• Pushing Fly Fishing Forward: The Next Generation
  • Post author
    Andrew Loffredo
  • 5 Riversconservationfly tyingfreshwaterTrout Unlimited

Pushing Fly Fishing Forward: The Next Generation

5 Rivers Rendezvous Colorado

Photo by Oliver Rogers.

When I graduated college in May 2015 and shared with my peers that I was going to be working for a non-profit conservation organization to work with college fly fishing clubs nationwide, I got a variety of responses ranging from, “Whoa, that's sick,” to, “What are you doing with your life?”

Many of my peers in college viewed fly fishing as an old guy sport, with their closest mental image being Brad Pitt “shadow casting” on the banks of the Bitterroot in A River Runs Through It.

Little did they know, fly fishing is actually a growing sport in the millennial generation. I'd venture to say part of this growth is due to edgy blogs such as The Fiberglass Manifesto, Gink and Gasoline, and Southern Culture On the Fly, and the rise of simpler versions of fly fishing such as Tenkara.

Studies have shown many members of the millennial generation value the environment and experiences over the accumulation of possessions. This mindset gives fly fishing an almost magnetic appeal, as it's a hobby that embodies outdoor adventure and the preservation of wild places, and you don’t need a bunch of stuff to get started with a Tenkara set up.

But, is there more the fly fishing industry can do to recruit additional millennials?

Photo by Wray Sinclair.

Enter the TU Costa 5 Rivers Program. The 5 Rivers program is a network of over 65 TU-affiliated college fly fishing clubs around the nation. As the capstone the Trout Unlimited Headwaters Youth Program, these clubs seek to engage current and fly fishers-to-be on their campuses nationwide.

5 Rivers Clubs complete 5 initiatives including Conservation, Community Outreach, Costa Ambassadorship, Fundraising, and TU Connection to earn pro deals on equipment from program sponsors in order to help reduce the cost curve to getting started in the sport of fly fishing while in college.

5 Rivers Clubs also get to attend regional gatherings put on by Costa Sunglasses and TU – the 5 Rivers Rally on the East Coast every fall, and the 5 Rivers Rendezvous in the Rockies every spring.

5 Rivers Rendezvous Colorado

This year's 5 Rivers Rendezvous basecamp at the Diamond J Ranch in Colorado. Photo by Oliver Rogers.

“Getting young people involved in fishing as well as conservation is crucial for the health of our sport. If there aren’t new participants coming in, there won’t be anyone in the future to protect it” said Todd Barker, The College Community Leader at Costa.

Thanks to Costa's sponsorship, 65 students from 12 universities across the West were able to attend the 5 Rivers Rendezvous, free of charge. Not to mention every student walked away with great swag donated by Costa, Far Bank, The F3T, TFO, Yeti, Orvis, Loon, Postfly, Cheeky, and Flymen Fishing Company!

TU 5 Rivers Rendezvous swag

Photo by Oliver Rogers.

Many of us reading this blog are seasoned fly anglers who've made many a road trip for fly fishing and would think of an 18-hour drive with your fishing buddies to hit some of the best water in the West as a no-brainer.

But imagine this: almost half of the 65 attendees had only been involved in fly fishing for 2 years or less. Some of them even caught their first fish at the 5 Rivers Rendezvous!

This being said, it's pretty crazy to think these students were able to rope their classmates into traveling at least 3 hours from their campuses to participate in an event centered around an activity they'd never or only limitedly participated in.

They didn’t know it yet, but they'd be hooked on fly fishing by the end of the weekend.

This year’s 5 Rivers Rendezvous was headlined by a premiere of the 2016 F3T, a “Photo Hunt” competition, and a Pig Farm INK Iron Fly tying contest.

5 Rivers Rendezvous contests

Photo by Oliver Rogers.

Competition is a mainstay on a college campus, and is heightened even further when other colleges are involved. However, this was no ordinary competition; teams were comprised of students from multiple universities, and the events required their creativity, cameras, and fishing abilities to attain victory. Anything from a Sasquatch sighting, to catching the biggest fish, to every bag full of garbage removed from the stream were worth points.

“Some of students were hesitant to sign up [for the 5 Rivers Rendezvous] because of the competition in years past,” said David Muench, a senior and the current president of the University of Colorado- Boulder fly fishing club, “but the photo competition was inclusive enough so everyone could participate."

One student even fashioned his own Tenkara rod out of a stick to attain extra points.

5 Rivers Rendezvous Pig Farm Ink Iron Fly

After dinner was eaten and the dust settled after the photo competition and raffle, students battled it out on the fly tying vise at the Pig Farm Ink Iron Fly, where students of all experience levels gathered around the fly tying table to learn whose “vise has the spice” in a fly tying competition based off the popular Food Network TV show, “Iron Chef." 

In an Iron Fly, contestants participate in series of fly tying mini-challenges (such as tying a fly while blindfolded) using the same "mystery ingredients to create the ultimate fish snack." The judging was fierce and fun, and a bitchin’ time was had by all.

TU 5 Rivers Rendezvous Pig Farm Ink Iron Fly

Photo by Oliver Rogers.

As the weekend came to a conclusion and students departed from the lodge, it was clear they all took something meaningful away from the 5 Rivers Rendezvous. It wasn't the swag, the raffle prizes, or even the title of 1st place in the Iron Fly or photo hunt, but something truly special.

“We just started our club a year ago and are still struggling through the kinks of the process. So seeing what other clubs have done just inspires me to put the effort and dedication into advancing our own club.” says Audrey Adler, a sophomore at the University of Denver. “I also just loved seeing how many college anglers are out there that all share this passion for fly fishing. It’s one of the coolest communities I have become a part of, filled with people who share a love for life, the outdoors, fish and the environment."

Photo by Oliver Rogers.

And it wasn’t just the students: “As 5 Rivers was gaining momentum in Colorado, Colorado Trout Unlimited (CTU) started the Rendezvous as a way to get all of the clubs together” said Garrett Hanks, the former CTU Youth Education Coordinator and event volunteer. "Back then we had less than 20 [attendees] the first year, and now we have over 60 which is pretty cool."

In addition to this amazing growth, what was really inspiring to me was what Garrett said after. “I came to the 5 Rivers Rendezvous this year and saw students who attended the CTU Youth Camp, TU Teen Summit, and then came back as the leaders of these clubs which is pretty fulfilling to see. They are going to be the TU Leaders of tomorrow...”

It appears that the future of the great sport of fly fishing and conservation is bright.

5 Rivers Rendezvous Colorado

Photo by Oliver Rogers.

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About Andrew Loffredo:

Andrew Loffredo of Trout Unlimited, Fall streamer fly fishing: 3 tips for more strikesAndrew is the TU Costa 5 Rivers Coordinator at Trout Unlimited, where he assists college students with starting, organizing, and managing TU-affiliated collegiate fly fishing clubs. He has over a decade of fly fishing experience, including being a member of the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team and president of the Virginia Tech Fly Fishing Club. For more information on the 5 Rivers program, or if you would like to start a TU-affiliated 5 Rivers fly fishing club, please contact Andrew at aloffredo@tu.org. 

  • Post author
    Andrew Loffredo
  • 5 Riversconservationfly tyingfreshwaterTrout Unlimited

Comments on this post (11)

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  • Dec 03, 2020

    Andrew, I read you post, good stuff. I have often wondered how we could sustain the outdoor activities of which I have been involved in my entire life, trout fishing and whitetail deer hunting.
    My blog centers on teaching, mainly fly fishing, and getting young folks to take up the sport is key to keeping, not only, the traditions alive, but the conservation effort so many fisherman and hunters contribute too on-going.
    If I can tie my blogs efforts into some of what you are doing, please let me know. Passing on what we learn to the next group is extremely important, I’d like to help some how.

    — Creek

  • Dec 03, 2020

    This is great. I wished back in the 70’s when I we had a program like this. I love fishing in the West now. VinnyD…..

    — VinnyD.

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Really perfect content ever i seen. It’s carry many kind of information on fishing. It’s long but very helpful for people all over the world. Thanks for sharing this awesome info.

    — William

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Great stuff Andrew. Looking forward to hearing about how far we can stretch you for a High School version of this program.

    — Gabe Parr

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Rusty- For sure! The TU Headwaters Program encompasses programs to reach out to kids from the ages of four to 22. I encourage you to check out to http://www.tu.org/headwaters to learn more about the variety of youth programs TU offers.

    Doug- 5 Rivers is only for colleges, although we are currently working on expanding into high schools with a similar model. With that being said, please send me an email at aloffredo@tu.org and I would be glad to offer any advice that I can with getting your club off the ground!

    — Andrew Loffredo

  • Dec 03, 2020
    Dear Andrew.

    I would like to start a fly fishing club at my high school.
    I have taught at Minico High School , Idaho for 36 years and fly
    fished that long. I would like to teach fly tying , but have little or no equipment , any ideas that might help?
    Thank You,
    Doug Gosnell.
    1141 8th st
    Rupert , Idaho 83350

    — Doug Gosnell

  • Dec 03, 2020
    This is a beautiful read. How about taking it even further and reaching out to high school students and perhaps younger! Thanks for posting

    — Rusty Lininger

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I wish this was around when I was in college. This is awesome!

    — Dave M

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I have been a fly fisher and tier for 59 years. I had no idea that fly fishing is a hot sport on college campuses. We need new blood to keep fly fishing alive. Great articular and thanks for the update.


    — Tim McCoy

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