Editor’s Note: Each year, participants at Trout Unlimited regional Youth Fly Fishing and Conservation summer camps are invited to enter the TU Teen Camp Essay Contest. The prompt for 2019 was “Why is conservation important to fly fishing?” We received many wonderful entries and are pleased to share the top five essays. To find a camp near you in 2020, visit www.tu.org/camps
By Connor Meikrantz – Grand Prize Winner
Someone once told me to always remember trout live in beautiful places. At the time I did not think too deeply on this sentiment because I was focused on catching fish and not on the depth of what fishing truly meant to me. As I grew older, I realized there is a lot more to this mantra than a simple statement about beauty. There was the implication that I had to play a part in maintaining these beautiful places, and if not, I would never be more than an average fisherman looking for his next catch. Conservation efforts must go hand in hand with fly fishing as the preservation of the ecologic and aquatic environments that trout count on for life is the responsibility of mankind.
I was given my first fly rod at the age of 8 and to this date it remains the best gift I have ever received. The rod meant something more to me than just a means to catch fish: it felt like an extension of myself and I was determined to become the best fisherman possible to live up to the feeling I had of receiving this rod. In order to maintain my passion for the sport, I own that I must do my part to protect the fish in their natural environment. At the age of 10 I learned about a camp that would go on to change my life and the way I see fishing and our natural environment forever. I spent the next four years waiting to be old enough to attend. It was worth the wait.
Before attending the PA Rivers Fly Fishing and Conservation Camp last summer, I was lucky enough to have a middle school science teacher who inspired me to want to protect our environment and the creatures who count on it for survival. I had already begun to develop a strong interest in paying attention to a healthy trout ecosystem and making sure to do my small part to protect it, but I was eager to learn more. One of the key lessons that I took away from the camp was that conservation is not just about picking up the can of worms or the cigarette butt sitting at the bottom of the river – it is a mindset. This mindset is not one developed in one day or in one week at a camp. Like fly fishing, a passion for conservation is a lifelong journey in which you pick up new knowledge every day.
The role of conservation in fly fishing is not just in streams or rivers or mountains or in the middle of the woods, it is in our backyards as well. Everything we do each day has a causal effect that we need to build into our mindset of how it impacts conservation. The health of our local trout and the future of the sport of fly fishing depends on how we care for our environment today. This is the mindset that I have adopted and was lucky enough to refine at the conservation camp. Whenever I go to do something as simple as spitting gum into the grass or throwing out a box of cereal, trout and conservation come to mind. Will my action negatively affect the environment of the beautiful native brook trout I caught yesterday? Simple questions like these help us strive remember to think about impact before we act.
But what good is one person in these monumental efforts? While every person makes a difference, spreading the word and the knowledge I have gained from those who were so generous to pass it on to me is something I take to heart. Even if my friends do not care about fly fishing or adopt my mindset (or even the piece of trash they dropped) talking to them openly about the importance of conservation is a moral responsibility as I to try to do everything I can to protect the trout and the sport I love. To me conservation means fulfilling my obligation to give back to the sport and to the fish that keep me grounded: fly-fishing for trout. I will always remember that trout do indeed live in beautiful places and that it is our responsibility to protect them.
Connor is a 9th grader at Boiling Springs High School in Boiling Springs Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited Chapter and attended the Pennsylvania Rivers Fly Fishing and Conservation Camp.