Grand Prize Winner | Teen Camp Essay Contest | Tanner H

Every summer, TU Camp and Academy graduates are invited to enter the TU Teen Essay Contest in which they share their camp experiences. This year we had five winners, and Tanner's essay is the last in this series as the Grand Prize Winner! Visit the TU Teens Blog page to see the other essays. Tanner is from North Carolina. He's pictured above on one of his favorite trout streams. You can read his remarkable essay and more about him below.

My Camp: NC Rivercourse 

My TU Chapter:  Blue Ridge chapter

My favorite stream: The Pigeon River because it contains the stream at Rivercourse where I learned to fly fish.

What I like most about being outside:  My favorite part of being outdoors is being able to get away from everything in the city.  Even if I go on vacation, I can't really clear my head unless I'm somewhere away from all of the car horns and train whistles.

TU Camp is..

By Tanner H

This was the best camp experience I’ve ever had. Going into this camp I knew nothing about fly fishing except that I wanted to do it. It didn’t look like the rough and tumble fishing that I’m used to where the mindset is “put on the biggest hook and the biggest bait and you’re bound to catch something monstrous.”  You can tell just from watching that it’s an art and more about brains than brawn. You aren’t just manhandling a mullet fish and chucking it out on a hook as far as you can get it off a pier where you wait for something that may or may not be there. You can’t rely on bait that is borderline chum.


In fly fishing I found that there is something very different about it. It isn’t the way that you cast, the apparel, or the instruments that you use to land the fish. I mean sure those are definitely different, but there is a feeling. A feeling that you don’t get when you are on that pier with the mullet gored and waiting for a big sea monster meanwhile nature is the last thing on your mind. No, there is a different feeling when you are in the woods, and away from all the noise listening to the quiet rushing of water in a stream in the early morning. When bugs are flying around you and fish are jumping for them. I did not only gain a new craft at Rivercourse, but also a new understanding for how beautiful nature really is.


In the time that I have been away from Rivercourse, my family and I have gone up to The New River in Virginia.   My dad and my sister both use spinning rods and fish side by side for the same fish, but I am down a separate stream learning. I have never been able to say that before…that I go fishing alone and learn. When everything is quiet I can see the signs that I’ve been ignoring all my life.  I often see that my dad and sister look through their arsenal of lures and pick a random one that has worked in the past, but they don’t necessarily know why. I am forced to know why because I can now read nature, and if I don’t know why a fly works then by the end of the day I will.  Being on The New River I realized just how much I was missing before I went to Rivercourse.  It’s amazing.


Beyond my expanded horizons, I also gained artistic pleasure from Rivercourse. I enjoy art at my school, and going in to Rivercourse I had no idea fly tying existed. When I made my first fly I was addicted. I loved it. I loved seeing the raw materials and then how much the end product looked real. Then to see the very thing I created minutes ago catch a real living fish; that was incredible. I was mesmerized with what I could do, and some of the other campers may say I went to far when I experimented with my own hair for the tail of a yellow palmer.


I also learned a lot about conservation, and just how delicate trout can be. I had no idea where they came from or how a small thing like silt can destroy a generation of trout. The gillies would tell us that it is amazing to see a trout swim away after you catch it, and coming into camp I would think to myself, “It’s also amazing to taste a fish.” I learned quickly just how humbling it can actually be. There really is something spectacular about the fish staying in your hands for a few seconds and then slowly departing that makes you lose all desire to bring it back and display it as a trophy. Seeing the tail slowly wave goodbye, you know that the fish is saying, “Really? I’m free to go? Thank You!” That is something that everyone should experience because you get a sense of how significant you actually are, and what you can do and mean to these fish. Every change starts with one, and the fish that you see dazed and confused swimming away from you is one more fish that someone else can be impacted by. They truly are beautiful animals.


I was not only impacted by the fish, but by the people as well. The counselors are very passionate about fly fishing, and are great at conveying that passion to the campers. I met so many great people during my time at camp. I am disappointed that most live very far away. That is an interesting thing though. That people came from many different places for the same thing, the memories made on and off of the streams. A memory that I had was of the hatchery, and how it is bittersweet. On one hand the trout are so close together, and have little space to be wild. On the other hand people have taken the time to set this entire facility because they care so deeply for these animals, and don’t want to see modern day expansion and industrialism destroy these wonderful animals that bring joy to so many people. An example of this was when we learned about the hellbenders and how a simple thing such as moving a rock in a river can cause one to die. I learned that humans can have a huge impact on the creatures that we share our planet with whether it be good or bad, that is for us to decide. There will always be people on both sides, and I now feel that it is my job to push for a positive impact.


I will never forget when a friend came up to me after our school’s class trip this year and asked what my favorite part was. I had brought my fly fishing equipment and said fishing. He was astonished that I chose fishing over all of the other activities like canoeing, rock climbing, or hiking to name a few. He looked at me and said, “It is a simple life you lead.” I wondered what he meant by this, and I think I am ready to try my hand at deciphering it. I take it that I get pleasure from simple things like fishing in this case. I then thought that some people do not take the time to enjoy the simple things, and instead avoid them if a seemingly better opportunity presents itself. All in all I think that I can speak for everyone at camp by saying that I was truly impacted by the people and the experience at Rivercourse, and I understand why you can only go once. It is because I’d go every year for new memories as dear as the ones I obtained. When everything is said and done, what do we have if not our memories with the people, places, and things that touched us the most. I know I was touched, and I hope someone else feels the way I do.


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