The serenity of fly fishing is preserved as Trout Unlimited speaks out on behalf of our nation’s freshwater streams and rivers.
Words by Jake Jarvi / Photography by Simon Perry
Fly fishing is very meditative. Standing knee-deep in a flowing stream, one casts out the line to land lightly in the water to mimic the natural behavior of an insect, compelling the fish to grab the lure. It’s a very particular skill that takes time to develop and requires focus, patience, and, above all, healthy freshwater stream systems. Trout Unlimited is an organization dedicated to making sure that those waterways are preserved, restored, and available to the next generation of fly fishers.
“The world of finance is very stressful and fly fishing is one of the very few things where you can’t be thinking about anything else,” says Daniel Needham, a member of the Trout Unlimited Board of Trustees. “It’s got an almost cathartic ability to clear your head of everything else we have to deal with in running our companies and our lives. It’s a wonderful, very impassioned pursuit for many people. I want to make sure my children are able to continue experiencing it the same way I do. You realize you have to be a steward of the land.”
Trout Unlimited has been speaking out on behalf of our nation’s freshwater steams and rivers for 55 years. Founded in Michigan in 1959, it’s grown into an organization with more than 150,000 volunteers acting in approximately 400 chapters in states all across the US.
“Our volunteers are what make Trout Unlimited what it is,” says Keith Curley, Vice President of Eastern Conservation for Trout Unlimited. “Each of our chapters typically dedicates 1,000 volunteer hours per year, so our total volunteer hours are something like 670,000 throughout the organization. That’s really the beating heart of our organization. It’s an incredible level of dedication. Our volunteers in the Midwest are some of our best.”
For many of those volunteers, it’s about preserving the habitats of trout and salmon in their local area, guaranteeing that their personal fishing sanctuaries remain clean, populated, and healthy. The big project for our local fly fishing community is the Driftless Area Restoration Effort (DARE), restoring more than 600 miles of spring creeks in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest. Spring creeks, like those found around Madison, Wisconsin, the preferred fly fishing destination for the Chicagoland area, are a perfect environment for fly fishing because the water stays cold year-round and they’re packed with an abundance of biomass for the fish to feed on. However, 150 years of common agriculture, farming, and infrastructure practices have taken a serious toll on the fisheries, necessitating the DARE reconstruction project, which began in 2005. By reconfiguring the banks of the streams, removing some of the excess silt and sediment, and reseeding the streams and banks with natural vegetation they return the space to its original state to encourage the natural life cycle of fish in the area. In the early stages of the project, they were restoring about five miles of stream per year, now, they’re averaging between 12 and 20 miles per year, and they’ve restored 85 miles so far. Pre-restoration, Trout Unlimited was registering between 200 to 300 fish per mile in a stream, one year after restoration, they’re finding between 2,000 to 3,000 fish per mile.
The wider reaching impact of Trout Unlimited extends far beyond local efforts. They get involved at a federal level, advocating for changes in environmental law and lobbying for new regulations. They’ve been making headlines trying to minimize the environmental impact of Pebble Mine, a proposed open-pit gold, copper, and molybdenum mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay in Alaska, one of the world’s largest salmon runs. They argue that the development and operation of the mine would adversely affect salmon populations as the Kvichak River supports about half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon annually and the Nushagak River is among the largest Chinook salmon producers in the world, both of which are in proximity to the Pebble Mine site.
Trout in the Classroom is an environmental education program by which Trout Unlimited helps students from kindergarten through twelfth grade foster a personal conservation ethic. They raise trout from eggs before releasing them into streams, monitor fish tank water quality, study stream habitats and ecosystems, and gain a stronger appreciation of water resources.
With the Veterans Service Partnership, Trout Unlimited works with veteran rehabilitation groups throughout the country introducing wounded and returning military veterans to the therapeutic aspects of fly fishing. The serene stream environments and dedicated focus of the task aim to assist veterans in rehabilitation from physical and emotional injuries sustained during their service to our country.
“We are unique in the conservation space,” says Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “There are many organizations around the country that do restoration work, and there are many environmental organizations that do advocacy work to protect places like Bristol Bay, but we are the only group that does both. We’re now involved in thousands of restoration projects across the country that are making fishing better all around the US. If you care about clean water, there’s no excuse not to join Trout Unlimited. It’s a great organization with great people.”
For more information, visit tu.org.