The Baghdad School of Flyfishing: Learning to Cast in Saddam's Back Yard

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Navy Lieutenant Joel Stewart with a mangar, a carp-like gamefish he caught in one of the ponds surrounding Saddam Hussein's royal palaces in Baghdad. The Baghdad School of Flyfishing
By: Andrew Snyder When Navy Lieutenant Joel Stewart was packing for deployment to Iraq, he made sure to include his fly rod. He was hoping that the man-made ponds outside Saddam Hussein's palaces would be full of fish so that in the middle of the war he could pretend to be back home in Montana, casting to trout. He was not disappointed.
Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Four different views zooming in on "Camp Victory,-¿ the U.S. Army base that was once a presidential palace complex. At bottom is Lt. Stewart with an asp (Aspius vorax) caught on a fly rod. Saddam's Qasr al Faw Palace complex, renamed Camp Victory after the liberation of Baghdad, was built to commemorate Iraq's "victory-¿ over Iran in the 1980s. The palace is surrounded by artificial lakes and Roman-style villas. According to the web site globalsecurity.org, Saddam often brought guests to this palace to go hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching. It didn't take Stewart long to find the fish stocked in these lakes.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Lieutenant Stewart and another serviceman show off two large barbel taken from the ponds around Camp Victory, in Baghdad. Most of these fish were carp-like species.¿¿ Common carp, grass carp, barbel (Barbelus barbus), asp (Aspius vorax), shaboot (Barbus grypus), and mangar (Luciobarbus esocinus). Some of them were monsters (reports on Stewart's site, baghdadflyfishing.com, speak of sightings of "Moby,-¿ a 40-plus pound mangar). Fishing the ponds in 100-degree mid-desert heat, Stewart felt rooted to the area's biblical history. "This is where civilization started,-¿ he says. "And now, I was fishing it again.-¿¿¿Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Although most soldiers spent their leisure time playing video games or surfing the Internet, Stewart, standing on the bank of a lake and catching fish after fish, drew a lot of attention. Eventaully soldiers started asking him to teach them how to catch fish, too. Soon dozens were lining up, and so,last fall, Stewart started the Baghdad School of Flyfishing.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

In need of more gear than one rod and a handful of flies, Stewart posted a note on an online fly fishing bulletin board asking for donations. The response from tackle companies and fishermen across the country was overwhelming. Within weeks, Stewart had ten outfits and hundreds of flies. "People sent thousands of dollars worth of stuff,-¿ he said.¿¿ "I am still in awe of the outpouring of support.-¿Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Stewart taught three courses at a time, one early in the morning for soldiers getting off the midnight shift, and two at midday, when they could sneak out to the ponds after lunch.¿¿ During the rainy season the troops practiced casting, fly tying, and knot skills indoors. During the dry season they fished the ponds. "By the end (of a class), the soldiers can cast like pros,-¿ he said. "And they have at least one positive thing to take home from the war.-¿Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Stewart returned to his home in Montana in February, 2006, having taught at least 60 students to catch fish with fly rods. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Jones (pictured in the next slide) and U.S. Army Maj. Vance Sperry (not shown) have since taken over as deans of the school.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Jones teaches the school's knot-tying class.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

1st Sergeant Michael Smith with his first-ever fish on a fly rod (a small asp).Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

A nice asp, caught and photographed by Lieutenant Stewart. Asp have been recorded at up to 33 pounds.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

SFC Victor Aquin practices casting in in front of the Al Faw palace.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

CPT Steve Kane grins over his first fish caught on a fly rod.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

A barbel.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Lieutenant Stewart with a common carp caught on a fly rod.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

A mangar, caught by Lieutenant Stewart on his fly rod.Baghdad School of Flyfishing
Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Baghdad School of Flyfishing

Lieutenant Stewart with a shaboot.Baghdad School of Flyfishing