By Jessica Strickland
I am a new hire with Trout Unlimited, and as an angler and fisheries biologist, working for this organization is my version of the million-dollar dream wedding.
One reason I feel good about TU is that we work closely with veterans across the country, through our Veterans Service Program and through local informal partnerships that highlight the connection between vets and sportsmen and the link between good habitat and fishing opportunities. This is important to me, as my younger brother Jackson – my primary fishing partner growing up in Louisiana – is a military veteran.
Protecting for Those that Protected Us
So I was excited to help organize an outing on October 19, in which TU and our partners Vet Voice Foundation and Central Coast Wild Heritage Campaign took nine vets, including Jackson, fishing on Lake Cachuma, a reservoir on the Santa Ynez River northwest of Santa Barbara, California.
Beyond doing this as a way to say “Thank You!” to these vets for their service to our country, we wanted to publicize our support for stronger protections for key lands and waters in the Los Padres National Forest. The Los Padres provides nearly 70% of the water for the greater Santa Barbara area. Several free flowing creeks, such as Mono and Indian Creeks, are eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation, while nearly 350,000 acres of surrounding wild lands deserve permanent protection from development and new road-building.
The Reality: Water Woes
Mark Johnson of the Santa Barbara Fly Fishers, along with members of the Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers and Sespe Fly Fishers, and local guides Gary Bulla and Larry Kurosaki, volunteered their personal gear and time in hopes of putting the vets on some of Cachuma’s legendary largemouth bass.
Despite this All-Star talent, it was a rough day of fishing, because Cachuma was nearly 60 feet low and had been dropping two inches a day for the last several weeks to supply water for downstream agriculture.
Still, everyone had a great time. Jackson and I have fished together since we could walk, so the experience, over 20 years later, of Jackson driving the boat while I rigged tackle for the vets is something I will always remember.
Bringing It Home
My brother returned this summer after serving six years in the United States Navy. As for many vets, adjusting to civilian life again has been a challenge, and fishing is one of the best ways for him to relax and reconnect. “I was on a boat in the Persian Gulf for 280 days, only touched land for 8 of those, and all my worldly possessions had to fit in a 3-ft by 1-ft locker,” said Jackson. “And honestly, it’s been an adjustment being around non-military people again.”
Many of us have heard these types of soul-touching stories from friends and loved-ones. They invoke a desire to give back to those that gave years of their lives protecting our country.
And as anglers, we give what we know best. It’s always good to come back to fishing.
Jessica Strickland is TU's California Field Coordinator.
Thanks to Those That Guided & Provided for the TU-VVF event at Lake Cachuma:
Abel Reels - http://www.abelreels.com/
Gary Bulla - www.garybulla.com
Larry Kurosaki - http://www.larrysflyfishing.com/
Rocky Mountain Recreation Company - http://www.rockymountainrec.com/
Santa Barbara Fly Fishers - http://www.sbflyfishers.com/
Sespe Fly Fishers - http://www.sespeflyfishers.org/
Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers - http://www.spff.org/