TU Costa 5 Rivers Youth

Fly Fishing as Catalyst for Change

Several college students fish on a river bank with several younger kids
Conner Smith (UGA) helping a young angler learn the ropes.
Costa 5 Rivers Ambassador Summit realizes values of fly fishing.

In August, a group of nine TU Costa 5 Rivers club leaders traveled to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming for the 2023 Costa Ambassador Summit. This nationwide network of conservation-minded college fly fishing clubs each has a Costa Ambassador who is invited to gather to share ideas around leadership development, engagement of campus anglers, event ideas and more, all while connecting around fishing and conservation.  

The students represented clubs at Auburn University, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, Hampden-Sydney College, Sewanee: University of the South, Texas A&M University, and University of Tennessee: Knoxville.  

A group of people in an Ambassador Summit, including children, stand in front of moutains
Costa Ambassadors with the Learn to Fly Fish participants. Photo by Johann du Preez

This event was hosted in partnership with Indifly and Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game. The Summit kicked off on August 7th with a cedar ceremony led by Tribal Fish and Game’s youth coordinator, Jeremy Molt. During an orientation, the Summit students learned about the history of the Wind River Indian Reservation;  a vast 2.2 million acres of rugged and wild land managed by Tribal Fish & Game.  

During the orientation, it became clear that favorable weather was not in the forecast. Our group had planned to camp at an outfitter’s camp in the St. Lawrence basin, but we were informed that heavy rains made the road unsafe and that we probably wouldn’t be able to make it to the camp. These same poor road conditions also prohibited us from doing the trail work we had planned.  

Group of people look at a map of the Wind River Indian Reservation on a table
Art Lawson (Director, Tribal Fish & Game) describing the vast landscape and diverse habitats on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Photo by Johann du Preez

The group made a quick pivot and decided to camp at Boysen State Park near Shoshoni, WY so that the students could fish the famous Wind River Canyon. Upon arriving at camp, the students made quick work of setting up tents and eagerly gathered their fishing gear. They then took full advantage of the long Wyoming summer evening and fished in the Canyon until nightfall. Upon arriving back at camp, we realized that a gnarly storm had blown through and demolished a few tents. While damaged tents and wet sleeping bags probably would have put a damper on any other group, these students quickly regrouped without complaints and made plans to get up as early as possible the next morning and head back into the Canyon. 

College age students fishing with younger children
Sam Garrard (Auburn University) helping a few kids get hooked on fly fishing. Photo by Johann du Preez

The next day, the students’ cheers could be heard bouncing off the Canyon walls throughout the day as they hooked fish after fish. Later that evening, the Ambassadors had an inspiring discussion about their 5 Rivers clubs and their hopes for the 5 Rivers community. Many students shared similar challenges related to recruitment and engagement, but they also shared success stories and exchanged ideas for future events.  

The following day, the Summit crew headed to Washakie Reservoir for a trash clean-up. After clearing the banks of the Reservoir, we spent the rest of the afternoon fishing the South Fork of the Little Wind River above Washakie Reservoir. The fishing was tough thanks to the high afternoon sun, but the camaraderie and the incredible scenery distracted everyone from the lack of action.  

A group of young people put trash into garbage bags
Costa Ambassadors picking up trash around Washakie Reservoir. Photo by Johann du Preez

On our last day on the Reservation, we woke up early to tear down camp and drive to the remote Saint Lawrence area to prepare for the Learn to Fly Fish clinic. The students quickly got to work setting up rods, gathering equipment and introducing themselves to the youth in attendance. One of the 5 Rivers students, Zoe Mihalas, is an experienced fly fishing educator and quickly gathered all the kids and their families for an introduction to the basics of fly fishing and a group casting lesson. Once Zoe had covered the basics, the kids paired up with the 5 Rivers students, who further explained how to tie knots, cast the rod, set the hook, fight a fish, and safely release a fish.  

It wasn’t long before the kids were itching to get on the water, so everyone made their way to Saint Lawrence Creek. After just a few casts, the kids were catching wild brook trout left and right. Joyous shouts could be heard up and down the creek as the groups made their way from one hole to the next. The event concluded after a few hours of fishing, with many of the kids asking their parents when they could go fishing again.  

College age students sitting around a campfire at night
Costa Ambassadors sharing ideas and fish stories around the campfire.

The final leg of the Summit included a night in Grand Teton National Park and a day of fishing the Green River. While we drove south toward Salt Lake City, the students lamented the end of their Western excursion and reflected on their experiences from the week. Before the Summit, most of these students thought of fly fishing as something fun they do on the weekends with their friends, or as a tool to get more college students into the outdoors. Throughout the week, they learned about Indifly’s goal to create more career opportunities for tribal members on the Wind River Indian Reservation. As the Summit drew to a close, it was clear that after spending a week on the Reservation, these students had started to view fly fishing as more than just a hobby but as a catalyst for change. 

Trout Unlimited is incredibly grateful to Costa Sunglasses and the S. Kent Rockwell Foundation for supporting the Summit, and to Indifly and Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game for hosting the Summit on the Wind River Indian Reservation.