Each fall, 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 four finalists, and Alexander’s essay is the second in this series as the second runner-up. Alexander is from California and traveled all the way to Virginia to attend the conservation and fishing camp. He is pictured above on a brook trout stream. Please read on for Alexander’s rich story of his adventures at trout camp.
TU Camp is…
by Alexander Wang
My Camp: Tri-State Conservation & Fishing Camp
My TU Chapter: John Muir East Bay
My favorite stream is the Rapidan.
My favorite thing about fishing: Fishing has always been a way for me to get away from the stress and bustle of everyday life and to just spend time in nature. Fishing also provides a unique blend of excitement when fighting a fish and serenity from being surrounded by often beautiful scenery that I cannot attain from any other activity.
As my foot came down into the water, something flashed right next to my leg. All I glimpsed was a long, dark, sinuous shape before my two fellow campers and I splashed out of the pool, turning the clear water murky. After I had ran away a few steps, the image registered, and I realized that I had just almost stepped on a water snake.
Thirty hours previous, I had been sitting in a cramped seat on a flight from California to Virginia, expecting not much more than a week of fishing. Having spent the majority of my life in suburban San Ramon, California, which has been in a drought for the past decade or so, the first thing that struck me upon arrival at Trout Unlimited camp was how much green there was–and how much poison ivy. But even when we weren’t fishing, the other activities at TU camp proved to be both educational and fun experiences.
We had daily lessons on tying knots, fly-tying, and fly casting. I found manipulating knots with my hands to be a surprisingly relaxing experience. My favorite knots were the double-clinch knot and the surgeon’s knot. Also, finishing a fly gave a sense of satisfaction and pride that I had created something myself that I could catch a fish with. While practicing flycasting, standing in the middle of a morning-dew-covered field, I found tranquility through the pendulum rhythm of the fly line.
We fished for brook trout in the most beautiful stream I’ve seen in my life. Surrounded by rock walls and silent tree sentries, the crystal clear Rapidan river cascaded over mini waterfalls into miniature pools, sunlight creating rippling patterns of light and dark on the pebbly bottom. An unforgettable view occurred when the cloud cover shifted, allowing sunlight to illuminate a pool underneath me as well as unveiling a rainbow in a miniature waterfall’s spray. While the brook trout were quite small, they were completely untouched by humans and wild; the pristineness of both the fish and location created a sense of awe and respect that I can’t find anywhere else except while fishing.
The location of the river up in the mountains also meant that I endured one of bumpiest and nerve-racking car rides in my life. Stuck in a van with eight other campers, we all laughed nervously and made jokes as we bounced over one hole after another. However, waking up at 4:30 to go trout fishing had taken its toll on me, and I somehow fell asleep in the midst of all the laughter and bumps. My nap did not last long. I was suddenly awoken when my head crashed into the roof of the van and a tree branch screeched along the side window. As I looked around, other campers were rubbing the tops of their heads, chuckling sheepishly. I kept my eyes open for the remainder of the drive as our wheels went inches from the edge of the mountain.
I learned many skills at TU camp: I got the basics of fly-casting down, I could make something that could pass for a fly, and I enjoyed the hands-on activities we did when we weren’t fishing. For example, we studied a session of electroshocking, where it seemed that the entire population of Syria, Virginia had come to watch. We counted 271 fish, of which there were 90 torrent suckers, a large rainbow trout, a brook trout, 4 catfish, 2 smallmouth bass, several fall fish, and numerous others. Electrocuting the water seemed counterintuitive in fish conservation purposes, but I saw firsthand how it was effective in determining the health of a stream.
Before lunch, we dissected the same species of fish we had just studied. Now, I’ve done my fair share of lab dissections. Typically, the thing I’m dissecting doesn’t explode on me. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky this time. My group partners, despite my denial, insisted that I’d “squeezed” the fish: upon cutting my fish open, a sludge of dark guts leaked out, releasing a horrid smell that almost caused me to puke. During the dissection, my roommate laughed continuously as I poked at sludge while he identified organ after organ: air bladder, intestines, etc. In a moment of triumph, I declared, “I think I found the heart!” My roommate laughed yet again.
In spite of my imploding fish, from TU camp, I not only learned various physical skills, but also developed a stronger passion for fishing and river conservation. When it came time to start my long flight back to California, I found myself missing Virginia already, with its poison ivy, water snakes, slippery rocks, and crazy campers. I arrived in Virginia with no inkling of what to expect, and left with truly an experience of a lifetime.
Do you know a young person that may be interested in going to a TU camp? There are 25 across the country! Visit www.tu.org/camps to find one near you. Also, a great starter rod/reel combo from Temple Fork Outfitters is now available in TU’s Online Store. It’s a special edition Bug Launcher! Click here to check it out.