Back in '97, my sister, who was a 4th-grade teacher at the time, inquired if I would be interested in becoming involved in the mentoring program offered by the local school district. There was a young man in her class named Johnny, whose father was no longer in his life, and his mother thought it might be a good idea for him to be paired up with a male mentor. I accepted the invitation, and for almost two years had the privelege of being Johnny's mentor. It was a fantastic program that I feel sure still exists to this day and one that left me with many great memories of helping a young person in need.
During one of my visits, my sister indicated that several of the 4th-grade classes had just finished a reading assignment where the main character in the book was a young boy who had a dream about learning to fly fish. The kids were fascinated by the book but didn't quite understand how fly fishing actually worked. When my sister indicated that I was heavily involved in that industry, several members of the faculty thought it would be a great idea to have me on campus to do a fly-casting and fly-tying demonstration. We agreed on a time, and a week later I went up to the school and spent the morning with about 50 kids, doing a casting and tying demonstration.
When I arrived at the school, I asked Johnny if he wanted to be my "fly fishing student", to which he replied with an enthusiastic "YES!" After I explained how fly casting worked, I brought him out on the playground and taught him a basic pickup and laydown cast, as well as a roll cast. After the demo was over, we went back to the classroom, where Johnny then learned how to tie a Clouser Minnow. I could tell by his reaction that this was exactly the type of positive interaction in front of his peers that he needed to help build his self-esteem.
To help put it all together, at the end of the presentation I showed them an episode of The Walker's Cay Chronicles, that featured Flip Pallot and Dave Whitlock fly fishing for Trout in Montana. To say that the kids were completely mesmerized by watching Dave's wizardry, both behind the vice, and on the water would be an understatement. The classroom, which was packed with close to 50 kids and several teachers was dead silent for the full twenty minutes that the episode ran. That is until a GIANT Brown inhaled one of Dave's hopper patterns off the surface of the tiny spring creek, causing everyone including the teachers, to gasp in surprise and amazement! Even at 9 years old, these kids could sense that they were watching someone special....a true master of his craft.
I have been involved in this sport on both a personal and professional level for over 25 years now, and I can say with no hesitation that Dave Whitlock was one of the few angling personalities whose career I actually took the time to follow. His gentle and humble nature along with his infectious enthusiasm and sharp skill allowed him to have the same effect on a well seasoned Trout bum as it did on that group of young kids, who up until that day had never seen a fly rod.
Fisherman or not, we would all be doing ourselves a great favor if we lived our lives a little more like Dave Whitlock. RIP "Hopper Man", Your gentle spirit and angling wisdom will most certainly be missed.
You can watch the episode of Walkers Cay Chronicles with Dave and Flip referenced above here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_QXfvJTzvY