Illinois TU Summer Youth Camp a Success!

By Dan LaFave, Illinois TU Council Camp Director and OBTU Board member

The 12th annual Illinois Council of Trout Unlimited’s Youth Conservation and Fly Fishing Camp is now in the books, with another successful camp concluded. As in recent years, 12 boys and girls ages 13-18 learned the importance of conserving, protecting, and restoring the coldwater environment needed for trout and salmon survival. They also learned basic fly fishing skills, made new friends, and learned a lot about the world around them.

The camp ran from July 21 to 26 along the fabled Au Sable River around Grayling, Michigan, with campers and staff staying at the Michigan DNR’s RAM Conference Center in nearby Roscommon. The 10 boys and two girls were supported by a group of 12 mentors from Illinois and Michigan TU chapters, with numerous outside volunteers from universities, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and others who generously supported the camp with their time and talents.

Camp Highlights
The goal of the Illinois TU Youth Conservation and Fly Fishing Camp is to introduce young people to Trout Unlimited while teaching the importance of conserving our coldwater resources, and providing them an outdoors education experience which they will value for many years. Campers also learned the basics of fly fishing and had the opportunity to fish for wild brook, brown, and rainbow trout each morning and evening on different parts of the beautiful Au Sable River. Each day was filled with educational activities such as entomology (study of the insects that live in the water and are a food source for the trout), hydrology, fish anatomy, helping the DNR with an electro-shocking survey of fish population, and learning of the history of logging and how humans can affect the environment. Ultimately, Illinois TU hopes that the campers’ experiences will motivate them to become better stewards of the environment and future leaders in conservation, as well as providing a life-long love of the sport.

We had a great group of campers in 2019 who eagerly participated in and enjoyed all activities (sometimes to their own surprise!). One camper who had only fished once previously was very proud of the flies that she tied herself. All were very motivated and enthused to learn new things; at all times they displayed respect for each other and the mentors. They supported one another in their fishing and conservation successes. As in recent years, the weather cooperated throughout the week except for some brief showers during the stream restoration project. But even that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for the restoration work.

This year’s camp began with flyrod casting instruction by guest instructor Ron Kilgren, a certified fly casting teacher with decades of experience teaching both new and advanced fly fishers. Ron taught the basic pick-up and lay-down cast, the roll cast, and feeding line, while demonstrating different techniques of the leading casting experts. More advanced techniques were taught throughout the week. Campers also learned that they can continue to improve their casting skills at home in their yards, parks, or at local ponds.

Campers also learned about macroinvertebrates and entomology—the study of the aquatic insects trout feed upon. They gathered samples from the river and identified them, while learning how the sampling reflects water quality. Past camp director Willie Beshire admirably filled in for Western Michigan University Professor Steve Kohler, who was unable to join us this year due to a conflicting meeting of the Michigan Water Resources Council. Campers learned fish anatomy and dissection from Michigan State University professor Dan Hayes, as well as water quality testing. Stream hydrology was demonstrated by fisheries biologist Patrick Ertel of the Michigan DNR. Campers also assisted the DNR with a fish count through electro-shocking on the Sturgeon River. The impact of human logging activities and the environmental impact when nature is not considered was apparent at the Hartwick Pines State Park, where one of the only original stands of Michigan old growth white pine trees remains. The crosscut sawing competition at the re-created logging camp was a highlight of the week, as always.

In addition to the fishing and stream restoration project, fly tying was a favorite mentioned on the campers’ evaluation forms. Despite the days that began before 7 a.m. and ended at 9:30 p.m., several campers expressed that they wished they could have fished later each evening. Overall, their comments reflected a high level of satisfaction with the camp (e.g., “the best camp I have ever been to”, and “camp is perfect how it is”), while also making some thoughtful suggestions (e.g. “more hands-on activities” and “giving an hour break” during the day).

The Youth Camp could not be a success without its volunteer mentors (as well as all the outsider support!). This year we had eight mentors from the Oak Brook chapter: OBTU president and past camp director Willie Beshire, stalwart Fred Hodge (veteran of all but 1 previous Illinois TU camp), Lisa Gilmore, Carol Hennessy, camp director Dan LaFave, Nancy Richardson, John Snyder, and Dr. Mike Youssi. Also mentoring again were Randy Daniel and Mark Wortsmann of the Gary Borger Chapter in Illinois, as well as Ric Augustine and Carl Hueter, both Michigan TU leaders and longstanding supporters of the Illinois youth camp. Without the many hours of planning meetings, recruiting, fundraising, equipment care and cleaning, and other work (plus their own personal donations), we would not have a camp to bring along the next generation of conservation leaders. Many, many thanks to all involved.

Thanks for OBTU Financial Support
Thanks also to all the Illinois Trout Unlimited chapters for your support of the Illinois Council’s Youth Conservation and Fly Fishing Camp, and to DRiFT, Whitetail Fly Tieing Supplies, and to the individual donors for their ongoing financial support and by spreading the word. That financial support, plus the proceeds of the bamboo rod raffle (made possible by the generous donation of a hand-crafted bamboo fly rod by OBTU member and Youth Education Chair Marvin Strauch), have so far enabled the camp to keep the tuition fee at $575, which only covers about 45% of the actual cost of camp. It also enables the camp to make scholarships available to campers who would not otherwise be able to attend. This year we happily provided that opportunity to four campers in need of financial aid.

2020 Youth Camp
Mark your calendars now for next year’s camp which will be conducted from July 26 to 31, 2020, along the beautiful Au Sable River in Michigan. We had much interest in this year’s camp after we were already filled and anticipate a rush of early applications next year. Updated information can be found on the OBTU website on the Youth Summer Camp page. New application forms will be available near the end of this year and will be accepted beginning January 1, 2020.