As TU leaders, we recognize the importance of diversity among our membership - not just in the sense of racial or gender identity (both are important, of course), but age, financial status, social, education, and ability as well. Sometimes it can be difficult to find creative ways of bringing new folks in the door, but the Grand Valley Anglers Chapter of TU is determined to "think outside of the flybox". Their story of engaging new audiences (including First Responders) is below: "Thinking Outside of the Flybox"
By: Ben Bloodworth, President, Grand Valley Angers TU
If you have been involved with Trout Unlimited for very long, then you have probably noticed that the faces around you don’t change very much - and they likely often bear a striking resemblance to your own. Nationwide, TU is struggling not only to increase and sustain membership, but to expand that membership to include a more diverse community (whether that means racial, social, gender, age, or financial diversity). So, we in Grand Valley Anglers (Grand Junction Chapter #319) have been trying some new ideas that have been paying off.
While fly fishing films like F3T and IF4 (if you don’t know those acronyms, I recommend looking them up and becoming familiar with them) are a great way to reach new and often younger audiences, we took it a step further. We worked with the local fly shop (Western Anglers) to initiate the West Slope’s first ever Iron Fly series.
If you are unfamiliar with Iron Fly, it is an event where tiers sign up to compete in various rounds of fly tying. They are all given the same set of “ingredients” and are challenged to tie the best fly possible in a certain amount of time. While the materials they are given are typically non-traditional and demanding of creative thought, there are also additional stumbling blocks thrown into the mix (like tying blindfolded, with one hand, or using another person’s vise) that demand the tiers’ utmost attention. All this happens with a lively audience, prizes and door-prizes between rounds, and the occasional adult beverage.
We have been having these events during the winter for a couple of years now and they have attracted as many as 80 folks in a night, and gotten our mission and information about other Chapter events/activities to an entirely new and engaged crowd. Of course blowing it up on social media (Instagram and Facebook in particular) also plays a huge part in drawing in the younger crew.
And from a completely different perspective, we started using our summer picnics as opportunities to reach a different group. At various times we invite certain target groups to our summer picnics to not only enjoy some tasty burgers (GVA provides) and potluck-style sides, but an opportunity to learn to cast a fly rod. We have used these opportunities for veterans and women, but last year worked with the local law enforcement community (starting months in advance) to give police officers and their families a chance to cast a rod and learn about who we are. At last summer’s event we had almost two-dozen police-affiliated attendees, and many more GVA members than usual, and had a great time casting into hula-hoops at a local State Park. We received great feedback after the event from both participating officers (one who was learning to cast in full uniform) and our Chapter members. We are planning to expand this concept in the future to fire departments, teachers, and hospital staff, taking the opportunity to not only get new folks involved in TU, but to let these dedicated members of our community know that we appreciate all they do for us on a daily basis.
This fall we are holding our first ever women’s fly fishing day at a local winery in Palisade, Colorado. This entirely women-led event will combine new ladies’ thirst for fly fishing knowledge and know-how with their thirst for some tasty Colorado wine. Carlson Vineyards (who also donates wine for our film events) is graciously hosting this event of wine tasting and learning about all things fly fishing, including TU. And, in an aim to not only help attendees but hopefully involve them more with TU moving forward, we are holding a separate casting-day for any attendees who wish to come out and work more with Chapter members. The only negative feedback we have gotten thus far is from men who want to get free wine while talking fly fishing!
Stay tuned to reports from Corinne Doctor (heading up the CTU Diversity Initiative) in the future to hear how this and other CTU diversification events around the state are going.
If you have any questions about the logistics involved in some of these ventures, or have something that your Chapter is doing that could benefit GVA members, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.