The Trout Campers are schooled in the finer points of fly fishing.
By Adam Butler
Sometimes, you cast a fly into a stream that you can step across and get a lot more action than you would expect for such small water.
I was reminded of this on July 6, when Trout Unlimited hosted its second annual Sierra Trout Camp, at the University of California – Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, in the Tahoe National Forest. We cast a bunch of flies, in reality and metaphorically, and hauled in some fish – and some big trout advocates.
15 youths (out of an applicant pool of more than 40) ages nine to eleven came from all corners of the state to participate in this unique event – without a doubt the most advanced and kid-friendly camp of its kind in California.
The application process required a written answer to this simple question: “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fishing?”
Sierra Trout Camp covers everything fly fishing — aquatic entomology, stream ecology, casting, fly tying, the importance of native trout protection and restoration, and river etiquette. It’s kind of like a two-day boot camp — only fun.
"This stream ecology stuff is cool, but when do we get to go fishing?"
Sagehen Creek is one of the focus streams in TU’s Lahontan cutthroat trout restoration project, which seeks to bring back the LCT throughout the greater Truckee River watershed, to which it is the only native salmonid. TU has made LCT recovery a cornerstone project for the Sagehen Field Station, and the initial assessment work is being completed this summer.
It’s a perfect venue for something like the Trout Camp, as it highlights TU’s protection, restoration, and youth outreach work all at the same time.
“When do we get to go fishing?” was the first question most students asked upon arrival. Now we all know, thanks to Norman MacLean in A River Runs Through It, that “Nobody who [does] not know how to fish [should] be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.” So first, we covered how to set up a rod for fishing, and the difference between a fly cast and conventional methods. We worked with the kids on their casting until everyone was throwing tight loops like a pro.
After a quick lunch, the Trout Campers rolled up their sleeves, got their feet wet and started turning over rocks to find as many aquatic insects that they could. For such a small creek, Sagehen boasts an amazing density of aquatic insects and fish. Each of the students helped to identify multiple stoneflies, mayflies, caddis, even a sculpin or two.
The first day concluded with on-the-water instruction on how to present your flies to fish in different situations and using different techniques, followed by some good old Capture-the-Flag and the Cutter’s movie Bugs of the Underworld.
The next morning, more of our super-volunteers flooded into the field station, each bringing their own vise and tools for the kids to use for that morning’s fly tying instruction. It‘s really gratifying to see the connection each student made between seeing the “bugs” in the creek the day before and now actually tying a pattern to replicate those bugs. Each student filled their Cabela’s fly boxes with their own flies, and then it was time to put those flies to good use.
Fur and feathers flying at the vise…
It took exactly zero motivational speeches to get the students and their volunteer-guides to scatter across the meadow to do some actual fishing.
Thanks to their newly-honed skills and their talented guides, almost all of the Trout Campers caught a couple of fish.
To pull off an enterprise as ambitious as Sierra Trout Camp requires the skills, time, and resources of a whole lot of people. People such as Ralph and Lisa Cutter, who own and operate the world-famous California Fly Fishing School and are lifelong supporters of Trout Unlimited. The Cutters are renowned for their expertise in aquatic entomology and fly fishing instruction. And they’re marvelous with kids. Ralph and Lisa are the heart of Sierra Trout Camp, preparing the curriculum and delivering most of the instruction.
People such as Kate Blubaugh, an internationally known fly caster out of Reno, Nevada, who served as primary casting instructor.
People like Dan LeCount and Dave Stanley, who, like Kate, took a day off from guiding for Truckee River Outfitters to support us. People such as Craig Oehrli with the Tahoe National Forest, and Jeff Brown, director of the Sagehen Creek Field Station.
People like the leaders and members of TU’s Truckee River, Sac-Sierra, North Bay, and Sagebrush chapters.
As the Grassroots Organizer for the California Council of Trout Unlimited, I see on a daily basis how committed our members and chapter leaders are to youth education, so that the next generation can carry on our efforts to protect and restore our trout and salmon populations and their habitat, and keep our sporting heritage alive. The Sierra Trout Camp is a remarkable example of this commitment — in action.
After working with enthusiastic kids for a couple of days in a place as beautiful and “fish-critical” as Sagehen Creek, one can’t help but feel that the future for our trout and salmon just got a little brighter.
2013 Sierra Trout Camp patrons: Outdoor Nation and the Sagebrush TU chapter funded the camp. Cabela’s donated fly boxes, flies, and a fly rod. Smith Optics and Outdoor Specialty Products donated polarized sunglasses. Umpqua Feather Merchants donated hemostats and nippers. Lorraine and Rusty Johnson prepared all the food. Pocket Guides Publishing donated their fly fishing pocket guide.
Super-volunteers: Kevin Mather, Dan Brosier, JJ Plank, Bill Templin, and Don Krueger of Sac-Sierra TU. Dave Stanley, Kate Blubaugh, and Dan LeCount with Truckee River Outfitters. Larry Lack with North Bay Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Craig Oehrli with the Tahoe National Forest. Jill North, Mark de la Garza, and the Lopez parents.