East Jersey Trout Unlimited, Our Story
In 1971, in the most populace county in the most densely populated state in the country, a group of individuals had the foresight to start a chapter of Trout Unlimited that would become one of the primary stewards of the region’s precious waterways.
Don Ecker, an avid fly fisherman and an outdoor columnist for The Record newspaper, had been a member of both the Sparta, NJ chapter of TU and the Theodore Gordon Fly Fishermen. However, like a lot of northern New Jersey fishermen, he wanted a chapter much closer to home and one that would dedicate itself to protecting the rivers and streams of the ever-expanding suburban landscape. So he contacted National TU and applied for a new charter. From a list of New Jersey members that National TU had sent him, he assembled a group of individuals who would become the foundation of East Jersey Trout Unlimited.
In the same Fort Lee apartment where Don and his wife Barbara still live, this group of men and women met and laid out the plans for the new chapter. The application was completed, National TU approved it, and East Jersey Trout Unlimited was born. The accompanying photo shows Don receiving the EJTU Charter from the National Director of Trout Unlimited with two very special guests. We don’t know how many other chapters can boast of having Lee and Joan Wulff attend their inaugural ceremony, but we at EJTU are certainly proud of it.
East Jersey Trout Unlimited, a chapter that has grown to almost 800 members, has been a leader in environmental endeavors that protect and enhance our local waters. Our major home river is the Ramapo River, especially the stretch that flows through Bergen County. In partnership with Bergen County and the state of New Jersey, EJTU has helped to maintain the integrity of this heavily fished water. Projects include helping the state’s trout stocking, planting shrubs and trees along the riverbank, putting down woodchips for parking, and rock propping to create structures on the river bottom for fish. We also co-sponsor with Ramapo University an annual Ramapo River Day, when college professors and EJTU volunteers teach youth groups about the ecology and entomology of our river, and also when young people have hands-on opportunities to learn the basics of fly fishing.
A recent major project on this river was the removal of an old weir and its replacement with a number of cross vanes. No one seems to know why or when the weir was built, but over the years its rocks had fallen into the river and were directing water towards the banks, causing erosion and a wider, shallower river. With our own EJTU volunteers, other chapter TU members, citizen volunteers, and local college students, we built the cross vanes and watched the water directed back towards the middle of the river, ensuring a more natural, swifter current.
One of our proudest successes was working with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife to designate Bear Swamp Brook, a tributary of the Ramapo, a “wild trout stream.” With a grant from New Jersey and the help of local citizens, EJTU volunteers removed debris from the brook and planted trees and shrubs to help stabilize its bank. Many years later, a healthy population of wild brook trout still inhabits this protected waterway.
This past year, EJTU again partnered with the NJ Department of Fish and Wildlife to save another small body of water in Bergen County, the Cresskill Brook, that was discovered to have a population of native brook trout. With guidance from National TU, and with grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Natural Resources Conservation Services Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, EJTU coordinated the restoration of this brook which years ago had been dammed to create a swimming pool. After our contractor removed the dam and the water flowed naturally, EJTU volunteers planted trees and shrubs along the riverbank to beautify and stabilize it.
Among our many other involvements and projects are conservation of local waterways, maintaining monofilament collection bins at local fishing sites, promoting fly fishing through our own fly casting and fly tying classes, volunteering with Healing Waters, supporting Casting for Recovery, promoting trout conservation through Trout in the Classroom, volunteering at hatchery events, and sponsoring Eagle Scout environmental projects. We also are fortunate to have chapter members who are very active with the NJ Council of TU and TU National. EJTU has a website to keep members informed of our many activities and we publish a newsletter, Riffles, each month. We also have monthly membership meetings when guest speakers make presentations on many diverse topics. One month it might be about how to fish a particular river; another month it might be about fracking and its impact on our local and national waters.
Although EJTU takes its role as a Cold Water Conservation steward very seriously, we haven’t forgotten that we like to fish. Many times throughout the year, even during the winter months, chapter volunteers coordinate day, weekend, and weeklong fishing trips. Our recent overnight trips have been to the Salmon River in upstate New York for steelhead and salmon, Block Island in Rhode Island for stripers, the Beaverkill and Willowemoc Rivers in the Catskills, and the Housatonic River in Connecticut. We also have a number of social events, such as barbecues, holiday parties, and our annual banquet, where volunteers are honored and awards are given out. In fact, our founder, Don Ecker, still comes to our annual banquet.
For over 40 years, East Jersey Trout Unlimited has partnered with our communities and agencies to ensure our local waters, especially our cold-water fisheries, continue to be healthy environments for future generations to enjoy. As Art Neumann, a founding member of Trout Unlimited, was fond of saying, “Take care of the fish, and the fishing will take care of itself.”