By Hannah Kieffer
Lina Blair, Grand Rapids Community College’s Director of Student Life and Conduct, contributes to the college in many ways.
Blair has contributed to the well being of countless students by offering them assistance. She makes sure the food pantry runs smoothly, that students get the help they need. She is also responsible for student conduct and disciplinary actions. But she spends her weekends rather differently than most of us. In order to unwind and see some of Michigan’s beautiful scenery Blair fly fishes.
Fly fishing has seen growing popularity among women in the past few years. Blair started fishing in college while attending Northern Michigan University. It started off as a love for kayaking but slowly turned into a passion for fishing. NMU is well known for its beautiful campus, and close proximity to water, which only further helped her explore her love for the great outdoors.
“I fished when I was a little kid and remembered really loving it, so I fished when I kayaked to have something to do,” said Blair. “I had mentioned to my uncle that I had picked up fishing again. He sent me a fly ride, reel, and a book about how to fly fish. And it sat in my apartment for a year, and I thought, ‘I’m going to give this a try.’”
Ever since then Blair has been spending nearly every free minute she has out on the water. It can be a very relaxing activity. She is the only one in her immediate family who fishes regularly. When asked if she prefers to catch and release or eat the fish she catches, her answer was surprising.
“I’m allergic to fish,” she said. “I really like to catch and release. You know obviously, there are some types of fish I’ll save for someone who likes fish. But I won’t ever give a brook trout to anyone, because they are too pretty. 99% of the time I catch and release.”
Some may think that fishing while having an allergy to fish is strange. However, for Blair, it isn’t about the reward of catching fish. She fishes to relieve stress and enjoy the beauty of Michigan.
Fly fishing is an especially intricate skill that takes a lot of practice to master, and a decent amount of time is spent tying flies before you even get out on the water. Blair has been fishing regularly since 2003, and does so with friends on the weekend.
One of her best friends from college, Jon Fancher, still regularly fishes with her on the weekends. He works at Steelcase as a User Experience Researcher. Despite Fancher and Blair’s very different careers, fly fishing has kept them close.
“I think it’s one of our hobbies together, it’s always something to go do,” Fancher said. “We try flies, especially in the winter. My partner has been getting into it as well.”
When asked about his love for fly fishing, Fancher said he also loves seeing the sights.
“It’s always like a puzzle, I feel like every time I learn something new,” Fancher said. “But I also think it gets you out in nature. Fly fishing, especially being in waders and standing in the water, is something that sets it apart. Traveling up and down the stream it’s kind of like hiking.”
With almost 20 years of practice, Blair makes it look easy. However, according to Blair the best place to start learning about fly fishing is YouTube.
“If you’re interested in fly fishing there’s a ton of YouTube videos,” said Blair. “A lot of fly shops have YouTube channels. You can learn about things that are specific to Michigan. That’s a great place to start.”
Blair also commented on the growing diversity within the fly fishing industry.
“The history of fly fishing is kind of bougie. When you think of fly fishing you think of rich old men doing it. There’s this really cool movement in fly fishing to get young people and women and people of color involved in fly fishing. So you don’t have to worry too much these days about having a ton of money to get started.”
Blair was the only woman on a guided fishing trip in November.
“It was 12 guys and me,” Blair said. “People weren’t really talking to me or asking what I knew. The next day we were all fishing all day, and at the end, it was freezing cold. All the guys were sitting on the bank behind me, and I’m still fishing”
As it turned out her determination paid off.
“Nobody caught any fish, but I hooked this steelhead in front of them,” Blair said. “And suddenly they all wanted to know what I used and how I tied it.”
Being in a male-dominated sport has its setbacks, but that won’t be deterring Blair. She regularly goes fishing with friends locally, as well as in the Upper Peninsula. Fly fishing has quickly become a lifelong hobby of hers. With all the help she offers to students at GRCC, it is nice to know that she still takes time for herself, in Michigan’s wonderful rivers and lakes.