Ties That Bind

Ties That Bind

Pittsburgh-based Family Tyes uses fly-fishing and fly-tying to teach important life lessons.

  • By: Phil Monahan

For Christmas 1978, Baldwin Middle School principal George Aiken—brother-in-law of famed Pennsylvania angler Chauncey Lively—gave some of his teachers a box of flies and a promise that he’d teach them how to tie. It was a simple gift, born of Aiken’s love for fly-fishing, but two members of the faculty at the Pittsburgh school, Paul Hindes and Chuck McKinney, were inspired by their newfound hobby. They recognized that fly-fishing and tying could offer kids an enriching, character-building alternative to the negative forces of drugs and alcohol that were so tempting to adolescents. In 1979, the two men, with the help of local volunteers and donations from local business, launched the Baldwin Fishing Club.

That first year, they taught a weeklong fly-tying class for seven students, followed by a day trip to Fisherman’s Paradise, the trout run in central Pennsylvania. In 1981, inspired by the club’s efforts, members of the local Trout Unlimited chapter volunteered to teach and mentor fly-fishing classes held in the high school. Over its first decade, the club expanded to include students from five other area schools and membership topped 60 adults and kids. Instead of hanging out on the streets on weekends, these youngsters were learning to tie flies or spending time on the water with role models. Overnight trips to rivers around the state helped students become more comfortable in and with the natural world, as they learned valuable lessons about persistence, commitment and patience.

Thirty years since its inception, Family Tyes—the club’s name changed when it became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 1993—has expanded its school programs and now also helps to organize clubs that bring families, community members, volunteers and businesses together to teach valuable life lessons through fly-fishing, fly-tying and rod-building. Co-founder Hindes describes Family Tyes as “much bigger than fly fishing,” placing priority on leadership, life skills and a sense of personal responsibility. “One of our charges is that we owe our kids something,” he says, “and Family Tyes works with schools, community organizations and youth development groups to offer positive outdoor learning experiences.”

Since that first class of seven, more than 15,000 students have been through one of the various programs Family Tyes offers or supports. There are now more than 20 school programs across Pennsylvania and four other states, as well as many other programs outside the academic setting. The organization partners with government agencies and private groups, such as the National Park Service, Trout and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, who brought in Family Tyes to help with the Jim Range Congressional Casting Call, held each spring in Washington D.C.

While instructors and mentors are always trying to teach kids to enjoy the outdoors, there is also serious work going on in these programs. Family Tyes was founded by educators, and they have used their expertise to ensure that all of their practices are sound and instructionally appropriate. With financial support from big-name philanthropic groups, such as the R.K. Mellon Foundation, Hindes and others at Family Tyes have created standards-based curricula for including fly-fishing elements in physical education, math and science classes.

“We could set up a program at any school in the country,” Hindes says, with minor tweaking to fit the requirements of each state. “And we can customize a program to fit the needs of anyone working with kids.”

The goals of the organization are ambitious. On the “Assets Approach” page on the Family Tyes Web site, a chart lists 40 different “developmental assets,” identified by the Search Institute, essential for youths to become caring and responsible adults. These range from “positive family communication” to “reading for pleasure” to “a sense of purpose.” Family Tyes has recently partnered with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to get feedback from kids in the program and to track the benefits of the project.

Like all nonprofit groups, Family Tyes welcomes donations of money or time. And remember: you’re not just helping to teach a kid how to fish; you’re helping to teach him to become a better adult. For more information or to make a donation, visit familytyes.com. ?

Philip Monahan is the former editor of American Angler magazine.

Color Them Hooked
Last January, a couple of hardcore anglers named Cameron Mortenson and Kevin Powell asked a bunch of artists to contribute to the creation of a one-off fly-fishing-themed coloring book for kids. The two men were so impressed by the submissions that they decided to build an organization around the concept, and a Web site, FishyKid.org, launched on August 1. Both men are fathers of young children, and felt there was a need for a good national youth initiative to keep kids and parents engaged in fly-fishing through fun activities. FishyKid.org now boasts about 70 industry sponsors and is supported by Trout Unlimited, Federation of Fly Fishers, the Sierra Club and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, among others. FishyKid hosts coloring and writing contests that offer fabulous prizes, too; one upcoming writing contest will give away a 10-foot NuCanoe. For more information, and to download the free coloring book, visit FishyKid.org.