Trout Unlimited celebrates 50 years of fishing and river conservation

ACME – Most know the Traverse City area as a rest and relaxation destination, a wine and orchard country, and the culinary center of northern Michigan. People come here to play golf, eat hearty, and hang out on the beach. But if you're one of the 25 million anglers in America-and especially one of the roughly 7 million who fly fish-you probably know this region better as home to some of the best fishing in the entire Midwest, a place world-renowned as the "golden triangle of fly-fishing," and the birthplace of the foremost river conservation group in the United States: Trout Unlimited.

This summer, August 18-24, that most influential, effective conservation group in the nation is coming home.

"We wanted to come back to our roots and have this celebration close to where TU was founded," says TU's National Press Secretary Erin Mooney. "We expect at least 400 members from across the country will attend, making the Grand Traverse Resort the most logical choice [in venues]."

TU Who?

United by a simple love of trout fishing and a shared discontent at the pattern of neglect and abuse of Michigan's wilderness rivers and streams, George Griffith, along with 14 fly fishing friends, banded together at his cabin on the banks of the AuSable River and founded TU in July 18, 1959. (Art Neumann-the group's first vice-president and the remaining of the original founders-is slated to attend the 50th Anniversary celebration in August.)

TU became a voice for protecting Michigan's rivers and wild trout. They pushed for habitat protection and improvement, favored wild trout instead of hatchery-raised fish. TU pioneered the notion of "catch and release" as a management tool to help produce larger and more healthy trout for future generations.

Griffith not only lived to see his fledging organization go national but also become a political powerhouse of river-wise conservation. Now with more than 150,000 volunteers organized into about 400 chapters from Maine to Montana to Alaska, TU is headquartered in Arlington, Va., and boasts a $20 million annual budget. A powerful political lobby focused on issues such as the removal of hydroelectric damns and tightening environmental legislation (like the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act), TU works to conserve, protect and restore coldwater fisheries and their watersheds all over North America.

The Fly-Fishing Life

Among fishermen, home waters are always the most sacred. Home waters are where many anglers learn the joys, lessons and rewards of fishing, experience that is carried over a lifetime and wherever their passion leads them.

Like golf, fly-fishing is a lifetime pursuit and the ticket to some of the most exotic destinations in the world, from salmon fishing in Scotland to bonefishing in Belize. It has helped turn outdoor gear and retail companies like the Vermont-based Orvis-which claims the largest share of the estimated $250 million industry-into household names.

"Of our angling customers, perhaps 60 percent or more are TU members," says Dave Leonhard, owner of Orvis Streamside located on Front Street in downtown Traverse City. "I would translate it this way: Nearly everyone comes into fly-fishing wanting to catch fish, but they soon find there are many other equally satisfying aspects to the sport-fly casting, fly tying, conservation efforts, aquatic entomology, and travel, just to name a few. Orvis represents a lifestyle more than just a fly shop. Our customers dress, furnish their homes, vacation, and daydream (of fly-fishing) through our catalogs, internet site, and dealers."

According to demographic figures, the average TU member (male, married, and college-educated) earns in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year; 29 percent earn an annual income of $100,000 to $199,000. Considered the upper crust of the fishing community, TU members are people for whom fly-fishing is a lifestyle expressed in everything from clothing and high-end gear, to books and artwork. They are the well-heeled foot soldiers in a dedicated grassroots army dedicated to conserving, protecting, and restoring North America's trout streams.

Mooney says TU members are as enthusiastic about fly- fishing as they are eco-savvy when it comes to political issues impacting America's wildest rivers and cold-water fisheries. This also makes them the most sought-after segment of the fishing community by folks marketing specialty gear and services. For the Traverse City area, according to Mooney, it also means that wealth will be spread around.

"Traverse City will definitely feel an (economic) ripple effect from the event," says Mooney, adding that the Grand Traverse Resort was the most logical choice in venues to accommodate all the people, events, and festivities TU has planned: guided fishing in area waters, conservation tours, onsite artwork and outdoor gear for sale, regular dinners, cocktails parties, and a silent auction with hundreds of items, ranging from a top-of-the-line Clacka drift boat to hand-tied flies and split-cane fly rods.

Trout Unlimited's 50th Anniversary celebration at the Grand Traverse Resort is August 18-22. The event is open to the public, and Mooney encourages anyone interested in river conservation, trout and especially, fly-fishing to attend. For a full schedule of events, check out www.tu50.org.

In addition to helping to organize guided float trips for TU members on area Blue Ribbon trout waters, Traverse City's Streamside Orvis store will direct anglers to area waters. Call Streamside Orvis at (231) 933-9300 or visit their website, www.streamsideorvis.com.

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