Words and photography by Laurie Lane
In July, WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited partnered with the George Grant Chapter and Montana Trout Unlimited to teach a group of kids age 11-14 about fly fishing. Typically, the kids camp is at Georgetown Lake, where it brings together a large group of kids from across the country for a weeklong fly fishing event. Due to COVID, Bill, who is head of outreach for MT TU, decided instead to have small day clinics around the state with all the chapters. We had a great group of youth with one-on-one mentors. Our clinic was fortunate to be held at The Ranch at Rock Creek, where we had plenty of room to learn about gear, knots, casting, bugs, and even a tour of the new irrigation ditch on the ranch.
Bill talked with the kids about the four C’s of conservation: Cold, Clean, Complex, Connected, and why it matters. We headed out to fish Rock Creek with hope and anticipation for the kids and their new skills. It didn't take long before one of the girls caught and landed a beautiful rainbow with the help of her mentor. It was amazing to see her confidence bloom right before us. Did it hook her on fly fishing? You bet! Then one of the boys caught a fish and so on. Lunch was donated by Orange Street Food Farms in Missoula. They make great river sandwiches for guides which seemed like a good fit!
As the youth chair for our chapter, it was a treat to see the team effort come to fruition. Kids are sponges making it the perfect time to teach them about protecting what we all cherish. In my opinion, conservation and fishing of any kind should always go hand and hand. It was great to see the kids connect all the dots (or should I say bugs) and why clean cold water matters. There are good ways and not-so-good ways to catch and release a fish. The best time to teach a child about fish facts is while they're learning to fish so that they grow up not only catching fish but ensuring that there are fish to catch well into the future.
As TU members, we put a lot of time and money into cleaning up messes from the past and, it takes time for our fisheries to recover. Unfortunately, some may never fully recover. To find better solutions and prevent new threats to our fisheries, our youth need to know how rivers become polluted and why dams create challenges in the first place. It's important to remember that these kids will be voting before we know it. They are the future. As fly fishing trends, there is enormous pressure put on our fisheries, making it critical to emphasize good stewardship. It’s not always about how many or how large the fish are as much as it is about the respect for this time-honored sport and each beautiful fish we are fortunate to see.
Kudos to all our experienced TU volunteer mentors, kids, and their families. Huge thanks to the Ranch at Rock Creek, Orvis, and Orange Street Food Farm. Special Good Will goes out to Chuck Stokke for his help with planning our clinic.