Patiently he will coach a blind boy learning the rudiments of bait casting, lobbing a practice plug at a doughnut-shaped "skish" (skill plus fish) target on one of the athletic fields. "That one," he will say, "was one o'clock and over by eight feet." Eventually, using the same technique as an artillery spotter, he coaches a sightless young man until he can actually compete in skish tournaments.
News of the creation of Philpott's fishing classes spread rapidly around the University of Florida campus and he soon was swamped with applicants. The next year the courses were expanded to include the physically fit. Still, the handicapped receive preference when the class rolls are drawn up.
Philpott now teaches four classes, each limited to 20 students. Classes meet twice a week and new classes are formed each semester, so that during the course of the year about 160 young men and women receive instruction in the gentle art of angling.
It is by no means a cinch course. It begins with lectures and seminars on conservation, fishing laws and courtesy, safety, the use and care of equipment, and theories concerning the feeding habits, spawning periods, migration urges and more esoteric information concerning fish. The Philpott theory is that the condition and temperature of the water has more to do with successful fishing than any other factor, although he does not discount the seasons of the year, phases of the moon, direction and force of wind and color and movement of the lure or live bait.
"I have seldom in my life been skunked," he says. "I have rarely fished a lake without catching at least one fish." Some of the students, expecting naught but carefree outings on the shores of some azure pool, drop out when confronted with the first written examinations.
PRACTICAL FISHING BEGINS
After the lectures comes instruction in accuracy and casting techniques. Each student enrolled in the course is issued an excellent rod and reel at the beginning of each class and is expected to keep them in first-class condition and turn them in at the end of the day.
After several weeks of casting on dry land the real fishing begins. Gainesville is situated in the center of one of the finest black-bass areas in Florida. The university owns a camp on a lake, set like a great clear sapphire in a circle of pines and Cyprus, all dripping Spanish moss. The lake, a 10-minute drive from the campus, is ringed with picnic tables and benches and outdoor grills and is furnished with boats and docks—all free for the undergraduates.
A class of perhaps 12 boys and eight girls, clad in bluejeans or shorts, sets out before dawn, for bass, whether or not they feed later in the day, almost always are breaking water at first light for an early snack.
Some of the students, pessimists, carry picnic hampers. While this is not forbidden it is a practice not highly regarded. It is like using a Latin trot. The real neophyte fisherman, naturally an optimist, expects to catch his breakfast on every trip.