NEWPORT — As the (slightly modified) saying goes, if you give a Nokomis Regional High School student a fish, you’ll feed him for a day, but if you teach the student to fish then you’ll feed him for a lifetime.

That’s the idea behind a new English elective course at the high school: fly-fishing.

The unconventional course incorporates both in-classroom instruction in which students journal and read narrative nonfiction about fishing, and field trips out to lakes and rivers where they learn how to fly-fish using equipment supplied by the school.

The elective was first taught in the spring by English teacher Nick Miller, who said the class is being taught again in both the fall and spring semesters this school year at Nokomis, a public school in Newport that accepts students from Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans as part of Regional School Unit 19.

Nokomis Regional High School student Devin Treannie fly-fishes Monday on the Piscataquis River in Guilford. In the background is Low’s covered bridge. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“I think fly-fishing is interdisciplinary,” Miller said. “There’s the kinesthetics of learning a new physical skill, but then there’s so much learning about your environment. There’s all kinds of ecology to learn, we study the natural history of the area, and then, of course, the writing goes along with it.”


Miller has taught high school English for 11 years and said he’s seen an increasing need for courses that actively engage student interest. The wide availability of personal technology nowadays puts teachers in constant competition with cellphones and social media for the attention of kids, he said.

“During the pandemic even we educators ourselves were forced to facilitate screen time during online learning,” Miller said. “Now we’re sort of trying to recover some of the in-person engagement that we lost as a result of the pandemic.”

Miller pitched the idea for the course last year to Principal Mary Nadeau in his interview for a teaching position at Nokomis. Nadeau thought it embodied Nokomis’ philosophy of “doing high school differently,” and said the pair decided to make it happen.

Nokomis has long been pushing for more interdisciplinary courses that incorporate off-site learning, Nadeau said Monday. And though that push began before the pandemic with more field trips, Nadeau said that since students returned to school after a period of distance learning, staff made an effort to add some full, nontraditional academic courses to their roster.

Nokomis Regional High School student Gabe Guide casts his line Monday while fly-fishing on the Piscataquis River in Guilford. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“It was definitely rough going through those years (during the pandemic),” Nadeau said. “Particularly for high school students, they needed some joy to come back to education. I think when you can find a high interest topic that hooks students … that can serve as the foundation for some rich education.”

The elective is particularly appealing to Nokomis students who come from a rural region that offers a range of outdoor recreation, she said.


One of the 11 students taking the fly-fishing course this fall is Izaiah Cook, who signed up because he grew up fishing, often going up to Jackman to catch brook trout with his older brother. The sophomore said this summer he tried ocean fishing and now wants to learn fly-fishing.

Just a few weeks into the semester, the class is making the most of fishing season (which traditionally ends Sept. 30, Miller said), and students have been out to waterways in the region several times, no matter the weather.

“It was tricky at first but we got the hang of it,” Cook said.

Cook and his classmates went up to Guilford on Monday to fish for brook trout and landlocked salmon along the Piscataquis River. The only student to catch a fish thus far is Gabe Guide, another sophomore, who Miller said caught a 3- to 4-inch perch on their first day out.

Nokomis Regional High School student Gerry Genereux, center, engages with teacher Nick Miller, left, Wednesday as students write in their journals about Monday’s fly fishing trip to the Piscataquis River. The class, which also includes Devin Treannie, right, is an interdisciplinary English course focused on fly fishing. Miller designed the curriculum for the class. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Guide said he had never tried fly-fishing before but wanted to take the course because Miller is a “wicked good teacher.” On top of that, Guide’s great aunt passed away earlier this year and left him and his father 50 to 60 antique fly-fishing rods, he said. Guide said he hopes that by taking the course and catching some fish, he’ll prove himself worthy of a couple of the rods.

The fly-fishing class is one of several unconventional courses that Nokomis faculty have organized this year, Nadeau said. Another that particularly excites her is called “Are You a Mainer?” That class takes freshmen and sophomores up north, down south, around central Maine and to the coastline to explore Maine’s culture and industries.

Nokomis’ expanding curriculum is supported in part by the efforts of the Barr Foundation, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that provides professional development opportunities and grant money for educators. The school is one of dozens in New England, including Portland public schools, to be supported by the foundation. Nadeau estimates the school has received just under $1 million from the foundation over the seven years they’ve worked together.

“It’s really given us a support system to support some of the great ideas our staff have had, and to bring them to fruition,” Nadeau said. “I’ve spent my career in high school. And, for me, it’s a joyful place to be. I think these last few years were definitely rough; it’s important as the leader to make sure we’re finding opportunities to show that school can be fun.”

Comments are no longer available on this story