5 Rivers Rally: Millennials Making a Monumental Impact on the future of Coldwater Conservation

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What comes to mind when you think of the Millennial generation?

A generation lost in their iPhones, video games, or some other device with Internet connectivity? Supremely connected, but perhaps a bit “out of touch” with the way things used to be? As an organization where the average age of its members is 55, Trout Unlimited is in need of Millennial involvement—a bridge, of sorts, linking programs aimed at youth and those mainstream TU members… a new means of engagement for 20-something TU members. This is where 5 Rivers, the capstone of the Headwaters Program, fits in.  The TU-Costa 5 Rivers program is a network of over 50 TU-affiliated college fly-fishing clubs around the nation. Last year, Costa Sunglasses dove head first into a partnership with TU’s Director of Headwaters Youth Programs, Franklin Tate. “I never dreamed the partnership with Costa would grow to be so significant,” said Tate. “It is rare to find a company that believes in and understands the importance of getting behind the 5 Rivers movement.”

“Getting young people involved in fly fishing and conservation is crucial to the future of the sport,” added Todd Barker, the College Community Leader at Costa. “If there aren’t new and upcoming participants in the sport, there won’t be anyone there to protect the resources in the future.”

Five Rivers affiliated clubs are encouraged to complete five pillars:
1. A conservation initiative
2. Community outreach
3. Costa campus ambassador
4. Fundraising
5. TU connection

Clubs that complete the five pillars earn pro deals from program sponsors as a way to reduce the cost curve for new people entering the sport. “The 5 Rivers Pillars reinforces the things we teach them (students/young adults) through the stream of engagement,” said Tate. “As the capstone of the stream of engagement in the Headwaters Program, 5 Rivers acts as a training program for students to become the TU leaders of tomorrow.”  In addition to yearly program funding, Costa sponsors an annual get-together of all 5 Rivers Clubs on the East Coast. Known as the 5 Rivers Rally, the gathering provides a fun, educational and networking opportunity for students to interact with their peers from other universities. “For the health of the industry, we made a happening for young conservationists,” explained Peter Vandergrift, the Fly Fishing Community Leader at Costa. “It’s a fun and engaging event in a beautiful place. If you love a place and love to fish, you will protect it.”  That sentiment is echoed by students. “The Rally provides something fun for students to look forward to every year,” said Matthew Wallin, a senior forest resources and environmental conservation major—and vice president of the fly fishing club—at Virginia Tech. “It encourages students to be continually engaged (in their fly fishing clubs) throughout the school year, which is something most student organizations at Tech don’t enjoy.”

At this year’s Rally held at Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria, Va., 200 students from 20 schools participated in a variety of activities, including a premiere of the F3T spinoff, “Flies, Films and Foam,” a raffle (items donated by our program sponsors, Simms Fishing Products, Montana Fly Company and Mossy Creek Fly Shop), Pig Farm Ink’s “Iron Fly” tying competition and “Get Trashed” stream cleanup. During the “Get Trashed” event, students removed two tons of trash from the waterways of Syria, Va.!  “If you ask 1,000 Pig- Farmers what or who this Pig Farm Ink thing is you will get 1001 different answers. So to answer what a Pig Farm Ink Iron Fly is I give you this: it is fly tying meets Iron Chef, meets pure chaos, meets whatever curveball is thrown in for the night. It involves experienced and first time fly tiers together competing in random battles of the vice and bobbin, all in the name of fun. It’s not about the competition though, it is all about who can have the most bitchin’ time.

Get Trashed is a gateway to introduce people of all walks of life to fly fishing and the outdoors under the guise of a river cleanup,” said Greg Morgan, a full-time guide and farmer at Pig Farm Ink.  “I have never seen so many people in one place so stoked to teach a new fly fisher to catch a native brook trout while picking up trash. I am proud to know these new Farmers I met at the 5 Rivers Rally are out and about spreading the word of conservation, community and having a great time while doing it.”

Michael Morrow, a graduate student advisor and former president of the Fly Fishing Club at Clemson University, sees Pig Farm Ink events as a powerful opportunity to get Millennials involved in the sport and conservation. “We accomplished so many things all at once—meeting new people, teaching new fly anglers, being stewards of the environment… all while having a blast.”

In addition to Costa, Trout Unlimited and Pig Farm Ink, Cheeky Reels, Flymen Fishing Company, The Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3T), Loon, Redington, RIO Products, Temple Fork Outfitters, Montana Fly Company, Simms Fishing Products and Vedavoo have gotten behind this Millennial movement.

“The 5 Rivers program is exciting because it reminds us of what we’re all in this for,” said Martin Bawden, CEO and Founder of Flymen Fishing Company. “At Flymen, we’re passionate about creating next-generation fly-tying materials and pushing the sport forward, and it’s awesome to see the true next generation of anglers—some experienced, some complete beginners—entering the world of fly fishing with a fire in their bellies for the sport and for conservation.
“Think about it, how amazing would it be if every person who started fly fishing became active in conservation efforts at the same time? That’s what 5 Rivers has managed to set in motion and we’re eager to see what we can accomplish together in years to come.”
Dr. Tom Benzing, faculty advisor for the fly-fishing club at James Madison University and conservation chair on the Virginia Council, seized the opportunity to get involved during 5 Rivers’ humble beginnings, five years ago.

“When 5 Rivers was created, I saw it as an opportunity to add a conservation aspect to the fishing club at James Madison” said Dr. Benzing. “Aside from strong backs, college kids can offer a lot more to their TU chapters. College kids are smart, and they bring different and important perspectives on trout conservation. And I wouldn't do this if it weren't a whole lot of fun. These young anglers are our future conservationists.”

Story written by Andrew Loffredo and was published in TU's Trout Magazine Winter 2016 edition.