Discovering Life at CTU’s Fly-Fishing Youth Camp

By Jacob Lemon When Adam Beede arrived at Colorado Trout Unlimited’s 2012 Fly-Fishing Youth Camp, he was not a happy camper.

In the four months prior to camp, the teenager from Highlands Ranch had undergone four surgeries and spent six weeks in and out of the hospital. The experience had left him feeling a bit lost.

 “Between all of the surgeries, I no longer recognized who I was,” says Adam. “I fell so deeply into this hole, that I hadn’t realized who, or what, the surgeries forced me to become. I spent the next months looking for the old me—the me that I enjoyed, the me that I wanted to be. I was somber, and all too lost.”

Then Adam showed up for camp.  Under the patient watch of Sharon Lance, Mike Nicholson, Larry Quilling, and other volunteers for Colorado TU, Adam began to interact with the other kids. After a few days, Adam’s shyness disappeared and he was star-gazing, fishing, checking out bugs, and learning about conservation with the other kids.

By the time the last day of camp rolled around, Adam felt healed. So much so that he wrote: “One ranch, one organization, and one special group of people provided me with a feeling I hadn’t felt in an awfully long time; happiness. Because of TU Summer Camp, I found my lost life, and unraveled a lifetime of memories.”

The seventh annual CTU River Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp took place at the High Lonesome Ranch near DeBeque, Colorado, from June 10-15.  Sixteen campers from Canon City, Grand Junction, Littleton and other Colorado communities spent five days learning about the importance of coldwater fisheries conservation and received hands-on fly-fishing instruction. 

They learned to catch fish, lose fish—and tell fish stories, too. They attended classes each day. Conservation topics included stream ecology, entomology, impacts of oil and gas industry, water law, hydrology, and much more!  The campers also learned the basics of fly casting, fly tying, reading the water, streamside ethics and stream safety. 

bug sampling
bug sampling

“Our hope is that kids who attend our camp today will become the conservation leaders of tomorrow,” said Shawn Bratt, a veteran youth camp counselor and winner of the 2008 National Trout Unlimited award for Outstanding Youth Education Volunteer. “It’s important for these students to understand the value of healthy streams and clean water and how they relate to our everyday lives. The camp curriculum has been structured to provide the necessary foundation for that education.”

TU works across the country on projects to protect and restore coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. The organization understands that to sustain that work into the future, it’s vital to engage the next generation of anglers and help them develop a conservation ethic.

That is why TU has made youth education a priority with a variety of local and state level programs that aim to create mindful and “complete anglers”—sportsmen and women who are passionate not only about fishing but also about protecting local home waters and giving back to their communities. With 19 camps in 17 states nationwide, Trout Unlimited youth camps provide meaningful, high-impact experiences to hundreds of kids each year.

casting on pond
casting on pond

This camp is made possible by the tireless work of a cadre of TU volunteers hailing from locations throughout the state of Colorado.  Eleven on-site volunteers led activities, while three alumni from previous camps serving as camp counselors.  One of those alumni—camp counselor Ben Ward, a student at Hoehne High School in Trinidad—said the camp had provided meaningful experiences, both as a camper and counselor.  “As a camper, I had a chance learn about fly fishing and about the many people who are fighting to protect the rivers, forests, plains, and the environment for kids and the future.  As a counselor, there were still those same chances but I felt like by coming back that I was part of the people who are fighting for our environment.”

CTU seeks to make this experience accessible to any interested youth by offering camp scholarships that are funded by local TU chapters.  Thanks to the generosity of many Colorado TU chapters, every student attended this year’s camp on full scholarship.

The CTU River Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp is a shining example of what can be accomplished when TU volunteers collaborate across chapter lines and dedicate themselves to creating a quality program.  Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers and the support of our chapters, the CTU Youth Camp will be providing unforgettable experiences to Colorado’s youth for years to come.

nice fish
nice fish

“The past five days have been the greatest experiences of my life,” said camper Meg Branine. “In this week, I have developed a love for a sport I aim to continue. All components of this camp—the  science, the fishing and the social aspects—have all benefited me greatly.  They have given me a passion to protect our rivers and wild lands as well as great memories to take with me.”

Since the camp, Adam Beede has gone on several fishing trips with his new friends, volunteered for his local Cutthroat Chapter of Trout Unlimited, participated in the South Platte Clean-Up Day and assisted in a fly-fishing class for women. 

“This entire trip has been an incredible journey for me, and I believe that I speak for everyone when I say that,” said Adam. “Throughout this trip I’ve grown not only as an angler, but as a human. I’ve been happier this week than any time I can remember.I don’t want to leave and I’m going to miss you all so very much.”

For more information about the camp, contact Jake Lemon, Youth Education Coordinator, Colorado TU