More Than a Decade of Healing

Liam Wood’s passion and love for flyfishing were firmly established by the time he celebrated his ninth birthday. His mother, Marlene Robinson, took him to a flyfishing shop in Oregon, where Liam was outfitted and learned some basic casting methods. For the next several years, Liam practiced his craft.

In 1994, when Liam was 14 years old, he, Marlene and Liam’s stepfather, Bruce Brabec, moved north from Corvallis to Bellingham. Liam’s fervor for flyfishing came with him. He mastered the science of learning how to read water, how to predict where the fish were and how to tie his own flies. He read books on flyfishing, wrote short stories, and sought out not only the mystery and wonder of flyfishing, but also experienced the infinite, often subtle lessons revealed along the way. Through these experiences, Liam cultivated a respect for fish, flyfishing, and the natural world and wild places that sustain fish.

In June 1999, Liam graduated from Sehome High School. A few days later, on June 10, Liam went to H and H Outdoors Sports where he was working. He was not needed for work that day, so he decided to—what else—go flyfishing. Liam was standing in Whatcom Creek, flyfishing for trout when Olympic Pipeline Company’s gas pipeline burst upstream, sending 229,950 gallons of gasoline in the creek, before exploding. Liam was overtaken by the fumes, passed out and drowned. He was 18 years old.

Liam Wood, flyfishing

The idea of starting a flyfishing education program in Bellingham, Washington came from renowned Northwest author, David James Duncan, who has written, among other things, The River Why and My Story as Told by Water.

Shortly after the pipeline tragedy, Duncan learned that his writings were a source of inspiration to Liam. Duncan came to Bellingham for a book signing in 2001 and took some time to investigate Whatcom Creek and learn more about Liam’s short life and passion for flyfishing. Duncan shared his thoughts about the creek and Liam and subsequently came up with the idea of starting a flyfishing school in Bellingham in honor of Liam.

The name chosen by Liam’s family and others is the Liam Wood Flyfishing and River Guardian School. The name reflects the intent of the program: to introduce youth students and other community members to flyfishing with the hope that their experiences with flyfishing will engender a respect of the natural world and river ecosystems, and compel action toward conservation and stewardship of these places.

The initial step was the creation of a summer class in 2004 at Western Washington University in Bellingham, called The Art, Science and Ethics of Flyfishing. This three-credit course, offered by Dr. Leo Bodensteiner and Steve Meyer, has the dual purpose of teaching students how to flyfish and using flyfishing as a window into the structure, function, and restoration of river ecosystems and will be offered again in 2009. Again in 2009 we are offering both a morning and of an evening section so students will have the choice of getting up bright and early or falling gently asleep, perhaps with rod still in hand.

Expanding Programs: Since the initial start of this program at WWU others have expanded upon the theme of getting young people out in nature to learn to love fishing and the natural environment that supports good fishing. In 2009 Explorations Academy in Bellingham started to offer a similar program for youth called Rods, Reels, and Rivers (now called "Flyfishing Whatcom County" (Summer, 2014), and the Watershed Education Network in Missoula, Montana has also offered a Liam Wood Flyfishing and River Guardian Program for the past couple summers.

For more information about these programs check out these links:

Western Washington University program - Bellingham WA

Watershed Education Network program - Missoula, MT

Flyfishing Whatcom County- Explorations Academy, Bellingham, WA

Story about program from the Missoulian


300 N. Commercial, Suite B, Bellingham, WA 98225 Phone: 360-543-5686 Fax: 360-543-0978