As a college student and environmentalist interested in pursuing a career in the outdoor media industry, I am constantly amazed at all the wonderful opportunities offered to young and passionate anglers and students.
The journey I embarked upon through the Trout Unlimited Costa 5 Rivers Odyssey is one that truly exemplifies a dedication to creating and providing such opportunities. I am so grateful for the experience I had while traveling across the Pacific Northwest for the past month. Moreover, I am honored to be able to highlight the people, stories and places we came across and to emphasize why an experience like this is so important for young students and the future of our environment and fisheries at large.
Entering the trip, our goal as a group was to explore and share the stories surrounding the current state of the Columbia River drainage. While we did achieve that goal, our mission evolved into so much more.
I always think it is an interesting experiment when you put together several individuals who have never met. In my case, meeting Dan, Dyer and Morgan presented an opportunity to build strong, life-long friendships.
However, it also helped me realize how our dynamic as a group became just as important as sharing the stories and experiences surrounding the Columbia River. Each of us, armed with our own creative voices, managed to interact with and become an active part of the very narrative we sought to unravel and bring light to.
While I could go on detailing each and every experience and its significance to me, I will instead share two highlights that are representative of every encounter I had throughout the trip.
Interestingly enough, both of these meetings almost didn’t happen – had it not been for last-minute decisions and a little bit of luck.
Walking into Deschutes Angler in Maupin, Ore., with the intention of staying for 20 minutes was surely the biggest miscalculation we could have made as a group. We sheepishly made our way through the shop and sought out Amy and John Hazel, the shop’s owners.
Originally, we had lined up a few questions regarding climate change and its impact on the recreation economy in relation to guiding for fly fishing. Instead, we left with a deep appreciation and admiration for John and Amy’s dedication to saving what they love most, their river.
With a quick warning from Amy that John gets “fired up” about topics relating to protecting the Deschutes, we dove into what ended up being a three-hour conversation about conservation and truly making an impact on what you love. High on the exciting and inspirational energy that the Hazels shared, I was set on a trajectory to capture the same fire in every other person we met over the course of the proceeding three weeks.
I’m not sure there was any better way to end the Odyssey than with Ian Wilson, Fish Habitat Specialist for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, on his property that skirts the Wallowa River in Eastern Oregon. After working with Ian and Trout Unlimited’s Northeast Oregon Project Manager Levi Old on a slew of restoration projects in the Grand Ronde area, we headed to Ian’s farm.
There, we laughed, shared stories and talked about serious problems our fisheries face. Ian even shared his own plans improve the habitat of his section of river. Most importantly, this opportunity to fish on Ian’s property presented some of the best fishing of the trip.
Sure, you could measure a “best fishing day” by the metric of size, quantity, etc. – and we didn’t catch a million fish or a brute – but this was one of my favorite times fishing because of the experience as a whole. We were a bunch of fishing fanatics telling stories, shouting eyyyyyys and ohhhhhs every time someone hooked or lost a fish. We valued each other’s company and we shared each other’s passion.
I think the 5 Rivers Odyssey is an exceptional program and opportunity not just because it allows a group to highlight the problems or successes surrounding our fisheries, native fish and public lands, but because it is a catalyst that connects people to people. An amazing thing happens when you put many unique and different people together who all share a common, passionate connection to the environment in their own way – they push each other to continue to make a change.
This odyssey challenged me in all sorts of ways, from having to swallow the hard truth about seemingly impossible recoveries to capturing every genuine moment of our interactions, lessons and experiences through film and photography. From this challenge – and because of the connections I made – I will continue to aspire to bring about change in my own way.
Having the privilege to capture and document the stories of people whose souls are connected to their lands and rivers has taught me so much about conservation. In particular, it has shown me the importance of pushing past the negativity that may surround our current environmental state.
If I could conclude with any one takeaway, it would be this: there are countless people out in our world dedicating their lives to save, protect and recover what they love. This has only given me more guidance to do the same. The drive, kinship and genuine love behind those people is what will inspire me to continue to share these stories throughout my life.
Without getting too corny or nostalgic, I think I can speak for us all when I say that this was a truly life-changing experience. Not many college-age students have the opportunity to tour an entire area of the U.S. for a month, let alone have the pleasure to meet the honest and inspirational souls we did. We learned that there are still countless problems on the Columbia River, some that seem insurmountable.
However, we also discovered the importance of actually sharing the small stories of the men and women who dedicate their lives to save what native and wild areas we have left. And, hopefully, bring them back.
As a culmination of our odyssey, I plan to make a short film detailing our journey, our discoveries, the stories of the Columbia and the passion of spreading and inspiring others that brought our group together as friends.
I cannot thank enough the 5 Rivers Program, Trout Unlimited, all of our sponsors and every wonderful soul I had the pleasure of connecting with. I hope that our experience, as a whole, serves as an impetus for other young students, anglers and conservationists to get out and see what impact they can make, especially in their own backyards.