Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Who’s your hero?

TU’s own Tom Reed casts to native Colorado River cutthroat trout in the Wyoming Range.

by Chris Hunt

I got a note today from someone who read a piece by my fellow Trout Unlimited communicator, Brett Prettyman, on John Weis, a late TU volunteer from Utah who was involved in his local chapter in the Beehive State, as well as with Reel Recovery, a group that gets men living with cancer onto the water to experience the true healing powers of fly fishing. Brett wrote a great tribute to John, but I’m guilty of writing the headline to his piece, “Remembering a hero: John Weis.”

The gentleman who contacted me online took issue with me describing John as a hero. In his words, “I have a tough time with sports folks that are labeled ‘hero.’ My heroes are the soldiers returning home from a tough overseas tour of duty.”

I couldn’t agree more—the fighting men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces are heroes, indeed, stuck in a seemingly neverending war. We at TU do our level best to honor them and help them heal, both emotionally and physically, from the horrors they’re experienced. I come from a military family—my father, uncles and grandfathers all served, many during times of conflict and many in harm’s way. They are my heroes, too.

But if our heroes are limited to those who carry guns into battle, we’re living a myopic existence, and we’re not recognizing the contributions of many within our fishy little universe. We’re not recognizing the people make our waters cleaner, our fish healthier and more resilient and our fishing better. I’m a one-trick pony. I love to fly fish, and because I love to fly fish, I am duty-bound to honor the men and women who came before me and worked to restore or protect the waters that I hold dear. My conservation heroes are many and range from Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold to modern-day environmental warriors who have worked to make my fishing better and the time I spend outside with my friends and family all the more rewarding.

My friend Tom Reed never fought overseas, but he had the courage and fortitude to stand up for and with hunters and anglers all over America—he’s one reason the Wyoming Range stands intact today and why its trout streams will remain wild and free for generations to come. He’s my hero. My good friend Scott Stouder served in the Army, but his heroism, at least to me, occured dozens of years later when he worked to protect nearly 9 million acres of roadless backcountry land—rich in fish and game and opportunity—in my adopted home state of Idaho. He’s my hero.

Bill Dvorak, a rafting guid and an avid angler in Salida, Colo., fought the system for years until just recently, Browns Canyon was declared a national monument, and the wild-and-free Arkansas River flowing through its vertical walls stands protected for years to come. He’s my hero.

I like people who speak truth to power. I admire people who give selflessly of themselves so those yet to grip a fly rod might one day do so in a place that’s protected for them and for their children and grandchildren. I admire people who fight with passion and speak with purpose about the things that dearly matter to them.

I remember watching old John Wayne war movies and westerns with my late grandfather—also one of my heroes, as I mentioned above. He never talked about his service, or the bloody battles he endures at New Britain, Guadalcanal and Peleliu. He soaked those old Westerns up, often declaring he was born in the wrong time. He loved the time we spent together in the mountains or along the little-known spring creeks of eastern Colorado. He’s not my hero just because he fought and survived some of the bloodiest battles of World War II. He’s my hero because he put a fishing rod in my hands and instilled in me a love for wild places, wild water and wild fish.

Absolutely, our soldiers, airmen and women, Marines and sailors are heroes. I admire them greatly and celebrate their service often. But my list of heroes goes beyond that, to the men and women who have protected our outdoor heritage and my ability to pass it on to my children.

And that list of people includes John Weis.

Chris Hunt is the national editorial director of Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.