftsperson.

Please note this course is designed to help students develop their critical reading and writing skills  Specific methods of critical reading and writing will be discussed in class at opportune times.  You are also strongly encouraged to make use of the instructor’s office hours and, if necessary, of the campus writing center (


Four three-page critical reaction papers will be submitted throughout the semester. Papers should be written in a 12 point font with 1 inch margins.  Each of these papers is worth 5 percent of your total grade (5 points each).  There will be two exams, which will include short answer and essay questions.  Each exam is worth 20 percent of the total course grade (20 points each).  Toward the end of the semester, a ten-page paper, analyzing the treatment of religion in at least three of the assigned readings, or in three texts dealing with other “outdoor” practices sometimes characterized as religious (I will provide a bibliography), must be submitted.  This paper is worth 30 percent of your total grade (30 points). Ten points are reserved for attendance.  Attendance will be taken randomly 10 times during the semester; an unexcused absence during any of these days will result in the loss of one point.  See the tentative schedule, below, for due dates and exam dates.

An accumulated 93 or more total points for the course will result in a final “A” grade (“A+” and “D-“ letter grades are not awarded at UNC).

90-92pts = A-

88-89 pts = B+

83-86 pts = B

80-82 pts = B-

77-79 pts = C+

73-76 pts = C

70-72 pts = C-

67-69 pts = D+

60-66 pts = D

0-59 pts = F


All students are expected to act in accordance with the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill Honor Code.  Among the violations of this code is plagiarism.  Plagiarism is defined at UNC as the “deliberate or reckless representation of another’s words, thoughts, or ideas as one’s own without attribution in connection with submission of academic work, whether graded or otherwise.” In order to avoid engaging in plagiarism in your papers, you must cite all quotations and paraphrases that are not your own or that are not common knowledge.  Failure to do so, or engaging in any other violations of the honor code (including any form of cheating related to test-taking), will be dealt with through the student-administered honor system.  If you have any questions about the honor code, honor system, or specific acts such a plagiarism, please see me or contact the Office of the Dean of Students.  You can also read more about plagiarism, the honor code, and the honor system at

All written assignments must be submitted by 10:00 PM on the day they are due. Save and submit your papers in the “assignments folder” on Sakai before this time. The title of your actual document should be “RELI 438 Paper # – your first and last name” (e.g., RELI 438 Paper 1 – Jane Doe).  Late assignments will not be accepted unless prior arrangements are made or if a documentable emergency occurs.

Tentative Midterm Exam Date: March 7.

Final Exam Date and Time: Monday, May 6, 12:00 PM.


Week 1: January 10

Academic Integrity, the Academic Study of Religion, and Religion as a Lived, Social Phenomenon.

Readings: Browning, ch’s 1 and 2, Haunted by Waters; Snyder, “New Streams of Religion (online).

Week 2: January 15 and 17

Water, Humanity, and Other-Than-Human Worlds.

Readings: Primiano, “Vernacular Religion” (online); Jackson, “Cultural Readings of the ‘Natural World,’” in Ecology and the Environment.

Film: Prosek, The Complete Angler.

Week 3: January 22 and 24.

Ancient and Medieval European Fishing, Monasticism, Sustenance, and Leisure.

Readings: Hoffman, ed., “Tegernsee Fishing Advice, ca 1500” (online); Berners, “The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle” (online); Herd, Fly Fishing History, “The Origins of Fly Fishing,” “Fly fishing in medieval times,” “The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle” (online).

Paper 1 Due

Week 4: January 29 and 31.

King Arthur’s Knights, Celtic and Anglo Saxon Fishing, and England.

Readings: Walton, The Compleat Angler (Part I, ch’s 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 16, 21); Herd(online); Fly fishing techniques in the fifteenth century,” “Walton and his contemporaries.”

Week 5: February 5 and 7.

The Enlightenment, Play, and the Escape to Nature.

Readings: Cotton, The Compleat Angler (Part II, letters, skim ch’s V-XII), Herd, Fly Fishing History(online)

Week 6: February 12 and 14.

 The Americas, Natural Law, and Romanticism.

Readings:  Worster “Nature, Liberty, and Equality,” in Ecology and Environment; Seecombe, “Business and Diversion” (online).

Paper 2 Due

Week 7: February 19 and 21.

Environmental Ethics and Fishing as Literature.

Browning, ch’s 5 and 6 (skip “Interludes), Haunted by Waters; Buell, “Literature as Environmental(ist) Thought Experiment,” in Ecology and the Environment.

Week 8: February 26 and 28.

Fishing, Religion, and Boundaries.

Readings: Browning, ch’s 7 and 8, Haunted by Waters.

Paper 3 Due 

Week 9: March 5 and 7

Fishing, Religion, and Boundaries.

Readings:  Browning, ch’s 9 and 10, Haunted by Waters.

Midterm Exam: March 7

Week 10: March 19 and 21.

Fishing, Religion, and Conservation.

Readings: Luce, Fishing and Thinking.

Week 11: March 26 and 28.

Lived Religion, Map, and Territory.

Readings: Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

Week 12: April 2 and 4

Lived Religion, Nature Mysticism, and Ecology.

Readings:  Duncan, The River Why.

Film: A River runs Through It.

Week 13: April 9 and 11.

Lived Religion, Nature Mysticism, Ecology.

Readings: Duncan, The River Why; Nova, ch.1 (online).

Paper 4 Due.

Week 14: April 16 and 18.

Native American and other Religious Views of Water, Fish, and Fishing.

Readings: Browning, ch 3, Haunted by Waters; Tucker, “Touching the Depths of Things,” in Ecology and the Environment; Lokensgard, “One-Horned Serpents, Underwater People, and Fly Fishers” (online).

Week 15: April 23 and 25

Religion, “Nature,” and the Environment.

Readings: Taylor, “From the Ground Up,” in Ecology and the Environment; Browning, ch’s 10 and 11, Haunted by Waters

Analytic Paper Due, April 25.

Final Exam: Monday, May 6, 12:00 PM

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