10 Ways To Give Back – And Pay It Forward – While Fly Fishing
What do you enjoy so much about fly fishing? I’ve read many eloquent descriptions of destinations, experiences, strategies, and the river conservation inherent in our sport. Next ask, how can we impact the greater good and preserve our streams and fisheries? Whether sharing what you enjoy so others can “catch the bug,” or actively working on the challenges that our fisheries face, this article covers ways to spread the cheer and make a difference. And the awesome thing is, you can spend time on the water even while making a huge difference!
1. Share Your Experience and Enthusiasm
This is my number one. If informal, nothing is the same as passing on your own knowledge and enjoyment of the sport. To your kids, a friend who may not have tried it but sounds interested, a co-worker, a relative, and elderly person who would love to get out of the house. My family and friends remark that somehow when fishing is involved, all of a sudden I change from a late to an early riser, get other things done and manage my time better to make time for fishing, somehow priorities change. Little wonder why – there’s nothing like being on the river. If you haven’t already, make it a practice to show someone new the sport who hasn’t tried it yet – they will catch on to your enthusiasm as much as the skills. I was introduced to the sport by an 8th grade teacher who ran a fly shop out of his basement – and haven’t missed a beat since then.
2. Pitch In To Help A Scientific Study
Let’s face it, many rivers are becoming challenged by degrading water quality from development, mining and resource extraction, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
At the same time water temperatures are rising due to climate change and loss of tree cover. Add to that increasing fishing pressure, and in many places the future of our sport is challenged. For example, one study published by Penn State University estimates that in not that many years the average distance anglers in the Northeast will need to drive to reach quality wild brook trout fishing will increase from 45 to 90 minutes. Not just an inconvenience, the same study predicts the possible extinction of the wild eastern brook trout – a thought only unimaginable a few years ago. How can we help? Sometime I feel like the situation is out of my hands, after all what can I do, just one person, isn’t that a job for the fisheries management agencies? There’s actually lots you can do – join in to help with a river conservation project!
That question was answered when I saw an announcement and call for volunteers to help with a study to measure population change of small feeder streams in the Allegheny National Forest. It makes sense why an army of volunteers is needed, when you realize just how much data collection is needed to understanding fisheries, changes in populations over time, and the effectiveness of various fisheries management strategies. The study I mentioned above was a joint effort between the PA state fisheries staff, US department of the Interior, and Trout Unlimited, to assess how well spawning habitat for brookies had been helped by efforts to increase habitat such as removing culverts blocking passage, and downing dead trees across streams to create more cover and flow variation. So, last fall I packed up the car with my two then thirteen year old twins, drove 5 hours and stayed at a nearby lodge. Not only did we have a blast (for example dressing up the mounted deer trophy in our room), we learned a lot too. The day was kicked off by a presentation showing the extent of the trout population, what strategies had been pursued, and why our efforts were so important. Then we headed out in small groups, each led by a professional wildlife biologies or ecologist, to gather data – namely spotting brookies and recording their location. After a day wading and tromping through the bush we were just that – bushed – but knew we had made a difference by collecting data the acquisition of which would be way too expensive for any one agency. We were even privy to a distribution of the results after all the data had been assimilated. All in one day – eye opening, a great day outdoors, and a great feeling knowing we had contributed in a concrete way. Check with your local agencies and non-profits and see how you can help out!
3. Stream Clean-Up
This is a classic one, yet always needed for river conservation. As much as we like to get away to wild and pristine waterways, usually the rivers we fish closer to home build up a degree of litter and trash. Try spending a day with a group of others picking it up leaves the stream looking beautiful and and ready for the next anglers to enjoy. There are very often groups already organized that do this at least once per year. If not, and one of your local or favorite streams needs it, organize one yourself! What a great way to meet new people, get outside, and restore a stream to it’s natural condition. A few tips and precautions to help the day go smoothly:
- Get the word out several months in advance to enable a healthy turnout for your river conservation and cleanup project. Tell participants what to wear (boots, gloves, jeans, prepare for weather, etc.) and bring (lunch, supplies).
- Scout the stream in advance, what supplies will you need? Often there’s more than trash bags involved, how will you dispose of old tires and other bulky items, or handle specialty items such as car batteries?
- Be sure to ask permission of any private landowners before tackling stream that runs through their property.
- Safety – have someone present who is well trained in emergency first aid, and is looking out to help prevent incidents in the first place. Climbing up and down stream banks, handling trash that can be sharp or rusty, along with wildlife may present hazards – not to be avoided but managed.
4. Join A Local Club
Mine is called the “Main Line Fly Tier’s” club, held monthly at our local community college. While I can’t attend nearly as regularly as I’d like to, every time I do I feel plugged in. Every meeting has a guest speaker, such as a recently published book’s author, representatives from equipment manufacturer’s, discussion of upcoming events, and just fun discussion. I hear where others have been fishing, upcoming travel, river conservation projects, and ideas I never would have learned otherwise. I’ve gotten to help staff a fly tying table for kids at a trade show, and as yet haven’t been able to attend everything I’d like to there’s so much going on – pre-stocked ponds for kids to learn on special weekends before the season opens, members only camping trip on the famed Upper Delaware, fly tying classes, Christmas gear raffle and give away for fundraising, the list goes on. If you want to feel plugged in, this is a great way to go.
All of the ideas above are “get involved” activities, active, and engaged. This one is more informative, reading to inform yourself of what is going on with the fisheries that are important to you. While informative in-of-itself, at this point I’m suggesting reading the following types of material to help you choose how to best approach numbers 6 – 10 below:
- General articles and press about an area of river conservation, or fisheries of interest to you.
- Websites and press releases of local and national non-profits working on issues of importance to you – what is their mission, what activities are they under taking, what percent of their funding do they dedicate directly to their mission, etc.?
- Articles and studies of river quality and fisheries habitats issued by universities, government agencies, non-profits, and consultants (often these are available simply by Googling your favorite river using search strings such as “[my favorite river’s name] quality study,” or “fisheries habitat in [my favorite river” etc. While you may pull some very technical material, I find when I do this an amazing collection of articles and other material can help me inform myself in a matter of minutes of reading time.
6. Join A National Non-Profit Making A Difference
Sometimes it may seem like issues are so large they are out of our hands. But like the stream study I mentioned above, there are many good organizations actively looking out for our fisheries and river conservation – working to proactively seek and implement solutions to stream quality. Just the membership dues themselves create a funding base that is used by well run organizations to accomplish many beneficial activities. You can expect to receive a newsletter with updates about the organizations activities and accomplishments. Not to mention, sometimes there are perks such as a new fly rod in return for joining with a lifetime membership! Without endorsing any one organization, find below a list of some you can consider joining after doing your homework:
- International Game Fish Association
- Leave No Trace
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
- Trout Unlimited
- Wild Fish Conservancy
- World Wildlife Fund
7. Contribute Financially To Non-Profits
Once you’ve joined one a non-profit that you feel is making a difference, beyond the membership dues you can also expect to receive additional fundraising requests. These are optional, and of course you’ll need to make your own assessment of the amount that you can and prefer to give. We suggest that you ask the organization for a list of specific initiatives that the funds will be used for, if you can direct your contribution to a specific cause you would like to champion (they will typically have many initiatives in motion), and what percent of your contribution will go directly to the initiative you are sponsoring (in contrast to what percentage is used for administrative and overhead activities). Increasingly, organizations like these are building endowments (investment portfolios that provide enough ongoing income to sustain an initiative in contrast to continual fundraising efforts), and will also accept larger donations in the form of a trust or dedicated portion of your estate. Having gotten to the point of doing your research well, understanding where your money is going, and also giving towards a cause you believe it, you will undoubtedly feel good that you are making an impact to the benefit of fly fishing beyond what you can do as an individual or small group. You may also want to follow up by ensuring that the organization provide updates on the specific initiatives you contributed funding to, such as specific river conservation projects, if that is not automatically done in their normal newsletter. This “trust but verify” approach is a hallmark of seeing through that your contribution is having the desired effect.
8. Report Damage and Threats To Fisheries and Streams
“See Something, Say Something” applies well beyond airport security. Be observant and proactive – the health of our fisheries and streams relies on not just officials but also you and I to notice when something is going awry in time to make a difference. With ever more limited budgets allocated to agencies that protect the environment, officials rely more on reports from fishermen and citizens to help protect our fisheries. Just a few examples of how everyday observations have helped keep a river conservation situation from getting worse, or brought a perpetrator to light:
- Fish kills of any magnitude more than just a few fish (can be a result of environmental conditions such as low oxygen levels or toxic algae)
- Illegal dumping of untreated waste water and chemicals from tanker trucks and industrial processes
- Emerging oil and other contaminants leaking from buried waste sites
- Illegal dumping of solid wastes into waters (such as rolling old vehicles off a ledge, dumping trash that may have contaminants such as batteries, etc.)
- Use of illegal pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides
Whatever you do, report any situation you believe to be troublesome to the authorities, who are well versed in the applicable standards and law. Do not attempt to take up an issue directly with a landowner or company, and by no means take matters into your own hands (such as trespassing). Observation and advocacy are constructive and shine a light on an issue that needs addressing, whereas vigilantism can backfire in that the method may overshadow the issue.
9. Volunteer With A Social Support Organization
As the ranks of fly fisher people increase who recognize the enjoyment, healthy lifestyle, relaxation, and even artistic aspects of fly fishing, several organizations have sprung up to translate fly fishing into experience and benefits for individuals going through a difficult time of any reason. Fly fishing programs, instructors, and volunteers have expanded programs to reach and involve:
- Inner city youth, some of whom have never seen a significant green space much less a pristine fishery
- Veterans recovery from injury or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
- Handicapped and disabled individuals who may not normally be able to access fishing
- Elderly who also may not have ready access to fishing
10. Dedicate Your Career, Second Career, or Even Your Life’s Mission
Even after reading all of the above, not enough? Consider dedicating more of your career, a career change, or even formulating your life’s vision and mission around protecting the environment and with it the fly fishing way of life. In fact, the need and demand for environmental, water resources, and ecological focused careers has blossomed such as nearly ever major college and university offers coursework and degrees in one of the following. Positions can be found in most major companies, state and federal agencies, consulting companies, data collection and environmental monitoring outfits, news and reporting organizations. Consider reading up to help hone in on your particular interests, talk to several people who are already in the line of work you are considering, and take some trial coursework to see how much you enjoy the subject or career path. My own change in majors to environmental engineering came after my first college level summer job, which I enjoyed immensely (hey pulling out my fishing rod during a lunch break was considered extra work, and once even saved the population study by allowing measurement of the only smallmouthbass seen that day!) doing fisheries population and hydrology studies for the Illinois Natural History Survey, which led to undergraduate research in quantifying fish habitat, eventually to a masters in environmental engineering management and finally 25 years in environmental consulting and working in the energy and utilities sector. A long albeit not comprehensive list for you to consider would include:
- Clean energy specialist
- Environmental consultant
- Environmental economist
- Environmental educator
- Environmental engineer
- Environmental toxicologist
- Fisheries biologist or ecologist
- Fisheries geneticist
- Fisheries policy expert
- Hydropower specialist
- Land use planner
- Marine biologist
- Natural resource management or policy expect
- Outdoor recreation policy expert
- River conservation professional
- Water or wastewater engineer