University of Pittsburgh

good sport

Go Fish

Pitt angler handles the waters with class.

Written by Jennifer Bails

gofishThe energetic 19-year-old hurries toward her car, ready to make the drive to a familiar stretch of state parkland. As usual, the car trunk holds a heap of fishing rods, mud-caked hip waders, and yard upon yard of fly line. It is 10:15 a.m., and her morning class at the Pitt-Greensburg campus has just ended. The Pitt student hopes to reach nearby Laurel Hill Creek within a half hour. That will give her three hours on the water, with time to return to campus before her afternoon classes begin.

Pitt’s Heather Seitz, who recently served as captain of the U.S. junior national fly-fishing team, competes in tournaments against some of the world’s best anglers. She regularly wades into streams and creeks to improve her skill at catching fish. “Fly-fishing is like any other sport—you have to put your heart and soul into it,” she says.

Seitz practices fly casting every day, whether aiming for a rubber cone in her front yard or for a trout surfacing on the water. Although the sophomore lives in a suburb close to Pitt’s Oakland campus, she commutes to Greensburg for many of her classes so she can be closer to the rural creeks of Western Pennsylvania.

Seitz, who also holds a black belt in Kung Fu, developed an appreciation for the outdoors while growing up in the countryside setting of State College, Pa. She began fishing the region’s well-stocked waters at just 4 years old through lessons from her father, S. Robert Seitz, now an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Pitt. “I think the rod was twice as big as me,” she recalls, laughing. “But I loved the time with my dad and the thrill of having a fish on the line.”

In catch-and-release fly-fishing, success depends on knowledge of weather conditions, water features, fish behavior, local bugs, and some luck. The sport relies on the spring of the rod and the flick of spun line to propel nearly weightless, artificial lures into the water. The basic skills are fairly easy to learn but not so easy to master.

Even so, the angler is well on her way. Last year, she placed 20th at the FIPS-Mouche World Youth Fly Fishing Championship held in familiar waters in central Pennsylvania. She then competed at the National Fly Fishing Championship in Boulder, Colo.

Before returning to classes this fall, she served as a fly-fishing guide on the Ponoi River in Russia. Now, she’s keeping busy with a heavy course load at Pitt-Greensburg and the Oakland campus. She’s also getting out on the water as often as possible. “Honestly, I just want to go fishing,” she says. “I love it.”