11th Illinois TU Council Youth Summer Camp a Success

By Willie Beshire, OBTU Vice President and Camp Director

The 11th edition of the Illinois TU Council Youth Conservation and Fly Fishing Camp successfully returned 12 youth participants with a new appreciation of coldwater conservation, the acquisition of basic fly fishing skills, new friendships and a unique outdoors experience.

The camp–which ran July 22-27 was conducted at the RAM Conference Center in Roscommon, Michigan and on the banks of Michigan’s Au Sable River–was led by Camp Director and OBTU’s Willie Beshire with the support of a committed ensemble of nine Trout Unlimited mentors from Illinois and Michigan along with numerous external volunteers.

Camp Highlights
This year’s camp was outstanding according to Willie Beshire who noted the following highlights:

We had an excellent group of campers including 9 boys and 3 girls.  This class distinguished themselves with a high motivation to learn, genuine interest in the full curriculum, positive attitude, cooperation and respect for the mentors and each other at all times.

The weather was perfect with very acceptable water temperatures for fishing during the week.
Pre-camp Grayling temperatures near 100 degrees in early July and reports of 83-degree Au Sable River water temperatures had threatened to spoil our fishing.

The camp was led by an accomplished team of 11 mentors and a number of external faculty with all planned activities completed on schedule at a high standard.   Activities including the entomology survey led by Western Michigan University Profesor Steve Kohler; a fish electro-shocking survey on the West Branch of the Sturgeon River led by Neil Godby and his Michigan DNR crew; a stream improvement project on a section of the Au Sable main stem head waters north of Grayling led by Steve and Stosh Sendeck of Northpoint Fisheries Management (a coldwater fishery consulting firm); trout anatomy lesson led by Professor Dan Hayes of Michigan State University; a fly tying workshop; and tour of the old growth forest and logging museum at Hartwick-Pines State Park; and field studies on the North Branch hosted by Carl Hueter, Michigan TU leader and Au Sable North Branch property.  Mentors Fred Hodge and Mike Youssi showed “how it’s done” winning the crosscut log cutting competition in a landslide with an impressive time of just 14 seconds (not bad for a couple of old guys).

The “stream table” demonstration of how water interacts with the land was a successful new addition to our camp curriculum this year led by Patrick Ertel of the Michigan DNR.   The Illinois TU Council is now the proud owner of a stream table contributed to us by Ric Augustine (built by Greg Potter, a long-time leader of the Michigan TU Camp).

While the mid-summer Au Sable fishing was challenging as usual, all campers caught trout.   Four of our campers successfully completed the brook/brown/rainbow trout trifecta—a notable accomplishment.   One camper and I had the unique experience of being joined by a porcupine who watched us fish for about two hours from a nearby woodpile on the Au Sable River’s Mason Track section.

Unfortunately morning fishing on the North Branch was abandoned due to a 90% decline in recent fish counts.  Every local I talked to had a different theory regarding the population decline.  Research is underway to understand this situation.  We were able to successfully substitute extra fishing on the main stem “Holy Water”.

Camper written evaluations of the camp were very positive.   Many of the campers expressed their desire to return next year. However, a number of parents and campers were disappointed to learn of our “no repeat” policy as campers were being picked up in the parking lot upon our return to Chicago.  We need to consider how to best follow up to keep some of these families engaged with TU.  Camper evaluation highlights follow:
—  “It was one of the best weeks of my life; would love to do it again some day.”
— “TU is something I would love to stay involved in.  While it is important to bring in new people, it is also important to keep this year’s campers involved for the future so people don’t forget TU and it won’t just be that one camp when I was young.”
— “This was an awesome camp and you guys should get paid for doing this.”
— “Absolutely loved the attitude of counselors and mentors.  They help you when needed. They give amazing advice.  Loved to hear about their past experiences.”
— “This experience was awesome!
— “Lisa was my fave, and Dan (policeman), and all the mentors including the other Dan (LaFave), Nancy (Richardson) and Stan were great.”
— “Now I’m on my way home to show my dad how to fish!” (from a young lady).

At the end of the strenuous camp our mentors looked “totally fried”.    While exhausted, everyone had big smiles which was evidence of a great experience and pride/satisfaction of a job well done.    A big thanks to our outstanding mentor team of TU volunteers.  Representing OBTU were Lisa Gilmore, Fred Hodge, Dan LaFave, Mike Youssi and Stan Zarnowiecki.  Other Chicago TU chapter volunteers include Randy Daniel and Mark Wortsmann (Gary Borger Chapter) and Dan Postelnik (Elliott Donnelley Chapter).  Also helping were Rick Augustine from Michigan’s West Lansing Perrin Chapter and Nancy Richardson, co-owner of Whitetail Fly Tieing Supplies, a OBTU sponsor and TU business partner. Wally Bock has also been an invaluable member attending all camp meetings and providing TU Council Executive Committee support on many issues.

Thanks is due to so many others who participated in our program by volunteering their time, expertise; and financial support. I will be personally be reaching out to many of our generous patrons.

Please mark your calendar for next year’s camp which has been scheduled for July 21 through 26, 2019. Recruiting for 2019 campers & camp staff has begun.

Financial Aid Scholarships Awarded
Personal donations plus our annual bamboo rod raffle generated enough revenue to maintain our $575 camper fee and permit three full financial aid “scholarships” for participants.

“Generous financial contributions from Illinois chapters, DRiFT, and many individuals, as well as bamboo rod raffle proceeds have enabled us to offer our camp at a cost that is affordable for our youthful campers,” said Willie Beshire. “We were pleased to provide two full scholarships for low-income campers this year. The 10 remaining campers contributed to covering a portion of the Illinois Council costs by paying a camp tuition of $575 each.”

The 2018 edition of the Illinois TU Council Conservation and Fly Fishing Camp pose in the Au Sable River.