The fun of fly fishing is the seed that grows into the tree of conservation.
That was the first thing that Andrew Loffredo, the national coordinator for the Trout Unlimited Costa 5 Rivers program, told me when I asked him to sum up the purpose of the group. In over 80 college campuses across the country, young men and women are casting their first fly rod, catching their first fish, and learning firsthand about coldwater conservation. On top of that, students who come to school with a passion for angling and protecting the resource have a seamless opportunity to continue those pursuits.
5 Rivers has done a lot more than just give college students something good to do. As was common throughout the fly fishing landscape a decade ago, Trout Unlimited was having a bit of an image crisis. Chapter membership was skewed older. There was a robust youth program that identified and encouraged the best and brightest. Yet, there was still a significant gap within TU that essentially stretched from teens to their parents.
The 5 Rivers program has taken off in the past few years, filling this gap and rising along with the tide of a generation of enthusiastic, young fly fishers. “Club activities expose students to TU in an engaging way,” says Loffredo. “We’re seeing more 5 Rivers/local chapter participation, too; building bridges through stream clean-ups and fundraisers.”
Many college participants are enrolled in degree programs such as biology or wildlife management, but there is a wide demographic spectrum throughout the various clubs. Again, students who are “TU Teen” alumni often start clubs or take leadership initiative. At the same time, over sixty percent of members have learned fly fishing through 5 Rivers.
Opportunities abound for these students. Partnerships with industry heavyweights, such as Costa, Simms, Fishpond, and RepYourWater, open doors for angling and conservation ventures. This summer, a handful of selected students from an enormous candidate pool will take off on the first ever 5 Rivers Native Odyssey. This cross-country trip will be documented through blog posts and social media. The world will have a chance to follow these students as they catch sixteen native trout species from Georgia to California.
Additionally, the 5 Rivers program is seeking to help college students get their foot in the door of the fly fishing industry. “We want them to get experience, but we also see this as a chance to provide the industry with passionate people,” says Loffredo. Montana Fish & Wildlife and Cheeky Fishing were the first two participants in this initiative.
Casting Across is also going to be involved with these talented, zealous anglers. When I was approached with this opportunity, I immediately leapt at the chance to work with 5 Rivers members. I’ll be taking applications and initially accepting two students for seasonal content contribution roles. Over the summer, their words and images will be features on the site and social media. This will provide them with a platform, and will also give readers of Casting Across a greater diversity of fly fishing experiences and voices.
More information can be found on the 5 Rivers “jobs” page. If you qualify, apply! As this comes together this summer, I’ll be excited to read and share the work of gifted writers. I’m also looking forward to promoting the great work that Trout Unlimited is doing by reaching and empowering college students; planting the seeds that will hopefully yield tomorrow’s conservation leaders.