Written by Stephen Starke, CalTrout member
I grew up in Northern California blessed with loads of wilderness experiences. My Grandfather was an avid fisherman and TU Chapter leader in Kingsport, Tennessee. My father caught the bug from him, so to speak, and was further mentored in fly fishing and fly-tying by members of the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club (GGACC). I now have cane rods that each of them once owned. Our family skied and hiked, hunted, fished and backpacked whenever we had the chance. Every summer we would travel somewhere in the Vista Cruiser Station Wagon. I can remember trips to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Tennessee, the Grand Canyon, Vancouver…
It was on a stream in Banff, Canada that I recall catching my first trout. The older family members were fly fishing and the kids all had red and white bobbers with salmon eggs and thumb-button spinning reals. To my complete surprise, my bobber went down and my mother yelled that I had hooked one and to reel fast! Panic set in and I raised my arm like the statue of liberty, turned around, and started running blindly inland. That poor 8” trout must have bounced across shore before they could slow me down. From that day on I have had the same electric current rush through my body every time I catch a fish. It’s a magic, giddy, connection that will keep me coming back for the rest of my days.
I had a lot of guidance in good stewardship of wild places. I remember my grandfather getting furious at a guy who was greedily carrying out a stringer of 15 or 20 fish that looked like a bunch of slimy bananas. Our generation got to witness the creation of the Sierra Club, CalTrout, and Greenpeace. The birth of the environmental movement and awareness of the impact of industry and resources development became a focus for me. My awareness magnified at UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley in the Forestry Department, College of Natural Resources. Eventually my passion for fishing brought me into contact with CalTrout.
I now only fly fish and especially enjoy steelhead fishing with two handed rods. I have three rods that have rings of my grandfather’s ashes, mixed with epoxy, set into the cork. I like that he gets to go fishing on the rivers that I travel to. I spend a lot of time headed to the Trinity, the Klamath, the Eel, The McCloud, Pit and Sac., and many others . I am fortunate enough to get to BC and/or Alaska for Steelhead annually. I feel grateful that I live in a generation that still has an opportunity to fish for mysterious and majestic anadromous fish. At the same time, I deeply mourn the crashing decline of the wild salmon and steelhead populations in our lifetime. The work that CalTrout does is nothing short of essential if we hope to be able to give our grandchildren and theirs a chance to enjoy the wild gifts that we have been so lucky to have lived with.
There is room for hope. There is a lot each of us can do. There are heroes all around us working on it. From the people like Curtis Knight and the staff at CalTrout who have dedicated their lives to protecting our rivers, streams and waterways to guides like Brandon Worthington who shares the environmental science and the handling ethics of fishing every day he takes a boat out. We can all spread the word and do our share.
I currently serve on the Board of the GGACC and produce an Environmental Speaker Series for our members. We have been lucky enough host CalTrout numerous times bringing speakers discussing the Mokelumne, The Klamath Dam removals, Spring Creeks and other issues pertinent to our California fisheries. I am generally an optimist, especially when it comes to these amazing and resilient fish. But I worry we have done too much damage already for future generations to be able to enjoy the exhilarating grab of a big wild fish on a tightly swing flyline.
If anything can turn this tragic trend around, it is the science based work of CalTrout. Its one of the most important memberships I engage in… so important that I have included CalTrout in my Estate Planning. That is an idea that I recommend to everyone. Why not leave a legacy that speaks to the heart of what you love and name CalTrout in your Will or Trust?