In 1984, four students sat a table with an instructor to learn about fishing techniques. Now, up to 50 anglers crowd a room for a chance to take Captain Jerry McGrath’s annual fishing course.
Mr. McGrath, a former Shoreham-Wading River fifth-grade teacher, is entering his 33rd year of teaching the popular course. The class is more than a hobby to him; he has made lifelong friends from it.
“I’m there because I love teaching the course,” Mr. McGrath said. “I get to go fishing and make loads and loads of friendships as a result. The people who take my class come fishing with me.”
When the class started as part of the SWR Adult Education program, it had only four participants.
“I equated it to having people down in my basement to have a conversation about fishing for two hours,” he said. “I had no notes, everything was an ad lib.”
That first class almost didn’t run because of the small class size, so for the second semester, Mr. McGrath prepared notes and advertised the course, which increased response and led to an expansion of two sessions a semester.
“I can’t believe this is my 33rd year, because I was the person who was so afraid to get in front of people in public,” he said. “I’m just always flattered that anyone would come and listen to me talk. I’m just a product of the old college try.”
The class, Sport Fishing on Long Island, runs for eight weeks and meets for two hours every Tuesday night starting Jan. 9. After Mr. McGrath retired from teaching, the Suffolk County Department of Parks and Recreation picked up the program and kept Mr. McGrath as the teacher, where he has been for the past 15 years.
The class typically focuses on one or two types of fish each week. Students receive a thick packet prepared by Mr. McGrath, who lives in Wading River, filled with tips on how and where to catch fish, along with relevant articles. He also goes over bait and lure selection, chumming, fishing locales and hot spots, anchoring, tackle selection, knot and rig tying and safety. He teaches about bluefish, blackfish, striped bass, sea bass, fluke and other species found inshore on Long Island. In addition, he brings in charter captains and deckhands as guest speakers and organizes field trips that take place once the class is completed.
Before class ends, he puts out sign-up sheets for about seven people to go out on a private charter boat in Orient for a day of fishing, which he organizes and considers to be the best on Long Island.
“The best experience is when kids come out on the field trips,” he said. “I taught fifth grade for 30 years and I enjoy that age, and when I see a kid come out with their father or mother, and they catch their first 25- to 30-pound striped bass. I can’t describe the feeling that I get from it.”
The class costs $145 and discounts are given for children under 14 and seniors. It is held at the H. Lee Dennison Building, located at 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge.
Mr. McGrath draws on experiences from the days when he owned a charter boat and when he often went fishing with his father before he began teaching. Since then, he’s picked up another passion: photography. His photos have been displayed in local venues and he’s even cut back the number of classes he teaches to pursue his second hobby.
“You start somewhere and then you move on up the ladder and it gets better,” he said, reflecting on the past 30 years.
Mr. McGrath he has kept at it for so many years because his students always tell him how much they get out of the class. They even keep his packets and refer to them regularly for angling tips.
“When people tell you they like what you’re doing and that it means a lot to them, it makes me feel good,” he said. “A lot of positive reinforcement goes a long way.”
Photo credit: Jerry McGrath Courtesy