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FISHING : On the Fly : When not running his landscaping firm, 65-year-old Jerry Bliss might be found teaching students casting strokes.


If you see the movie "A River Runs Through It," it just might make you pine for the cool streams of Montana and a few days of fly-fishing. But what if you can't go to Montana, and you don't know a whit about this graceful sport?

Hook up with Jerry Bliss, who has taught more than 500 people the ins and outs of fly-fishing.

Bliss, 65, has been teaching it through Ventura College since 1978. His next series of classes at the college begins Saturday and runs four consecutive Saturdays.

This is a man who--when he isn't running his Ventura landscaping business--lives for fly-fishing. He's fished from New Zealand to Alaska and, when he isn't in the water, you might catch him practicing his casting in his Ventura driveway or at a nearby park.

"I've been fishing all my life," he said recently. It began with a fishing trip with his father and brothers in the Sierra, and then in the streams of Ventura County.

He is active in the local Sespe Fly Fishers club and, two years ago, the International Federation of Fly Fishers gave him a lifetime membership because of his long involvement with the organization. He has picked up a slew of awards for his fishing and conservation accomplishments.

Most of his students know little about fly-fishing. The first class at the college runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students will learn about equipment: sizes, weights, what works and what doesn't. (Anglers can pick up a "fairly decent" rod, reel and line for $150, Bliss says.)

They will spend more than an hour learning to tie knots and put their rigs together. "The bigger the fish, the more important the knot," he cautioned. Then comes some advice on insects, and the flies that will be used to imitate them and attract the fish, generally trout.

"The fly line is weighted--the fly just goes along for the ride," he said.

The rest of the classes are from 9 a.m. to noon. In the second class, he begins teaching students how to cast on the lawn at the college.

"It sounds weird, but the lawn works well," he said.

The third lesson is at Lake Casitas, where students will try out basic casting strokes. The final class is on a stream, possibly Piru Creek or the Sespe.

"Last time we went to Matilija Creek, nobody caught anything," he said, adding that the water was roaring fast and high. "I've had classes where everyone in the class catches something."

He said he teaches a style of casting that works well for students. But practicing is essential. "If they practice between sessions, they will become fairly competent."

He demonstrated his casting on Santa Ana Creek near Ojai last week. Wearing hip boots, he waded over rocks into the rushing water and began casting upstream with his nine-foot rod. Around his neck he wore an assortment of clippers, tweezers and a little bottle of silicone goop.

Using a smooth, short arm motion, Bliss released his line far out over the water repeatedly. He was constantly in motion and, if fishing can be described as graceful, he was.

But it's not all in the wrist, Bliss says. "That's a misconception."

With that kind of no-nonsense fishing, you would think that he might have a freezer full of fish. Not so. His truck sports a sticker that states: "Catch and Release--Think about the Future."

"Ninety-nine percent of the fish go back," he said. "If I want fish, I go to a sushi bar."

Ask him if he saw "A River Runs Through It" and he'll gush about it. He might be biased, however, because the stand-in for the fly-fishing scenes was a friend. "I thought it was wonderful," he said.


Jerry Bliss teaches a series of fly-fishing classes at Ventura College on Saturdays, beginning this Saturday. The first class runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The other three from 9 a.m. to noon. The cost is $85. Call 654-6459 for information or to sign up.

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