Of all the reasons that a summer camp counselor would come into a room full of teenagers to tell them to be quiet, it might have been one of the most unique. It wasn’t the camp movie comedy tropes of cigarettes or coed mischief. That night, after lights out, four or five of us were up listening to the stories of another counselor – a septuagenarian fisherman and conservationist. In the end we didn’t get scolded for being awake. It was probably because he wasn’t the average counselor, and it wasn’t a normal summer camp.
Founded in 1995, the Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp was the very first of its kind. Today, over 25 camps across the country emulate the model started by a few Trout Unlimited members that sought to fill a niche for young people attracted to the outdoors. At that time, sports camps and other special interest summer programs were becoming more popular, but there wasn’t anything for young men and women interested in conservation. Put together by Dr. John “Jack” Beck, Enoch “Inky” Moore, and a number of other dedicated volunteers, the Rivers Camp was an immediate success.
It was Inky that invited a number of us into his room that night to talk fishing, the environment, and what we were into outside of those pursuits. He had a great sense of humor and a quick wit. Willing to talk sports, girls, or video games. A veteran of the U.S. navy, he’d also had his hands in everything from state agencies to organizations such as Trout Unlimited and the Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock. Certainly, his presence before the campers commanded a little bit of star power. He was, along with all of the aforementioned accomplishments and characteristics, one of the founders of the camp. Moreover, he was all about us kids.
Even in a laid-back, reflective sport like fly fishing, there is the potential for education to be conducted in an overly pragmatic fashion. There is a definitely a most efficient way to cast, but fly casting is a very individual and nuanced skill. Latin names for insects are up some kids’ alleys, but others are more interested in making sure that the stream is full of them – and knowing what color bugs the fish are eating. You don’t need to be a special teachers, counselors, and mentors can either follow the curriculum. Those that have the capability of discerning what their students are interested in and how to reach them really have the ability to make an impact.
That night, Inky’s conversation was a case in point. He was talking to a group of kids that were trout crazy. He asked us where we fished for trout, why we fished for trout, and how we fished for trout – and he actually listened. Then, he asked us for our input on a smallmouth bass program that he was consulting on for the PA Fish and Boat Commission. It wasn’t necessarily what we were into, but he made it become something we were into. Talk about engendering investment from young people. He actually wanted our opinion, and took the time to hear us.
My experience at that camp, at least in part, must not have been that exceptional. I say that because the past decade has seen a tremendous rise in participation from young people in the sport of fly fishing and the correlating conservation issues. The various Trout Unlimited chapters, state council camps, and national initiatives like Trout in the Classroom, the Costa 5 Rivers program, and more are introducing fly fishing and building up those who are already involved.
None of these programs force kids, teens, or college students to don tweed jackets, wear wicker creels, or take up pipe smoking. They don’t require kids to have an $800 fly rod or know how to tie a traditional Atlantic salmon patterns. The entry rights aren’t contingent upon sitting through chapter business meetings or knowing so-and-so in the industry. The successful ones reach out to youth where they are by listening to them, while never compromising on the essentials of angling and environmental protection.
Most of all, in each of these programs there are men and women who pour their years of experience into the young people who are in their circle of influence. While the contemporary university system is in perilous times because students want to dictate the terms of their education, passing on knowledge in informal settings allows the mentor to meet the pupil at a point of common ground. Inky Moore, among a number of other men and women, did that for me. They strengthened and corrected me in the areas I was focused on, and at the same time opened up my mind up to the facets of fly fishing and conservation that I hadn’t been paying attention to.
Months after camp that year, Inky passed away at the age of 75. As anyone desires for the things they love in this life, he left the camp a better place than he found(ed) it. This year, the original Pennsylvania Rivers Camp will welcome its 22nd group of young men and women from across the commonwealth and the country. They will come to fish, learn, and spend time with seasoned anglers, scientists, and other men and women that love our cold water resources. They’ll experience the passion for angling, for trout, and for seeing the next generation continue a legacy. The trickle of a couple of people’s aspirations to touch the lives of a few dozen kids by sharing and entering into their worlds has become a rushing river that is touching thousands of lives.
More information about the Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp can be found here. They are currently accepting applications for the summer 2016 camp.
Links to the rest of the Trout Unlimited Youth Camps can be found at this site, as well as access to TU’s other programs for children, teens, and college students.