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Most People Don't Care...and I Struggle With That

I understand that there is almost no way to write this that does not come across as "preachy", "whiny", "bitchy" or worse - and I am OK with that, I guess. Though based on how long this post as been "in development", maybe I am not. Of course, if you are seeing this, it means that I got it to a point I was relatively happy with it being for public consumption. Or I got to a point I just stopped giving a shit...

It is going to be a tough hook eye to thread - think a threading a #22 hook with a 2X tippet. I do not know that I am that nimble but I will try - and probably fail. I have started and paused this post more than a few of times. I have not - and am not now (in the 14th or so iteration) - entirely sure how to proceed but proceed I will because somewhere in there, I think there are some important ideas to convey. Whether or not I can do it is another story. I can always not publish it...maybe I just need to get a snoot full (or not) write the damn thing and publish it! (I didn't but I should have - it would have saved a lot of time and effort.)

LUNKER structure build
Building LUNKER structures for Bear Creek at least a decade ago - I still see these same people at work days...

If you are reading this post, you are almost certainly more into trout fishing than most and you are probably more involved than most. I started this post because I tried to get volunteers for a few activities and there were lots of "likes" on social media but very few - maybe no - actual volunteers. I talk to friends that run work days and it is the same dozen folks - and they are not getting any younger. And to be completely honest, that shit gets old. It is also why people burn out and I think wouldn't if the workload could be spread out over more people. I write this because I know I am burning out. It is hard to put effort into things people don't seem to give a shit about. More people simply need to give a shit.

Five Rivers gathering
There are some bright spots - more than 20 members of Five Rivers Clubs from across the Midwest came to the West Fork Sports Club in Avalanche to fish and do a work day.

I watch anglers go and fish the West Fork when at 9 AM, the water temperature is already 70*F, and is on its way to 75 or more. Hell, I watch them start fishing at 3 PM when I know the water is 75*F because I measure it. On the bright side, they sure as hell are not catching much. Do they not know better (ignorance) or do they simply not give a shit (willful ignorance)? Do they simply not know other places to fish or are the hellbent on fishing the West Fork at the place they know has fish (as if all the other Driftless streams don't have fish...) and that is what they are going to do, to hell with water temperatures? I stopped by the bridge at Avalanche and told a pair of F.I.B.s that it is too warm to fish and the water temperature was 75F. They shrugged their shoulders and said they were going fishing anyway (sorry to all my friendly Illinois buddies to link you to those FIBS). I just shook my head and drove away - what more can you do?

Carry a thermometer
From the 2021 WOWSKI clinic on the West Fork - a cheap thermometet can not only save some trout but it can save you from some shitty fishing.

Most people just fish, they do not really take it much further than that. And by itself that is fine. I mean most people do a lot of things and do not think or do much more than simply participate. I watch a lot of Badger football - and I care about it - but I do not really contribute in any real way. The Badger football team with get by without me, our coldwater resources may not be so fortunate. We need more people that really care about cold water resources and give more than they take, because many take more than they give. I understand that we all have different priorities and different things going on with our lives. As such, we have times when we are more and less involved in the world outside of work, family, and other interests. It is the nature of life. Along our journey; our interests, our time, and resources ebb and flow. But I contend we can always find ways to give more than we take.

I think the question for all of us is what do you do to "give back"? What do you do to make fishing a better experience not only for yourself but for others and hopefully for future generations? High-minded and rather forward-looking, I know. Cold-water resources are finite resources and a number of anthropogenic factors - climate change, expansion of urban and suburban areas, agricultural and urban/suburban pollution, and other human-related factors - are putting those resources at a greater risk than they have been for many decades. About the simplest thing you can do is carry a thermometer and understand a bit about what warm water means to trout. I do not think that is asking too much but based on my experiences, it is more than what many anglers do or apparently are willing to do.

A chilly December work day for Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest. Ken Rizzo photo

Why it is an issue

I joined Trout Unlimited in my early 20's and I am quite a bit older than that now. I have been "the young guy" in TU for about 30 years. That is a problem! I remember talking to a friend in Southeastern Wisconsin TU a few years back and learning that the average age of volunteers at a work days over the course of a year was 67 years old. And that is a problem!

Five Rivers club working on a LUNKER structure
Students from the Trout Unlimited / Costa Five Rivers clubs helping learn to build a LUNKER structure at the West Fork of the Kickapoo River. They would have halved the average age at a TU work day.

Too often we take for granted what we have. I am most familiar with the Driftless Area but the story is much the same over much of Wisconsin. For so much of Wisconsin, we are living in the good old days. Through much of the 1900's, much of Northern Wisconsin was recovering from "the cutover", much of the state was experiencing a population boom, and the legacy of cultural sedimentation in the Driftless, removal of woody debris and even rapids that would catch logs in the north, and increasingly, groundwater withdrawals which effect springs that feed our trout streams. There are reasons that the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act became law - though sometimes it seems people forget that. These did not become the good old days because people sat by and watched things improve. Entropy ensues.

My favorite Driftless stream made a new waterfall
Probably my favorite Driftless stream after the 2018 flood event. It's a brave new world.

I wrote a post I was particularly proud of about the re--birth of the Driftless and how it has recovered from historic degradation but we can't get complacent as threats abound. Another post about aquatic insect declines was largely about my experiences with hatches in the Driftless but it is not just the Driftless. Many of our fisheries are stronger than they have been in many, many decades. Changes to the Driftless I write about in posts about vegetation and valleys mirror the changes to the rest of the state. While not Driftless, my great grandfather, Rommie, would catch trout in the Maunesha River, now one of southern Wisconsin's many brown-water rivers - though it too is now better than it was a few decades ago. There are similar tales across the state - forestry, agriculture, and urbanization / surburbanization has greatly altered our landscape and our trout streams. The larger point is that things change and if we get complacent, they may change in a way we do not want them to change.

Care Might Be Too Strong of a Word

There are first of all certainly a number of reasons that people are not involved. Not having kids certainly gives me more time than my brother with his two daughters he takes to softball practices and tournaments that have an ever increasing geography as the girls get older. In fact, he once was a fly angler that has pretty much given it up for a host of other activities. He - and many others, I am sure - care about clean water and trout fisheries - they just aren't his priorities currently but hopefully (for both of us), will be again. We are not all at places where we can contribute much either financially or in time. That is life.

SEWTU's world famous brat fry
Ken serving up brats at a joint work day on the Sugar River with Southeast and Southern Wisconsin chapters of Trout Unlimited on the Sugar River.

I totally get that I am much more invested than most and trout fishing is more important to me than most. I have no problem with doing my part. Based on how burned out I feel much of the time, I think I have done more than my part. I'm thankful for the summer recharge.

At different parts of my life, what I could contribute has changed. Over the course of a year, how I can contribute changes. As I write this, it in late summer (a year - now over 2 years - later...) and my work world is starting to change rapidly. I will soon have much less time to contribute but maybe a bit more money. Though with field work this summer, I had a lot less time to contribute this summer compared to last summer. But I made nearly every event we hosted. When I was in my early 20's, I had almost no money to contribute but I had a strong back. I contributed what I could. Quite frankly, more people need to contribute what they can.

Roadside garbage.
Filthy animals! Pick up your shit up! It is literally the least you can do! Why is it always Bud or Busch Light??

To be honest, I am not asking for much. You do not need to make every work day, give vast sums of money, or take a leadership role. Yes, it would be great if more people would do all of those things and it would spread the work out among more people. All I am really asking for is for more people to give a bit of their time, a bit of their money, and to be a bit more conscientious about what we do. I am asking for people to volunteer for a day or two, maybe three or four if you can swing it, in a year. And I am asking for people to give their actions a bit of thought - pick your shit up! Don't fish a stream that is 72*F. Maybe take a kid or other interested person fishing. Do something to make this small little bit of the world a better place.

I reflect upon watching fly anglers fish a trout stream that is 72*F. Is it just a matter of not knowing any better? Are they just fucking idiots? There is a difference, I suppose between caring and not knowing any better. But ignorance is a shitty defense, particularly in the "information age".

Don't Like Trout Unlimited?

I get it - not everyone is drawn to groups, not everyone is a joiner. And not everyone agrees with everything TU does. Hell, I don't and I've been a member for most of my life and a leader for a fair part of my life.

There are, of course, other ways to be active in making trout fishing better - or at least not worse. I know more than a few non-TU members upset over perceived politics - oddly on both sides of America's two parties. A stream project they didn't like, or any number of other reasons. And, I get it. I did not love that a project on one of my favorite creeks did not do much more than improve the casing lanes by removing the trees that used to deter 80% of fly anglers from fishing the section. The stream fished much better before it was "improved". Now that section is much more heavily fished and for me, not what it used to be, and what made it worth fishing is gone.

LUNKER structure that is high and dry
It ain't all sunshine and roses - not everything works out as hoped for.

I bring up Trout Unlimited and put them front and center because it is the non-profit organization most associated with the conservation of trout species. There are many other organizations - The River Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, any number of land trusts, sports clubs and "rod and gun" clubs that all have a role in preserving trout and their habitats. TU doesn't always get it right - in fact, under a past president, I was rather dismayed by their catering to rich folks that don't want folks like me from fishing "their" streams. But then the revolt happened because TU is not a person but a collection of people from across the country. Quite simply, change happens when people give a shit.

Closing day with a friend
Last day of the 2022 inland trout season with my friend Mike, the past Wisconsin TU state council chair - a position I have zero interest in (but I do my part).

I don't care how you get involved but that you get involved. Do something to make trout fishing better. Educate friends and family about water temperature and how they affect trout and trout fishing. Give some money. If you can't do that, tie some flies, make some spinners or jigs, or whatever you can do/make and donate them. Give some of your time - there are tons of opportunities from work days, to helping with social media, to any number of other tasks. Work to your strengths and interests. I have always had little interest in being the person that is the face of the organization and I have less interest in talking with politicians. But I am happy that there are people who have those strengths and are happy to use them to make trout fishing better. I would rather work behind the scenes and get stuff done. And I am very happy that others have complementary skill sets.

What I Can't Abide

If there is one thing that is sure to raise my ire, it is those that don't do shit telling those that do what they should do. Telling them that they should do more and what they did wasn't enough or was wrong. Anyone that starts a conversation with "What you need to do is..." and they don't finish it with "and here is how I plan to help make that happen", they are not helping and are part of the problem, not the solution. Quite frankly they should do something themselves or shut the fuck up. I say this for me - not TU or any other entity I might be part of - but burnout, it is real. To tell people that are spending significant amount of their limited free time that they are not doing "enough" should bring their ire - particularly if you are not doing shit. I view it much like voting, you can't bitch and complain if you haven't done your part. To sit on your ass and criticize others when you've not done shit - that's bullshit. This Dude doesn't abide it.

Colored up brook trout
This post was in need of something beautiful - and maybe a reminder of why we need more people to help.

If you have gotten to this point and have read other posts, it is certainly a different kind of post. And yes, the language is not so scientific - but swearing is a sign of intelligence. More to the point, our cold water resources need more people that give a shit because most do not.

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