An Open Letter to Trout Unlimited

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How you lost me, and how you can get me back.

I attended my first TU meeting when I was about fifteen years old. I was about two years into the sport, and about three years before I took my first guiding gig. I remember thinking that the members were full of wisdom and knowledge, and that by the time I reached their age I might be as well. My participation waned, though, as I moved away for school and started a career. About four years ago, I began attending the meetings again and ended up taking a position on the board of my local chapter. However, as my involvement in the industry increased and my opinions on what I value began to take on a more complete shape, I stepped away. Perhaps this will serve as some sort of explanation.

This is a piece I’ve wanted to write since I took over this blog over a year ago. I’ve been hesitant, however, for a few reasons. Those who know me may view this as some sort of attack on my local chapter and those in charge; it is nothing of the sort. Additionally, it could be said that my experiences are unique and not representative of members of the organization as a whole. One reason for my delay in writing this, however, is that I wanted to speak with members from other locations. I can safely say that my experience and opinions are not nearly as unique as I would hope.

“To conserve, protect, and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.”

-TU Mission

I’ll begin by commending TU national for the incredible amount of important and admirable work that they carry out. I’d encourage you to head to the TU Conservation page to get an idea of the extent of their work. My quibbles with the organization at a national level are almost nonexistent.

“By the next generation, Trout Unlimited will ensure that robust populations of native and wild coldwater fish once again thrive within their North American range, so that our children can enjoy healthy fisheries in their home waters.”

-TU Vision

My disagreements lie at the chapter-level execution of the ideals espoused by the organization at the national level. I’ll withhold any identifying information regarding my past experiences, but I want to talk about what gets done. To put it quite simply, the most substantial project undertaken each year is the assistance of the state of North Carolina in stocking local delayed harvest streams. Many members will then stick around after the trout wagon takes off and whack fish all afternoon. While the topic of delayed harvest fisheries or the state’s management of our trout waters are topics for another day, you cross the line from conservation organization to fishing club when you take this route. Unless the stocking of hatchery streams serves as some sort of diversionary tactic to keep anglers away from the “robust populations of native and wild coldwater fish,” I’m not seeing the connection.

To be fair, I need to point out other projects such as Trout in the Classroom that expose kids to the environments in which they live and provide them with experiences that make them feel as though they have a stake in the future of their local wilderness. This is good, this is cool, and this is worthwhile.

On to another issue. Hellbenders can serve as an indicator of water quality and stream health, and the presence of young hellbenders in a stream are a particularly encouraging sign. Perhaps the metaphor is a bit of a stretch, but follow along. For the long-term viability of a chapter, the involvement of younger members is key. The involvement of young professionals within the industry seems even more valuable. When a chapter is populated solely by the retired, the targeted engagement of younger members must be a key priority. I think these membership demographics drive the effort-prioritization that leads to a chapter serving as the unpaid stewards of a hatchery fishery.

As for the industry professionals, I’m not speaking as if they stand on some elevated platform. I’m thinking of what must be about a hundred guides in our area that derive a considerable portion of their income from the health and viability of our streams. While apathy on their part may be an explanation, the amount of participation that I witnessed on our recent Get The Tread Out on the Watuaga leads me to believe that when an event of organization provides value in return, they will pitch in. Give this considerable lobby an effort to put their weight behind, and we’ll get things done. Real things.

Also, I know someone will tell me that if these are the changes I want to see, I need to be on the inside driving them. My friends, I care deeply about these issues, but I care more about keeping my job and paying my bills. I believe that the solution must come from within the organization in the form of a substantial rethink of local efforts. Don’t make us fight for change; provide an environment in which our involvement is encouraged and valued.

So where do we go from here? I’ve included a list of suggestions below for how one might take TU at the local level from a fishing club to a conservation organization. Surely this list falls short, and I want to hear your ideas as well.

  1. Shift efforts away from hatchery fish and toward the protection and restoration of wild and native fish. Maybe you work with governmental organization and adopt a wild trout stream that could use a little help.
  2. Make a concerted and decisive effort to recruit younger members, and listen to what they have to say. Give them the opportunity to buy in to the organization, and then saddle their young backs with a hard days work on that adopted wild stream every once in a while.
  3. Reach out to the guides and industry folks in your area and encourage them to participate. Ask them why they don’t come to your meetings, and let them tell you what they value. You might learn something, and you might be surprised.

 

I’ll end on this note. We need to recognize that fishing clubs are not the same as conservation organizations, that stocked fish are worth less than wild fish, and that the future of our sport relies on the unified involvement of all of us.

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37 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Trout Unlimited

  1. I think that you totally encompassed the thoughts of every person under 60 who views fly fishing as more than just a “cool hobby” and has attended a TU meeting. Thank you, seriously, it needed to be said.

    Subsection to point 3: if you invite a “professional” from the industry to be a key member of your organization, maybe it should be for their knowledge or the expertise they can offer the group rather than just an opportunity to possibly get some free stuff from a shop???

    Education and conservation are seriously lacking at the local level, so ironically contradictory to the national agenda.

  2. All good points that I agree with, but your letter should not be to Trout Unlimited in general, but to the specific chapter you have issues with.

    Not all chapters, not even all chapters in NC are as you describe. Pisgah Trout Unlimited regularly does real in-stream conservation work to help retain banks to prevent sedimentation. We coordinate and fund Trout in the Classroom in a dozen schools in Transylvania, Buncombe, Henderson, and Polk counties. We are working with the USFS to do a two-year study of the health of the Davidson River, a study that will drive our conservation work and USFS decisions for the next decade. We do river and road trash pickups multiple times a year. We have a growing number of young members and work to recruit more through the Stream Explorers and TU Teen programs. We are working to form a 5 Rivers TU chapter at Brevard College. We sponsor attendance at Rivercourse. We have a board that is diverse in terms of age and gender, and that includes five local guides and industry professionals. Do we also help stock local DH waters? Yes, but that is just one small part of what we do.

    I invite you to join us at our next chapter meeting in Brevard, or feel free to stop by and say hello at the NCTU booth at the show this weekend. I’d love to continue the discussion!

    • Mike,
      We’re excited about getting the Brevard College Five Rivers TU chapter organized. Young enthusiasts and wise mentors! See you this weekend.

    • Thanks for taking the time to leave that comment, Mike. Sounds like you guys are running a great chapter. If I don’t make it by your booth this weekend, stop by the SCOF booth. I’ll be around.

  3. Wow,very little of what you mention rings true based on my experience with TU. The things you say sure seem to be a long way from what we have going on in Michigan and do not seem to be supported by anything I have heard from the national organization either. My local chapter hosts the Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative Project – Trout Unlimited which regularly involves school children. This is what the national organization has helped us to do. Streams in Michigan are still stocked, but there is more and more emphasis placed on natural reproduction. If you do not feel that the local organization is living up to these goals then it is up to you to lead that chapter on to a better course. Trout Unlimited needs more people to be involved and willing to take action. Leaving the organization is not a creating positive action, it is running from a challenge. Next time you meet a challenge I hope you rise to it, rather than run away. Only dead fish go with the flow!

    • John, I think I need to expound a bit on my current approach. TU is not the only game in town. Plenty of us have gone down a different route and work on specific projects/issues that we value. Don’t mistake my disagreements for apathy. Take our recent Get The Tread Out event on the Watauga River in E. Tennessee. A group of great people put in what must have been three- or four-hundred man hours pulling garbage out of the river.

      Just because there are a lot of us who work outside the TU umbrella doesn’t mean we don’t care. Quite the opposite, I think. We have found what we think are more productive and impactful ways of getting things done.

    • Absolutely, Jim. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t mind taking a bit of criticism. I think these are useful conversations, and I’m glad that SCOF can provide a platform for the discussion.

  4. John Stegmeier has it right. Wow!

    TU was organized to change trout stream management in Michigan from a put and take fishery model, dependent on hatchery truck deliveries, to a watershed approach to stream management. TU’s first slogan was Take care of the fish and the fishing will take care of itself. But not every stream can be a self sustaining trout stream. That’s a great ideal but pretty naive. We don’t want hatchery fish dumped on a self sustaining population but a lot of streams, especially urban streams need stockings to be viable, regardless how many logs you roll or rocks you stack. And those local urban streams are often what get new anglers into fishing and excited enough to travel to the blue ribbon streams and maybe hire a guide or read some guy’s blog.

    TU is a perfect Grassroots service organization. You and the other local TU members and your chapter leaders have more control of your watershed and fishery than your state council or TU national. But that only works if guys quit whining, turn off the computer, get off your butt and get involved. It ain’t all about building structures and tearing out beaver dams. Some of the best work is the boring stuff like standing at a laser level with single digit air temps or writing grants or lobbying for better water use policies.

    How many times have We heard I’m too busy? Like the rest of us aren’t? A lot of people are too busy, to help TU, or the Optimist Club, or their kids school’s parent council, or dozens of other great programs. And those people tend to be the ones doing most of the complaining.

    Here is the deal. If your not in favor of hatchery fish but think the trout in the classroom program is a good idea, you haven’t thought it through. We always work with government agencies, they manage the fisheries and write the permits for our projects. We have been runnng our states TU Youth Trout Camp for 20 years and have some great kids that are now doing great things as young professionals and volunteers. We have removed dams (beaver and man made) reconnected meanders to channelized streams, helped pass water withdrawal bills, taught hundreds of kids and adults how to tie a fly and cast it, worked with disabled vets and brave women going through cancer. Locally and on the state level we can’t get out of the way of guides and professionals in the fishing or conservation communities wanting to help us out (my guess is they are pretty damn busy too). If your local TU chapter isn’t doing all this then that’s on you, not them.

    • Thanks for the lengthy response, Greg. See my response to John up above. First of all, it sounds like the TU chapters in Michigan are doing great things, so well done on that.

      I do have to disagree with the claim that “TU is the perfect grassroots service organization.” As will all such decentralized organizations, there are vast differences at the local level.

      As I pointed out to John, TU is not the only way to help or make a difference. I’m glad that you’ve found your outlet for taking care of the things you value; I’ve just decided to find other outlets. And no, that fact that my local TU chapter isn’t doing all the things you mention is not on me. This is part of what drove me away, the holier-than-thou attitude that if you aren’t working within the TU framework, your efforts are wasted.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to write that up. Keep up the good work.

      • The issue I have with your post is that it could unjustly (in my opinion) damage our Trout Unlimited brand along with the reputation of our 400 local chapters and 150,000 members. There are a lot of great TU chapters in and out of Michigan that do great work through volunteers and donations (TU chapters are not allowed to charge dues). I can give you a pretty long list if you want. It is disappointing that your local chapter isn’t one of them. But If it’s not on you, and me, to make our local chapters great, who is it on?There is no TU without us! I have a friend that owns a local business that does a lot of good work in our community. Aaron said one of the truest statements I’ve ever heard, “your place is only as lame as you are”. The same can be said about our local TU chapters

        Of coarse there are other ways to make a difference in your community beyond TU, I mentioned a few in my previous response. Even in stream and lake conservation we need other groups, because TU is limited in it’s mission to coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. We are working on two dam removal / river restoration projects in my town. Our local TU chapter has been a lead on one (a transitional trout stream) and we just received a big grant to help finish it up. The other project is just starting, that one is on a great smallmouth stream. It isn’t a coldwater system so hopefully we can find another organization will step up and take the lead on that one. While we have a lot of individuals and small groups that use and care about our cool (warm) water lakes and streams, we don’t have a strong organization with the capacity of our local TU chapter and state council to champion and manage big projects on those systems. Still we need and support our partners, we depend on them and they know they can count on us. We all have a place. If TU isn’t your place that’s fine, but it does offer a unique opportunity to build a great local group of volunteers and advocates that can really get things done if you choose to work at it.

        When you come to Michigan look me up.

  5. As a former TU member, and ‘younger industry professional’ – I couldn’t agree more with this article. An additional point: as an executive level marketing professional, I was always left with a bad taste in my mailbox/inbox when receiving marketing material for donations, dues, etc. There was very little, if any, of every marketing dollar spent on any actual environmental activities, but rather member retention, acquisition, etc. I understand it is necessary for the organization, but it is severely overdone, and executed in a careless manner. I found it easier to find ways to get involved with helping my local waterways outside of TU avenues, and I also found it more fun. I’ve been more productive outside of TU than in… I don’t care about meetings, annual picnics, or being social with other members. I primarily fish to be on my own in nature, and caring for the environments that I enjoy fishing in was the primary reason I joined in the first place. I believed I would be introduced to new options to get out there and work on things, not bombarded with industry networkers, solicitations, and schmoozing with others who want to tell me what flies I should be using or showing me their instagram feed full of fish they caught. Glad I left the ‘cool club’ and went back out onto the river – things are better out here.

  6. Dear Tailing Loop:

    Thanks for your honest assessment. If you have the time, I’d like to take you up on the “how we can get you back” section of your sub-title. Do you have a few minutes to talk directly with me about a few ideas in the coming days/weeks? I work for TU.

    Thanks again,

    Chris
    Cwood@tu.org

  7. Like any TU chapter, the Seedskadee Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Green River Wyoming has it issues too. But we are doing a lot of things right as well. For example, check out “Janae’s Journey – Becoming a youth conservation leader” (http://www.tu.org/blog-posts/janaes-journey-becoming-a-youth-conservation-leader).

    We are involved in several conservation projects and have been for many years. We have great relationships with other TU chapters in Wyoming and Utah, many of the guides in the area, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, The BLM, Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, the Cowboy Bass Club,the Muley Fanatics, and many more. Our biggest challenge right now is getting folks to volunteer for leadership and board positions in the chapter.

    I guess it doesn’t matter how, or with what organization, we spend our time and efforts, if our time and efforts are spent helping kids learn to enjoy the outdoors and learn to appreciate that it takes work to protect on conserve the all that we enjoy about the outdoors,

  8. Great article and great responses as well. Here is my take on TU…. but first a little background info. I’m a former TU member who served on the local chapter’s board for many years. Have participated in many worthy TU projects (from building boat ramps to rolling rocks and planting trees). Also a long time industry professional. Back to my take on TU – the problem is, as this article states so well, many local chapters are nothing more than social clubs. TU National and State Councils must do a better job of giving the local chapters guidance / assistance. If National would spend less time and money soliciting new and lost members they could be helping to develop the guidelines the local chapters could follow. Some standardization and coordination from National and State Council could and would go a long ways.

  9. I agree 100% and am not participating in a local chapter here in Western NC for at least 2 of the same reasons you have listed. My main frustration was the support of DH fish in general, but specifically in areas where wild fish are reproducing. Keep up the good work…

  10. Thanks for writing this. I am a member of the Land of Sky Chapter and I am disappointed that our local TU chapters support the Delayed Harvest paradigm of stocking thousands of trout per mile over wild trout streams. It’s equally disappointing that so many guides are also supportive of the delayed harvest paradigm, but not surprising – they have a financial stake in putting inexperienced anglers on fish. I would be much more active in TU if our local chapter was more involved in protecting and restoring habitat for native trout rather than carrying buckets of triploid trout into the North Mills River. Several formerly great wild fisheries have been seriously impacted by delayed harvest. Most notably, in my opinion, the East Fork of the French Broad and the West Fork of the Pigeon. TU should be standing up put and take fishing, not endorsing it.

  11. Dear Tailingloop,
    My frustration and opposition of Trout Unlimited as a whole is due to some projects here locally in which they (local chapters) have supported strongly and publicly in many meetings with Game & Fish and the Feds. The projects they support are contradictory to their mission statement in which you quoted at the top of this article:
    “To conserve, protect, and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.”

    -TU Mission

    Conserving, protecting and restoring does not include complete poisoning and elimination of a fertile and productive SELF SUSTAINING brown & rainbow trout stream and fishery. Now the poisoning of this stream is to replace the brown and rainbow trout with supposedly ‘native’ Gila trout but at the huge cost in dollars and a productive and viable trout fishery that has been intact since the early 1900s. I think its quite controversial and certainly not a logical way to conserve and protect a coldwater fishery and especially its watershed by poisoning miles of stream bed and watershed, building artificial barriers for simply replacing one trout species with another that is not proven to weather the environment and survive. We’ve seen the prior projects restoring native trout that have been dismal and to destroy another self sustaining and productive fishery for another species to be planted and hatchery supported is questionable ethics on the part of Trout Unlimited.

    Its no wonder this project was shelved, at least for now.

    Brian

    • Brian,

      I don’t think that a very fair assessment of what has been going on in the Gila. The Gila trout has been listed under the Endangered Species Act for several decades, and the work that TU has been doing to aid the agencies in NM has been with the purpose of getting the Gila trout off the list, which would open many, many more miles of streams to fishing. RESTORING Gila trout absolutely does require the elimination of brown and rainbow trout from the stream.

      I surmise you are talking about the West Fork Gila project, which has been tabled due to the wildfires that ripped through the area over the past several years. In fact, TU acquired a (first of its kind) grant of hundreds of thousands of dollars do controlled burning in the Wilderness to protect the streams, but alas it was too late. The West Fork is the last, best refuge for the Gila trout, with all 4 of the remaining lineages located at different points in the watershed. Once that project gets back on track, combined with some of the other projects the local chapter of TU is working on, we can get the fish off the list and open more fishing opportunities for everyone.

      There are hundreds of streams in NM where one can go to catch browns and rainbows, but there is only one place in the known universe where one can catch a Gila trout. I think there is something of value to that and it deserves our attention. Some of the best and most dogged fishermen I know volunteer some of their valuable fishing time every year to work on the habitat in the Gila because they too see the value in that.

      • Hi Bill,
        No, I was actually referring to a project here in Arizona, Haigler Creek to be exact. I think the Gila watershed should indeed continue to be managed, improved and restored with Gila trout.

  12. Dear Writer,

    If your position is that TU needs to become what you think it should be in order to “win” you back, you are revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of how organizations in general, and volunteer organizations in particular, operate. Organizational change happens because it is driven from within, not demanded from without. If you believe in the TU mission as you state, perhaps your time would be better spent pitching in and do the difficult work of making TU what you think it should be at your local level. I don’t mean simply taking a leadership position, I mean taking a leadership role…which is a different and far more difficult thing.

    Change doesn’t happen because you demand a difference. Change happens because you make a difference.

  13. We are always open to, and appreciate, feedback from our members (current and past) about how we can accomplish our mission better, at every level of operation. Thank you.

    It is nice to see so many chapters chime in here to share other perspectives in the comments section. No doubt this has and will strike a nerve with many who know a very different TU than what was described in the letter.

    It is really only a tiny proportion of our chapters that are actively engaged with stocking. In those cases, so long as they aren’t stocking over native trout it’s not for national to direct their agenda. In many of those cases, the chapter has made a conscious decision that because the only local angling opportunities involve stocked waters, and because angling is the “front door” for membership engagement, it makes sense for them to participate with this activity.

    The tenet that local folks get to make the decisions for the direction of their chapter funds and energy is core to TU. It is what sets TU apart from many other organizations and is an enormous strength for us as we move forward our mission and vision in over 400 communities nationwide.

    That said, it’s not a total free-for-all out there. TU has a complicated but effective structure that keeps these 400 volunteer-run chapters working together and towards our larger strategic goals. We have a robust science team that helps to connect chapters with opportunities such as angler science (tu.org/anglerscience) or to use tools like the CSI (tu.org/csi) to make thoughtful decisions about where to focus their energy and dollars locally. We have a growing field staff who are engaged with watershed restoration or advocacy efforts who work in lock-step with their chapters, coordinating on activities and priorities. Our volunteer-run state councils play a huge role in helping with the coordination piece and directing chapters towards strategic opportunities. And, we have a small volunteer operations staff which helps to provide guidance and resources (tu.org/tacklebox) to chapters to help them make smart decisions about conservation and education priorities, as well as to examine and improve chapter health.

    This year TU reported more volunteer hours than ever before in our history – 725,551. We’re not going backwards into the days of fishing clubs, stalling with the status quo or anything of the sort. Just this past year volunteers, unpaid folks who are motivated by our mission and the ability to direct that mission locally, hosted 1,086 conservation projects, 1,641 youth education programs, and 1,734 fun, public events to build community.

    However, the truth is that TU chapters, like us human beings that lead them, are imperfect. And, too often we still see that “clubbish” atmosphere arise that is unintentionally unwelcoming to newcomers, making the chapter insular and by default unhealthy. Is that the norm? No, not at all. And it is changing for the better with guidance and support from strong councils, with burgeoning ideas like those from the NLC’s Diversity Initiative, with regional meetings where we learn and share from chapter to chapter and with improved and expanded resources from staff. But, what drives change more than anything else is when folks step forward to volunteer, make their voices heard and take action. Thank you to everyone reading this who has found your way to do that, whether through your chapter board, by engaging with projects like Trout in the Classroom, specific conservation activities or otherwise.

    Let this be a healthy reminder for all of us that TU at every level must regularly review our priorities and our organizational health and make adjustments as needed to ensure we are fostering a welcoming, inclusive community and that the primary outcome of our collective work is the protection and restoration of native trout and salmon and their watersheds.

    If you all ever have any feedback for what we in Volunteer Operations might do to help you all in this regard (or otherwise,) please don’t ever hesitate to reach out.

    Beverly Smith
    VP for Volunteer Operations
    TROUT UNLIMITED
    bsmith@tu.org

  14. You have done an eloquent job of summing up my feelings about Trout Unlimited as well. I am willing to my 50s and have been a member for most of my life.

  15. After reading your article I have to agree with you. I am a marketing Director in the fly fishing industry. I spend most of the winter traveling the eastern states putting on presentations to promote our business. Many of the presentations are held at T.U. chapter meetings and I see first hand from many states, the average age and involvement of the members at the local and state level. You are correct Sir, by realizing that if T.U. does not start recruiting the youth of the sport, T.U. will be a thing of the past. I see new clubs not affiliated with T.U, organizing and collecting the younger generation. The new generation is not “Your dad’s Trout Unlimited” brand. The new generation has evolved to flat bill hats, tattoos, long beards etc but educated young men and WOMEN, who see a different path for the sport. The older generation will scoff (no pun intended) at these young strange looking fishermen and women which leads to the youngsters looking somewhere else to find camaraderie.
    The movement I have seen in Western N. Carolina has been an eye opener to me and those that I have dragged 350 miles south to experience. The fly tying nights and film nights at breweries on a weekly basis was enough for me to re-think the structure of the sport. Let’s make it fun, not some complicated, elite way of hooking a fish. Thus by getting the interest and involvement, then the intelligence will prevail by knowing it has to be preserved. I have seen this type of movement in some northern states but by far more in the south.. I have been to many chapter meetings in at least 10 states and they definitely are not what I would call FUN.
    My state still has the “KILL N GRILL” mentality overall. The state T.U. chapter here will stock mainly fingerlings to prevent the stock truck hunters from descending on each stocking program, but it is still a hard task. We try to educate on conservation and catch and release at our fly fishing resort and fly shop, but we are by far outnumbered by the culture of 200 years in these mountains.
    The five rivers program which is sponsored by T.U. is a good start for college age youths. But the education needs to start at the elementary stage. The Trout in the classroom is another good start but not widely recognized in the Appalachian areas which is where the native trout population exists. Public school involvement such as clubs and classes to get the excitement started before the age of puberty “take over” takes place. Then when the child becomes a young adult the memories are instilled into their think tanks and will resort back to what they enjoyed as a child. Now though, with an educated outlook on what has to be done to preserve what they love.
    I don’t have the answers Sir, but by looking at the comments posted here I can see there are a lot of us seeing the same demise of T.U. from within. Trout Unlimited needs an heir to their thrones, and without the next generation, the throne will be lost.

  16. I am a huge fan of this article, for the most part. My wife actually said that the article sounded like me. However, the one thing I take exception to, is “winning” people back.

    I have been a member of TU for about 35 years, but I am not retired and am relatively young (46). I have spent a considerable amount of effort working to protect and conserve wild trout. I didn’t do any of it as a result of being asked. I did it because it had to be done and if it wasn’t me, then exactly who was it going to be?

    The fact that some people still see no issue with stocking over native trout and still do not value wild trout over hatchery fish is a shame. It shows that the message isn’t reaching everyone it should – including members of TU. In my assessment, it is in large part to the secret squirrels; people who insist that keeping resources a secret protects them. It hasn’t yet and it never will. How can you expect someone to care about a resource that you won’t tell them about?

    Keep everything a secret, yet still be amazed when there it no one there to fight for the resource.

    My suggestion, is that if you want change, make the change happen. Force the issue, politely of course. We are doing it here in WV, but it has been very difficult path to get on.

  17. As others have pointed out, many of the problems in the critique are endemic to volunteer organizations. I dropped my TU membership a couple decades ago because of something I kept seeing in the TU organizational culture; imperialism. The management style of the Gauvin administration — signified by the purge of Tom Pero — signaled to me that TU was working to become a professionalized, top-down, inside-the-Beltway organization, striving to be more effective in carrying out its agenda, rather than a grassroots operation. Some of that was from the top toward chapters — look at the history of the TU membership crash the West in the 1980s, especially in the origin of CalTrout. (The comments here about the tension between the national and chapter agendas on stocking shows the problem is enduring. On both the national and chapter levels, there were instances when TUers (often recent arrivals, often with more degrees and bigger incomes) often looked like they were bullying benighted locals rather then partner with them in good conservation practices. (An incident in Northern Nevada c. 2000 comes to mind.) Some of the imperialism filtered down to the local level, where TU chapters assumed the credit for the work of partnerships. The biggest manifestation of this is the representation of the history of Trout in the Classroom as a TU initiative rather than an established good idea it took over nationally: TIC it was already in California and Nevada around 1990 through the efforts of FFF councils and clubs, which gave credit to prior efforts in the Northwest (and, as I recall, Canada), whether or not by Federation clubs.

  18. I’ve got to say you pretty much hit it on the head. The only thing I will clarify is that not all Trout Unlimited Chapters in all locations have those values. I’m a member of the Little River Chapter in East Tennessee and it was formed to be an auxiliary for the fisheries department in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s in the chapter’s charter. Our chapter has spearheaded numerous efforts to benefit wild and native trout including acid deposition monitoring of streams, native brook trout re-introduction, fish population monitoring (not just trout, by the way), trash pick ups, and Trout In the Classroom. That may also be a reason our chapter has some active younger members and women too.

    All too often chapters can become “fishing clubs”, but I doubt members realize that they’re choosing that path over conservation. At the same time I wouldn’t necessarily say that the fly fishing industry is always a champion of wild trout either. There are plenty of businesses who tout the opportunities to fish for large trout that are either stockers or fed a diet of pellets to get so big. There’s nothing wrong with that and anglers love fishing for big fish that are relatively easy to catch over smallish fish that are can be pretty tough to catch.

    The greater issue is that anglers must realize is being an ardent catch and release proponent on stocked streams isn’t the same thing as a conservationist. The protection of assorted species like non-game fish, salamanders like hellbenders, and even native fish predators are far more important than populating streams with domesticated trout.

    This doesn’t have to be a binary issue. Stockers are fun to catch even as it’s important to protect wild places. We all love fly fishing for different reasons, but the root is because we enjoy it.

  19. As a board member of the North Carolina Blue Ridge TU Chapter (based in Winston-Salem), one of my duties is to assist in membership. I originally volunteered for the position so that I could clean up the email list and data base so as to reach out to our members with current information. We have around 300 members on the roster. Out of those 300 members, only 30 to 40 show up to the monthly meetings. It is typically the same 30 to 40 members. When we held our last stream cleaning event; 20 or so of that number showed up. Like other TU chapters referred to above; the median age of the our membership is probably mid 50s. In order to grow and continuing helping to preserve, protect, and maintain cold water fish environments in North Carolina; I want to see men and women of the Gen X and Millennial generation get more involved.

    So, were to start . . . . .

    I went to the WNC Fly Fishing Show the first weekend in December to not only see the latest gear, but to see the demographics among the attendees. I was really excited to see that the comedian “Hank Patterson” was attending because he seems to have such a great following on You Tube and Facebook by a fairly young adult population. Therefore, I was hoping that I would actually get to see a fair amount of young adults. I was amazed. A lot of the vendors, presenters, and attendees were younger than me (I’m 44). And, I saw a fair amount of women that were there for the show itself, not “tag alongs.” Great! The desires and passions for trout fishing are alive and well; and growing! In fact, I was really impressed with the Pisgah TU Chapter. So, how do we tap into that energy?
    Or, how do I go about sharing my enthusiasm with others and convincing them that we can make a difference together? I have enjoyed my time in TU so far. True, most of the chapter is dominated by those that are retired and have the time to dedicate to certain projects that conflict with work week schedules and Little League events. But, I am out going and I just jump in. (Sometimes, it would serve me well not to jump in head first.) Especially when I see something that seems like a great idea. And we have room for others to get involved as little or as much as they want.
    I am now one of the coordinators for TIC.(Which we need more volunteers for.) I personally help my teachers and stay in contact with them weekly. TIC is probably the best thing I have been involved in since I have joined.

    Getting started. . . .

    —“Shift efforts away from hatchery fish and toward the protection and restoration of wild and native fish. Maybe you work with governmental organization and adopt a wild trout stream that could use a little help.”—

    Even though our schools are miles away from trout water; the Yadkin River is in our backyard. It is fed by many trout streams. In fact, by having DH and HS waters in areas like Surry and Wilkes Counties, our communities not only benefit from the recreational and economic aspect of it; but a strong community consciousness develops about the water quality. If things don’t go well in the water; people will start walking upstream (all the way to Wild Waters) and find out what is going on. We care a great deal about the Wild species.

    —-“Make a concerted and decisive effort to recruit younger members, and listen to what they have to say. Give them the opportunity to buy in to the organization, and then saddle their young backs with a hard days work on that adopted wild stream every once in a while.”—–

    We need help and we welcome everyone. We need more volunteers for TIC. We need more folks that can can set up and oversee conservation/restoration projects with state and local agencies. Every time I’m on a stream; I hand out chapter cards to people fishing, hiking, kayaking, or meditating. Our cards have our chapter website (www.blueridgetu.org) and Facebook page printed on it. By the way, we meet at Camel City BBQ in downtown Winston Salem. It is a nice facility and offers a variety of micro brews. At times, several of us thought that we may be too aggressive in our approach to get younger people involved. If anyone can give me some recruiting advice; please, please, please.

  20. Pingback: Saturday Shoutout / SCOF on TU | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

  21. Good read on both articles. It’s something I have struggled with as well for the past decade locally. What I have observed is that the chapter level TU runs in cycles with times being more along the ideal and some times not so much.

    Glad to see your passion for the issue and I want to encourage you to continue following that because it’s by your example that we all end up creating the change toward the conservation focused ideal.

    I have seen it work from within local and regional leadership and direction, and also witnessed it affect the national TU from working within and outside the organization. Full disclosure, I have been a volunteer, – chapter board member, and also a council board member of TU.

  22. I appreciate your mention of the difference between a fishing club and an conservation organization. This has always been my pet peeve with many T.U. chapters. The focus needs to be on restoring the health and productivity of aquatic habitats and native species. There are many places where trout are being introduced or stocked, and they are an invasive species. So it can’t just be about “trout”, much less the fishing opportunities.

  23. Pingback: The Top Posts of 2016 | Southern Culture On The Fly

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