Pushing Fly Fishing Forward: The Next Generation

Photo by Oliver Rogers


By Andrew Loffredo

When I graduated college in May 2015 and shared with my peers that I was going to be working for a non-profit conservation organization to work with college fly fishing clubs nationwide, I got a variety of responses ranging from, “Whoa, that's sick,” to, “What are you doing with your life?”

Many of my peers in college viewed fly fishing as an old guy sport, with their closest mental image being Brad Pitt “shadow casting” on the banks of the Bitterroot in A River Runs Through It.

Little did they know, fly fishing is actually a growing sport in the millennial generation. I'd venture to say part of this growth is due to edgy blogs such as The Fiberglass Manifesto, Gink and Gasoline, and Southern Culture On the Fly, and the rise of simpler versions of fly fishing such as Tenkara.

Studies have shown many members of the millennial generation value the environment and experiences over the accumulation of possessions. This mindset gives fly fishing an almost magnetic appeal, as it's a hobby that embodies outdoor adventure and the preservation of wild places, and you don’t need a bunch of stuff to get started with a Tenkara set up.

But, is there more the fly fishing industry can do to recruit additional millennials?

Enter the TU Costa 5 Rivers Program. The 5 Rivers program is a network of over 65 TU-affiliated college fly fishing clubs around the nation. As the capstone the Trout Unlimited Headwaters Youth Program, these clubs seek to engage current and fly fishers-to-be on their campuses nationwide.

5 Rivers Clubs complete 5 initiatives including Conservation, Community Outreach, Costa Ambassadorship, Fundraising, and TU Connection to earn pro deals on equipment from program sponsors in order to help reduce the cost curve to getting started in the sport of fly fishing while in college.

5 Rivers Clubs also get to attend regional gatherings put on by Costa Sunglasses and TU – the 5 Rivers Rally on the East Coast every fall, and the 5 Rivers Rendezvous in the Rockies every spring.

“Getting young people involved in fishing as well as conservation is crucial for the health of our sport. If there aren’t new participants coming in, there won’t be anyone in the future to protect it” said Todd Barker, The College Community Leader at Costa.

Thanks to Costa's sponsorship, 65 students from 12 universities across the West were able to attend the 5 Rivers Rendezvous, free of charge. Not to mention every student walked away with great swag donated by Costa, Far Bank, The F3T, TFO, Yeti, Orvis, Loon, Postfly, Cheeky, and Flymen Fishing Company!

Many of us reading this blog are seasoned fly anglers who've made many a road trip for fly fishing and would think of an 18-hour drive with your fishing buddies to hit some of the best water in the West as a no-brainer.

But imagine this: almost half of the 65 attendees had only been involved in fly fishing for 2 years or less. Some of them even caught their first fish at the 5 Rivers Rendezvous!

This being said, it's pretty crazy to think these students were able to rope their classmates into traveling at least 3 hours from their campuses to participate in an event centered around an activity they'd never or only limitedly participated in.

They didn’t know it yet, but they'd be hooked on fly fishing by the end of the weekend.

This year’s 5 Rivers Rendezvous was headlined by a premiere of the 2016 F3T, a “Photo Hunt” competition, and a Pig Farm INK Iron Fly tying contest.

Competition is a mainstay on a college campus, and is heightened even further when other colleges are involved. However, this was no ordinary competition; teams were comprised of students from multiple universities, and the events required their creativity, cameras, and fishing abilities to attain victory. Anything from a Sasquatch sighting, to catching the biggest fish, to every bag full of garbage removed from the stream were worth points.

“Some of students were hesitant to sign up [for the 5 Rivers Rendezvous] because of the competition in years past,” said David Muench, a senior and the current president of the University of Colorado- Boulder fly fishing club, “but the photo competition was inclusive enough so everyone could participate."

One student even fashioned his own Tenkara rod out of a stick to attain extra points.

After dinner was eaten and the dust settled after the photo competition and raffle, students battled it out on the fly tying vise at the Pig Farm Ink Iron Fly, where students of all experience levels gathered around the fly tying table to learn whose “vise has the spice” in a fly tying competition based off the popular Food Network TV show, “Iron Chef." 

In an Iron Fly, contestants participate in series of fly tying mini-challenges (such as tying a fly while blindfolded) using the same "mystery ingredients to create the ultimate fish snack." The judging was fierce and fun, and a bitchin’ time was had by all.

As the weekend came to a conclusion and students departed from the lodge, it was clear they all took something meaningful away from the 5 Rivers Rendezvous. It wasn't the swag, the raffle prizes, or even the title of 1st place in the Iron Fly or photo hunt, but something truly special.

“We just started our club a year ago and are still struggling through the kinks of the process. So seeing what other clubs have done just inspires me to put the effort and dedication into advancing our own club.” says Audrey Adler, a sophomore at the University of Denver. “I also just loved seeing how many college anglers are out there that all share this passion for fly fishing. It’s one of the coolest communities I have become a part of, filled with people who share a love for life, the outdoors, fish and the environment."

And it wasn’t just the students: “As 5 Rivers was gaining momentum in Colorado, Colorado Trout Unlimited (CTU) started the Rendezvous as a way to get all of the clubs together” said Garrett Hanks, the former CTU Youth Education Coordinator and event volunteer. "Back then we had less than 20 [attendees] the first year, and now we have over 60 which is pretty cool."

In addition to this amazing growth, what was really inspiring to me was what Garrett said after. “I came to the 5 Rivers Rendezvous this year and saw students who attended the CTU Youth Camp, TU Teen Summit, and then came back as the leaders of these clubs which is pretty fulfilling to see. They are going to be the TU Leaders of tomorrow...”

It appears that the future of the great sport of fly fishing and conservation is bright.

For more pictures from the event, head over to the Flymen Fishing Company blog http://flymenfishingcompany.com/blogs/blog/99587201-pushing-fly-fishing-....


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