Fly fishing for Yellowstone cutthroat trout on the Yellowstone River or in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park is a bucket list adventure for many. This July, eight veterans who participated in Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ Armed Forces Initiative Fly Fishing Camp did exactly that. The participants included current leaders and potential future leaders from Oklahoma, North Dakota, Arizona, Wyoming, California and Colorado. Everyone left inspired and filled with a renewed reverence for conservation and our wild landscapes.
This camp was one of our quarterly Armed Forces Initiative leader development camps that focus on integrating and expanding the conservation knowledge of new and existing leaders within the program. The goal is to not only provide aquality experience in the outdoors, but more importantly, to educate. At these camps participants are provided instruction on the skills for the specific outdoor pursuit, in this case fly fishing, but also in how to be a leader within the program. This includes classes on the history of public lands, how public lands and wildlife are funded and managed, the legislative process, how to be a conversation advocate, and the general processes and procedures to run their own local programs.
In keeping with our focus to, “give veterans a new mission in conservation,” the Armed Forces Initiative camps try to bring in a local biologist or other like subject matter expert. Given the location of this camp, participants were provided a unique opportunity to receive a brief from the Yellowstone National Park fisheries biologist as well as a Trout Unlimited biologist. This provides participants with first hand expert information from the scientists conducting the hard work on the ground necessary to conserve our vital fisheries. In this case the focus of the discussion was mostly centered around the history of cutthroat trout conservation and what the ongoing priorities are today. You just cannot get this type of education without the one-on-one interaction you have when in the company of people willing to give their time to us.
Of course, there was plenty of fishing to be had over the course of three days. The first day was spent getting familiar with the basics of fly fishing. This included instruction on everything from the makeup of a fly rod, to how to cast, and identifying good trout waters. Participants were given practical application time with scouting locations for both access and habitat, which are critical first steps in getting yourself in waters where you can get a few nice fish in the net. After some time spent on the river walking and wading on the Yellowstone participants were pretty excited about the experience. The following day was an epic day applying yesterday’s lessons learned, this time in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. Words cannot describe the beauty of this landscape, filled with bison, antelope, deer, birds, and wildflowers. The final day was spent on the river instead of in the river. Thanks to some gracious guides who donated their time-off, we had four drift boats that took participants on a six-hour float down the Yellowstone River. Some participants even had the pleasure to hold court riverside with a true guiding legend over lunch.
The opportunity for veterans to come together to celebrate their passion for the outdoors is truly important. Furthering this importance is what our veterans bring to the conservation conversation. These are people who know what it means to work hard, lead others, and serve a cause greater than themselves. Why would we not cultivate a community of conservation warriors who are willing to stand up and lead from the front for what they believe in; a belief that wild places and the wild things that inhabit them are worth protecting.