Can you imagine how effective we could be if it were possible to put someone in the fast lane to Chesapeake Bay stewardship?

Helping our family, friends, colleagues, and constituents understand the value of the natural resources around us is no easy task. The strength of these connections is often directly related to the individuals’ ability to develop a personal connection with nature through a lifetime of authentic outdoor experiences.

Road Trip Photo

The 800-mile trip started with fishing on Pine Creek, followed by three days of hunting and fishing in Tioga County, and ended with a few days of steelhead fishing in Erie, PA.

The value of forming personal links to our watershed is fresh in my mind. A few weeks ago, our 13-year-old and I wrapped up a six-day 800-mile road trip around our beautiful state of Pennsylvania. The region was on full display in autumn colors. Each mile of the journey and stop along the way was worthy of being its own vibrant destination. And although our beat-up SUV, loaded down with coolers, fishing rods, snacks, and camping gear transported us through the mountains and dramatic scenery of northern Pennsylvania, there was another vehicle responsible for driving us on this journey.

When you grow up in a family of outdoorsmen and women, it’s easy to overlook how difficult it might be to venture into unfamiliar hobbies like kayaking, hunting, fishing, climbing, camping, skiing, etc. Where do I go? What do I need? Are there licenses or permits required? Is it safe? For the adult-onset outdoor discoverer, these are all very real and understandable concerns.

 Photo of a stocked brook trout caught during a kids fishing derby

I was early in my own angling journey, posing with a Shamu fishing rod and a stocked brook trout caught during a kids fishing derby.

A childhood in rural Pennsylvania afforded me ample opportunity to explore a range of outdoor pursuits that helped shape who I became as an adult. I’m a bit of a serial hobbyist, but nearly all of my passions revolved around nature, animals, and the fascinating places they inhabit. Some of my earliest memories involve crisp spring mornings and father-son fishing trips to our local creeks, and I’m happy to be passing those traditions on to our two children.

Wild brown trout photograph

Our 14-year-old son, Talan, poses with a wild brown trout caught on Pennsylvania’s famed Penn’s Creek.

Remember the additional vehicle responsible for the road trip with my own son? That vehicle was the wily trout that I chased with my dad. You could call it a sport, pursuit, hobby, or passion but it would probably be best defined as an addiction. And as an addiction, it has driven me all over the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I go to the river and turn over rocks to study the macroinvertebrates that make up the diet of hungry trout. Hours are spent at a fly tying vise turning natural materials into flies that resemble the bugs. More hours are spent casting those flies to trout. Fewer hours are spent actually catching the trout.

A photography of a beautiful wild brown trout caught on a tributary to Pine Creek

A beautiful wild brown trout caught on a tributary to Pine Creek.

The profound connection that all of this has allowed me to form with our rivers and streams is difficult to describe. I’m aware that it probably seems counterintuitive to talk about developing a connection with nature while trying to fool a fish, pierce its lip, and possibly snap a photo of it before releasing it back into depths. However, our fish and our rivers need champions, and it would be nearly impossible to outmatch the stewardship ethic and responsibility that you feel for the health of our waters after hours spent developing an appreciation for the behavior of its inhabitants.

In a roundabout way, trout are responsible for helping me find my way to the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, where I have the privilege of leading our communication efforts. They’re certainly responsible for my role as Vice President of the Muddy Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited, where we focus our efforts on improving the quality of our local watershed. Finally, they’ve made me realize the importance of sharing these ethics with anyone who will listen, and if they join me for a day on the water, hopefully, they too will catch the bug. And the fish.

A photography of beautiful fall foliage in Pennsylvania

Trout live in some beautiful places! The leaves were in full fall color throughout our journey.

This past fall, nearly 20 women joined our Trout Unlimited chapter for an introduction to all things fly fishing. The event offered a full day of education, demonstration, fly tying, and casting. The participants even had the opportunity to spend some time on the water trying out their new skills. Alliance CEO Kate Fritz was one of the women in attendance. “The experience left me feeling refreshed and physically exhausted, like the day after an incredible hike. I am grateful for a new community of women and a new practice of self-care. I can keep my fly rod in my car, which gives me an easy option to explore more of the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. Buying fishing licenses in all the major Chesapeake jurisdictions means that I am also helping support fish habitat restoration and conservation efforts – a win-win from my viewpoint.”

A photo of the participants and instructors of Muddy Creek Trout Unlimited Women's Introduction to Fly Fishing Clinic.

The participants and instructors of the Muddy Creek Trout Unlimited Women’s Introduction to Fly Fishing Clinic.

It’s a win-win, to say the least. My road to a relationship with our watershed may have been a lifelong journey. Still, I believe that mentorship opportunities can provide a fast lane to a strong stewardship ethic. With a mentor to guide you along the way and the charm of North America’s largest estuary at the doorstep, our recreational passions often act as the vehicle to truly connect with and appreciate the Chesapeake Bay and her amazing watershed.

A photograph of colorful foliage along Pine Creek in Cedar Run, PA.

Colorful foliage along Pine Creek in Cedar Run, PA.

As the Alliance looks to the next 50 years of Chesapeake Bay conservation, I can’t help but think about the 18 million people who live, work, and play in our watershed. If you’re reading this column, the chances are high that you’re already a dedicated steward of clean water.

Can you imagine the scale of our impact if each of us took one of the 18 million individuals under our wing, showed them the extraordinary value of our watershed, and put them in the fast lane to Chesapeake Bay stewardship?