Trout Unlimited at elk lake

Sitting just west of Yellowstone National Park as some benefits - well, it actually has a LOT of benefits! Obviously the place overflows with wild, untouched nature. The wildlife viewing and variety aren't too bad either. The natural beauty still takes my breath away even after nearly 8 privileged years. However, one often overlooked (or at least underrated) benefit is the variety of people we are blessed to meet.

I think we have had the opportunity to meet (and, with most, get to know) people from just about every ethnic, social, and economic class - at least a sampling. We've had guests from many countries and from nearly every state of the union (I'd risk saying every, but I'll play it conservative just in case we've missed one). The best part is learning a little bit about these folks - making some connections - becoming friends.

We have had the privilege of not only hosting, but getting to know folks (both individuals and groups) involved with a variety of different causes and organization. Often we find that while our opinion (if differing) often changes little, yet our differenes are not as different as we previously thought - and we may even find we see eye-to-eye on more issues than we'd imagined.

A recent visit from Trout Unlimited is a perfect example. I had heard of TU, but I really knew nothing about them. In my mind, they were just another one of the conservation groups whose work I assumed had something to do with trout and trout streams (deep observation, I know).

Having come from the Rocky's west side, in our 'prior' life we were probably more aware of the 'other' perspective. In other words, we'd seen ranchers harrased because their cows were drinking from (and standing in and, yes, even pooping in) a possible Salmon spawning stream. We had watched as livestock-owning landowners were nearly forced to fence out streams running through their property - perchance a Salmon ever swam up that waterway. Yet the whole thing often made little sense; especially as we knew several of those streams went dry by early summer and no fish had been seen plying those waters - at least not in record.

So, when Chris Hunt from Trout Unlimited contacted me about hosting the first TU Blogger Tour at Elk Lake, well, I was interested in their business from a purely business standpoint. However, I must admit I was also a little curious. Perhaps five or six or seven years ago I would not have been, but, after meeting all those different people and hearing all those different stories and seeing things from all those different perspectives - I actually have reason to hope I have become - if not more agreeable, at least more tolerant (and a bit more curious). TU and the bloggers didn't let me down.

Of course, the first question was (at least from my perspective) the most obvious. What's the point? What is TU hoping to accomplish here? While I still don't fully understand, Chris Hunt put it this way in his July 24th post on the TU Blog, "The first-ever Trout Unlimited Blogger Tour starts today in southwest Montana–four bloggers are attending the inaugural event at Elk Lake Resort in the heart of Centennial Valley. Bloggers will get a look at TU’s work all over the region to restore prime trout and grayling habitat, and to protect intact habitat from unwise or unneeded industrial development."

(Above photo courtesy of Jeff ("Owl") of OwlJones.com) I must admit, the Centennial Valley is the last place I'd expect TU to have taken their bloggers to view the protection of habitat from 'unwise and unneeded industrial development.' After all, the Centennial is probably one of the least developed spots in the lower 48. We have no industry. Shucks, as our visitors will attest, we barely have roads (at least it feels that way some times). However, maybe therein lies the logic: This is the way we 'want' things to look - at least as often as possible. Certainly the Centennial shows the pristine side of a protected environment.

As you will notice, I can't claim ownership of any of the photos in this post. They are all courtesy of TU and the bloggers. Photo credit is given with each photo. The header photo, a beautiful Grayling picture, is courtesy of Eat More Brook Trout - a TU blog.

(Another photo courtesy of Jeff ("Owl") of OwlJones.com) Usually the best way to judge someone (or something) is by what they say. While we've all known folks who 'talk good' but fail to live up to their words - typically an organization is out to attract folks with similar beliefs (and, of course, convert others to those beliefs). Thus they usually state their viewpoint in a fairly straightforward manner. So. . .what does TU's website say? Their National Conservation Agenda from September 2010 says they are seeking to protect, "Native trout and salmon watersheds. . .from pollution from energy development, mining, agricultural run-off, acid deposition, and other sources. . ." Of course this is just a 'piece' of the document. I'd encourage you to read the whole thing. (I chose this section because it supports what TU put on its blog - which gives them credence.)

(Above Grayling photo courtesy of TU via their Eat More Brook Trout.com blog) So, who were these guys and why were they here? For that matter, what difference did it make? Based on scraps of conversation heard around the breakfast table the first morning, TU is seeking to expand their base. They are looking for new and innovative ways to reach a broader section of the population. They are seeking to show the 'worthiness' of their goals. They desire to reach across the age and gender gaps to interact effectively with more people, in more areas, and from more walks of life. Part of this plan involved these four bloggers. But why these four? Well, if rumors hold water, TU ran a contest and these four won. Now, I doubt they let anyone enter. Obviously they didn't contact me :-) Perhaps that is because I obviously do not live, eat, and breathe fishing - nor do I have the ability to write interesting and compelling fishing stories creating a faithful following with similar compulsions.

(Above Rainbow photo courtesy The Tail Out Travis DuBois' blog) Because I was dependent upon the bloggers for photos - and some have failed to respond to my plea for pictures - I do not have a picture of Mike Sepelak of Mike's Gone Fishing - Again!. However, there is proof he was here posted on Sanders' blog. One of the things which surprised me the most was the short time many of these guys have been blogging. The Elk Lake blog has been up and running longer than even the longest running blog represented in this group. Mike, who has been blogging since 2009, won the 'longest running' honors.

Mike is a retired North Carolinan who seemed to be the 'note-taker' of the crowd. Thus I am a bit dissapointed he has written so little about his trip. I had hoped he would give us the best run down on the 'whats' and 'wherefores' related to TU and their goals and aspirations. As its sounds like he's encountered both computer issues and air travel earned 'rewards', perhaps this will come.

(This photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited's Blog) The next longest blogger is a young man named Travis. His blog The Tail Out started because, as he said, he likes to fish, likes to take pictures and, as a result, was filling his computer with records of his excursions. So, why not? Travis comes from Alaska but currently lives and works in Pocatello, Idaho. In my humble opinion, this young man is the group's best writer. While I've not become a follower (nor have I joined the ranks of the 'fish fascinated'), I have enjoyed reading his posts.

This photo, labeled "A Common Montana Vine" from Travis' blog, shows not only his sense of humor but also his unique view of his surroundings.

So, what was Travis' take on TU? Well, I had to chuckle when Travis admitted over breakfast that first morning, "You guys are probably going to kill me, but I'm not a member of TU." I suspect the TU folks already knew this - and I admire them for bringing along an 'outsider'. However, in the end, Travis had this to say, "Being perfectly honest I had never considered becoming a TU member. Since I don't smoke a pipe or own any tweed I thought I would be an outcast. The fact that I occasionally fish a San Juan under a bobber (whoops I mean indicator) wouldn't have helped the situation. Those were completely unfounded assumptions that my skeptic tendencies had created. Seeing and learning about the work that has and is being done here in the Centennial Valley really impressed me. It was clear that TU is a well oiled conservation machine, for anglers, and more specifically for the next generation of anglers. Looking to the future, TU also realizes that they will have to pass the torch to new members for the continued success of their protected watersheds located all over the US."

Does that sound like a plug? Travis freely admits that it is. "OK, if it sounds like I'm plugging TU, I am. Being an angler (fly or conventional) should be synonymous with being a conservationist. Not a tree hugger or a hippy (unless that's what you're in to), but a sportsmen who appreciates their public land and resources that it offers. This public land we can access freely and use should be protected, and TU does an excellent job doing that. Trout Unlimited is not just a good 'ol boys club that meets once a week to tie size 22 trico's."

You'll have to read the post for the rest - however, as I'm sure you can see, Travis came away with a positive perspective which I am sure pleased TU immensely.

(Owl's picture courtesy of - well, quite frankly, I'm not sure. I've found it on more than one of the blogger's sites so. . .take your pick) Next in blogging senority is Jeff Jones, better known as "Owl" from Owl Jones.com. I must say, Owl brought laughter to the group. His fun sense of humor (read his blog, you'll see what I mean) and his willingness to take some ribbing (and give a bit as well), added fun to what could (possibly) have been a serious event.

Best known (by the end of their sojourn) for his Darth vader helmet - Owl readily admits his aversion to insects (and I readily admit Montana has a few :-) - Owl is an unemployed guy from Georgia. Obviously not a slacker (his well-setup blog proves this), he obviously loves the sport. So, what was his perspective? In his post, Total Disclosure he says, "I have not always been the biggest TU fan or supporter. I’ve been a member of TU on and off several times over the last decade. I’m sure my opinions of TU National over the years has irked more than a few TU members. The truth is, I can’t make apologies about the opinions I held in the past because I still feel those opinions were warranted at the time. This “Blogger Tour” event where we got to sit down and really talk to some of the leadership has possibly even confirmed those former opinions, because the light has been shined on the way TU is transforming itself into a bigger, better organization

I must admit, the thing I appreciated most about these guys was their honesty. TU possibly could have wined and dined and fished these guys into compliance. However, not only do I think TU didn't try that approach, but I really don't think any of these guys could have been bought. That, more than anything, is probably the best advertisement TU will receive from this blogging tour.

(Sander's photo courtesy of his blog) The youngest blogger (not in age but in blogging experience) is Sean Sanders, better known as 'Sanders'. A likeable guy with a ready smile, Sanders lives in Colorado and works for a copier company to fund his real passion - fishing! Sanders has only been blogging since March 2011 yet he already has a faithful following. Asked what prompted him to begin he replied he liked to write, was passionate about fishing, and wanted to spare his wife from having to listen to every last little detail of his fishing escapades.

Sanders' take on this whole TU event came from yet another perspective. In his post Montana Discussion he said, "The four days spent in the Centennial Valley were more than just a great fishing trip, it was an education. It was important to see the people and places my membership dollars support. It was important to get that interaction. And as I continue to support TU and their ongoing efforts, I am confident that they have my best interests in mind.

All in all, I think Corey Fisher (photo courtesy of the TU blog) and the rest of the Trout Unlimited crew ought to be mighty happy with their bloggers' response. Furthermore, if one can base anything on the very different viewpoints of these four guys, I think TU definitely has its place in the overall conservation scheme.

Lady of the Lake

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