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Fly-fishing instructor gets paid to share his passion

July 22, 1999

Dusty WissmathBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Dusty Wissmath is about as lanky as the fly rod he wields in his right hand.

Wissmath, 45, can plop a near-weightless artificial fly exactly where he wants it - 25 feet away atop a bass lurking in a farm pond or past a wary trout in a swift-running stream.

He's good enough to do it for a living. Wissmath heads up the fly-fishing school and guide service at Whitetail Resort, ventures that help keep the ski resort near Mercersburg going in the warm months.

The resort, which has been mired in financial woes in recent years, is being offered for sale in a sealed-bid auction - a move that leaves Wissmath and the handful of full-time workers still employed there wondering about their futures.

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Meanwhile, students and clients are keeping the fly fishing school and guide service busy this summer.

Wissmath, who has been honing his fly fishing skills since he was 11, taught the sport out West and talks of it like it's religion.

"It's not just putting a worm on a hook and waiting for something to happen." he said. "Fly fishing demands the most in technique and knowledge. I know. I've taught it to hundreds of people since the 1970s."

Wissmath's favorite students are those willing to listen and who go into the sport with enthusiasm. His least favorite look like they just walked out of an L.L. Bean catalog wearing the latest in hi-tech fishing duds and carrying a rod and reel whose cost might bankrupt a banker.

"They think because they spent a lot of money, they'll be a good fly fisherman," he said. "I like students who like to learn fly fishing as much as I like to teach it.

"Some people think learning to fly fish is hard. It isn't."

Wissmath teaches the basics, such as a proper grip and how to use the rod so that it does the work, not the wrist. He also teaches things that are less tangible - fly fishing history, for instance, and how to match flies with real insects that are on the water at the time, or as they say in fishing parlance, "how to match the hatch."

Wissmath and fellow Whitetail teachers and guides Steve Harry and Jerry Armstrong teach the sport in one- and two-day sessions at two farm ponds at Whitetail. Students in the two-day course spend the first day in class and the second on the water, although flies are never used in fly fishing school. All instruction is done with an empty line, Wissmath said.

Costs range from $225 for one day to $375 for the two-cay course. Both include a rod, reel and line the students get to keep.

"People don't pay me to be a fishing buddy," Wissmath said. "They pay me for my expertise to help them catch fish."

All fish caught on guided trips are released.

"I consider the fish my business partners," Wissmath said. "You don't go around whacking business partners. The idea is not to catch fish as much as it is to fish."

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