In the spring of 2020, second-year osteopathic medical students Charlie Bloom and Kelsey Klingel rollerbladed into their 8 a.m. clinical skills class on the University of New England’s Biddeford campus toting fly rods and stripping baskets — those hip-belted plastic buckets where saltwater fly-casters pile their excess line to keep it from tangling. Across the room, their classmate Hannah Akre took notice. After class, she struck up a conversation, and the next weekend, the three were out on dawn patrol on a beach south of Biddeford Pool, searching for cruising striped bass in the hours before class.
Naturally, the trio started an Instagram account to document their exploits: the Fishin’ Physicians. Med school is demanding. Lectures, studying, clinical exams, and rotations can come to dominate or socially cripple a student’s life. Fly-fishing keeps the Fishin’ Physicians well rounded and well adjusted. “One thing that we’ve found,” Klingel says, “is that, yes, our purpose is medicine, but it can also be so much more.”
Only Bloom, a New York native, came to Maine with a fishy background, having worked a summer gig in a bait shop on Cape Cod. Klingel, a Minnesotan, and Akre, who’s from St. Louis, are both self-taught fly-casters with some occasional tutelage from a few Maine guides. Five days a week, the trio has a strict 4:30 a.m. wake-up call, meets at their favorite backwater spot in Biddeford, takes in the sunrise, and sets out to bend a rod or two, all while keeping on eye on their watches, to make it to class on time.
Some 2,800 followers keep tabs on the Fishin’ Physicians via their Instagram feed, where they spread striper stoke, share tidbits on etiquette and conservation, and generally pep talk any would-be anglers — or med students. “One person actually sent us a message,” Klingel recalls, “and said, ‘I wasn’t going to apply to med school because I thought you had to be this type A perfect person, and you guys are showing me that you can actually be yourself.’”