Guest post by Susan Skrupa
As the mayflies take to the wing in May, so do our mentees and with The Mayfly Project UK, they thrive!
Positive childhood memories and good role models are not often available for the young people that we mentor. Through our projects, The Mayfly Project UK provides an emotionally and physically safe environment for our mentees to find respite from the stress of life in care, and to grow. Beyond the fun of learning to fly fishing, our mentees experience the healing power of nature and of time spent out in the water. And with each fish caught, our programme supports their growth through the development of new skills, building resilience and improved self-esteem - creating many positive memories for life!
Let me tell you about our very first mentee. JW had fished once before but not even heard of fly fishing. However, he was a natural, catching fish from the first session. Like most teenagers, he was a bit short on patience, distractible and could get easily frustrated - but he was curious. During our third project outing, our Emerger Stage (all project stages are based on part of the lifecycle of a mayfly), JW discovered the thrill of sight fishing! In a shallow pool beneath a grove of trees, he witnessed a few large trout circling. The excitement was almost too much to bear. It was a tight spot with overhanging branches that would require some pretty technical casting but he was not deterred.
He took a deep breath and tried every cast that we taught him - lobs, backhanded, bow and arrow. There were even a few seemingly crazy attempts that the mentors tried to discourage - but he persevered and landed the casts! Whilst he was not successful in tempting a trout, and he experienced many tangles and found himself caught up in the trees, the lesson of ‘keep calm and cast again’ helped him push beyond the excitement with calm focus to problem solve and deliver casts beyond all of our wildest expectations. Growing in skill and in confidence, he had emerged as a fly fisherman.
For our fifth and final project outing, called the ’Big Catch Stage’, we try to create a unique and special experience for our mentees in a special location for the entire day. Thanks to the generosity of Orvis UK, we planned a day on the iconic River Test at their Ginger Beer Beat at Kimbridge. JW had not fished on a river before, so we explained the significance of this particular river, discussed the unique chalk stream ecology and focused our lesson on river fishing (up until then we had been fishing on stillwater lakes). Then, we presented him with the gift of a new rod and all the gear that he would need to continue his journey in fly fishing.
Once he got over the surprise that this gear was his to keep, he set up his new rod and coordinated his gear, eager to get out on the river and fish. On his first ever river outing he hit a ‘Grand Slam’- catching brown trout, rainbow trout and grayling! He even out fished the mentor team with a total of 7 fish for the day! All fish were caught fully on his own and with his new gear, an Orvis 5wt Clearwater rod/reel combo. The experience left him overflowing with pride and confidence. There were high-fives all around. JW’s mentor Garth Lester was moved by the experience, “I loved working with JW, seeing the joy on his face at catching his first fish and seeing how confident he became by the end of the project. Whatever other problems might have been going on in his life, he was able to lose himself when out fishing. It was a privilege to work alongside him.”
Our mission is simple, to connect with young people in foster care through mentorship in fly fishing. Our projects foster connection out on the water, empowering our mentees to develop new skills, building self-esteem and showing them how spending time in nature can be fun! For some, this can be life changing. We hope that every child we mentor leaves not only with a desire to spend time in nature and continue to develop their fly fishing skills but knowing that they are not alone in their journey. We are proud to have Orvis UK with us on our journey. As our equipment partner, they are providing us with the necessary tools to connect with and empower our kids - and the gift of gear for our mentees to keep. Thank you for your continued support and for helping us change these young lives.
As for JW, we have heard that he has been back on the lakes practicing his casts and catching fish! Keep calm and keep fly fishing!
Susan Skrupa is the Founder and Executive Director of The Mayfly Project UK. To find out more about the organisation or how to get involved please visit www.themayflyprojectuk.org.