Progressive education has penetrated so deeply into the Deep South that in Florida it is now possible to obtain college credits for proficiency in the art, or science, of angling. Fishing is included in the curriculums of the state's three big universities—the University of Florida at Gainesville, where they have the world's most comprehensive course in the taking of black bass; Florida State University at Tallahassee, where two attractive female professors teach bait casting to coeducational classes; and the University of Miami, where the more advanced scholars hunt down the sporty bonefish and sailfish. Florida Southern attracts students of new fresh-water techniques. Other of the smaller colleges are looking for instructors.
While angling is not as yet required for a degree, like English and math, it is perhaps the most popular elective subject in the catalogue. Scholastic credit is awarded for it at some of the schools and physical education credit at others.
Fishing is now regarded as one of the humanities rather than a sport. Its beatitudes long ago were recognized by Washington Irving, who said, "There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit and pure serenity of mind."
The crass truth is, however, that it was economic as much as sociological reasons that convinced the various university governing bodies that fishing be dignified as a recognized study. In Florida sports fishing has become big business, rivaling citrus, cattle and truck farming. There was a need to teach people how to fish so that some could participate in the mushrooming interest in fishing of which one finds startling evidence all over the state.
It is possible to buy tackle not only in sports shops, department and hardware stores, but in groceries, drugstores and filling stations. The latest modes in rigs and lures are displayed like weekend specials. Fishmobiles tour the state, carrying equipment to small communities and remote camps. You can purchase plugs and spinners in the middle of the Everglades. Fishing has become a second Florida boom.
At the University of Florida the commercial benefits were not considered when the course was initiated. It was started seven years ago to enable physically handicapped students to obtain their necessary credits in physical education and to provide for them a recreation and sport that would be pleasant and useful all their lives. Florida requires that each student participate in five semesters of physical education or military training before graduation. The university has the largest enrollment in the Southeast, and a small proportion of its students, naturally, are physically handicapped. For them, a course in fishing was a brilliant solution. All that was needed was a professor of angling and he, fortunately, was at hand.
Prof. Frank Philpott, M.A., was already a figure in Florida's College of Physical Education, Health and Athletics—a powerful, stocky figure constructed like a medium tank, yet soft-spoken and modest to the point of shyness. He gladly volunteered, for Philpott was a dedicated fisherman who had been at it all his life.
His first courses were limited only to those students who could not engage in other sports. They were coeducational from the beginning. That first year the largest black bass caught by a student, a 10-pounder, was hauled in by a senior who was blind in one eye and who had only limited vision in the other.
Philpott has worked out a procedure for teaching fishing to blind students. He uses a directional clock system, the same system American airmen use when they spot an unidentified plane.