Driving home from Montana this summer, I was anxious to return to the front range of Colorado. It was the beginning of hopper season, and I was excited to throw some big bugs to some carefree trout. The high water was receding from a record snow pack in the mountains, in turn, returning a raging Poudre to near normal flows. Flows more suited for a fly fisherman than the blue rubber rafts that make their living pumping adrenaline into miscellaneous adventure seekers.
Over the next several weeks upon my return from the Centennial Valley, my time on the water was spent throwing large attractor patterns sans dropper. Why complicate things? And as far as I could tell, the fish didn’t miss the dropped flies anyway. Finding this rhythm felt good. It felt simple.
Like any fisherman that spends much time on the water, my mind tends to wander. It wanders to such important questions like: What’s for dinner? Did I remember to feed the dogs? Will Tim Tebow be the starting quarterback for my new favorite team? How long can I reasonably fish tonight without Bridget killing me? You know, the important stuff. But in the ensuing weeks after the Montana experience, I spent a lot of time thinking about something Chris Hunt (of both Trout Unlimited and Eat More Brook Trout fame) asked me, what he asked all of us, “If you are a lover of the outdoors, and you use these cold water fisheries and backcountry areas, and you are not a TU member…why?”
You see, the trip to Montana had not only been an excuse to fish, but it was also an opportunity provided by Trout Unlimited to learn more about their mission, current projects, and some of the challenges that cold water fisheries face today (read more of my initial thoughts here. Montana: A Discussion).
The question I still find myself asking was proposed by Dietmar Grimm, VP of Marketing and Strategy (nice title), “How do we get the next generation of cold water enthusiasts to engage in an organization like Trout Unlimited?” Not an easy question, considering the current demographic of TU members is mostly made up of people receiving more issues of AARP than Trout. But none-the-less, a question that needs to be answered, and is paramount to the future success of the organization.
Being a member of Trout Unlimited for a few years now, I have some working knowledge of how the local chapters work. These local chapters are a great place to get our feet wet, doing a myriad of projects that include but are not limited to; river clean ups, youth camps, Trout in the Classroom, river restoration projects, etc. Despite doing loads of good for their local watersheds, the old way of doing business needs to adapt to a younger generation. No longer will raffles for gear, talks from local guides, and ownership through proxy votes for the next chapter president, be enough to grow, let alone sustain membership. And sadly, neither will the outstanding projects that these chapters promote. So let’s face reality, TU’s future isn’t now, it’s somewhere in the distance waiting for someone to come along and implement something new.
Up until last week, I thought that all chapters were created equal. But it took a trip to Denver, to a different chapter, to witness first hand I was wrong. The event I was to be attending was the premier of the movie “Connect”, sponsored by the Greenbacks out of Denver. And walking through the doors of the Oriental Theatre I was refreshed by the energy and passion that this chapter prides itself on. Beer to the left (sponsored by Upslope Brewery, who donates a portion of all sales to Colorado Trout Unlimited), raffles to the right (something I appreciate, and hope never goes away at the chapter level), and movie, straight ahead. I’m in.
The thing that stood out to me the most was the age of the folks who wore name tags. It was a relatable mix of men and women, whom looked more like me than my father. A far cry from any other chapter I have had a chance to be a part of. But more surprising than that, was the membership base and people attending the film, they looked both young and old. Balance.
What makes the Greenbacks different? I would have to believe that it is more than social media, their ability connect with a younger generation through Facebook at breakneck speeds. I would also think that it doesn’t have anything to do with the “non-traditional” style of events they host, appealing more to the conservation minded fish porn enthusiast, attracting new membership, while still engaging their current base. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with both local and state level projects, engaging a larger base of participants. And while we’re at it, I don’t think it has anything to do with a membership base that is young and passionate, who spread the word outside of chapter meetings and newsletters. And it probably has nothing to do with good people. But what do I know?
Trout Unlimited walks a fine line of past, present, and future. How do they recruit a younger audience, while not alienating the bulk of their current member base? It is a hard question to answer. Especially since the largest portion of TU’s monetary donations come from its “older” members. While the youngsters (myself included) are for the most part, just boots on the ground. The easy answer is simple. Follow the Greenbacks. Promote the fisheries, build relationships through a solid community, and make sure, anyone can participate. Oh yeah, hosting a really good movie doesn’t hurt either. Did I mention beer for a good cause?
As the show ended, the movie goers applauded in appreciation. There had been fishing from all around the world; Japan, Alaska, Cuba, Yellowstone, Africa and Maine. The buzz in the theatre was palpable. Talk of the movie and the places people would one day fish escorted us up the aisle. Smiling faces washed through the lobby doors, and all was right with the world.
*It should be noted that the Greenbacks are a group within Colorado Trout Unlimited, not a traditional chapter of Trout Unlimited. This post was written with that in mind, understanding that the principles applied by the Greenbacks can be applied to any and all local chapters.
*I would also like to thank and credit Tim Romano for the fantastic photos used in this post. Thanks for letting me pirate such great images. And another special thanks to Kyle Perkins (Compleat Thought), for helping the helpless...me.