Optimism is the factor that pairs angling and conservation

When heading to the river, or even thinking about it, as members of Trout Unlimited our vision becomes inherently multi-faceted. Heraclitus stated it perfect with "You could never step into the same river twice". We think of the target species, we think and review weather, flows, temps, and hatch charts. As well, we look hard at the time of year for habits these coldwater species have, along with potential life stages of the food sources they consume.

Similar to our pursuits of angling the waters we hold so dear, as members of Trout Unlimited additional facets present themselves when we think about stepping foot out the door with our gear in tow. These additional facets become as important as the ones we view in our angling pursuits. Our world is becoming a smaller and smaller place thanks to social media, our inherent behavior as anglers and conservationists become fused and we often find ourselves in positions of providing examples for the future of our beloved waters.

Such is my case it seems. In 2008 I decided to throw down the annual fee to become a member of TU. In 2009 I became a part of the local Chapter Leadership, and now moving into 2015 I am taking on a role with the Oregon Council. During this time I have become more aware of the issues facing my local and regional waters, enhanced my angling abilities and been graciously welcomed into a larger community seeking to make positive change for the environment.

Now many of you have seen the issues facing the Deschutes River annually with its management being basically an irrigation ditch. Since the reservoirs and dams were put in place to bring life to the high desert, the issue has been present: how to manage the water. Historically this has skewed to the agriculture industry found throughout our region. As anglers and conservationists we tend to approach this issue from a direction that only benefits our end use. In my opinion this is a hazardous and the least beneficial method of addressing the issues.

As a point of reference I will offer up this year's effort to move fish from a side channel that dries up when irrigation season closes and strands fish. Eventually these fish die, no matter what - all living things do. However, when as a community we enhance the speed at which this occurs by condoning the methods we use to manage the resource, we need to take a step back and see if change can be made to benefit all the species involved, especially our own.

To this end, as a leader within this organization, patience and optimism must be the two most important tools we use. In the case of the Deschutes and making an effort to move fish from the side channel to the main stem we faced a lot of challenges. Luckily for us, the wildlife management agencies, irrigation districts, and a variety of non-profits all became engaged in the process. What came of this was an "experimental ramp down" strategy to scientifically discover how the environment, and the life supporting it, was being affected by this decades long practice. Nothing like this had ever been done, and for two weeks we embarked on a journey of discovery.

Scheduling the ramp down process as it was done was no small feat and coordination with data collection was immense. After all was said and done we accomplished so much with our data collection and effort to move fish, the future management of the system will be greatly enhanced for generations to come. In all, 4 agencies, 7 watershed districts, 4 non-profit groups, 51 volunteers, and over 300 hours of work we just devoted to the salvage of fish. That being said, the 2 weeks of overall studyl shows a dedication to accumulate the data provided by the eventual acitivity of moving the fish. The complete array of data collected is a much larger body of work than our bucket brigade provided.

Nearly 7,000 fish were rescued - sure that's great!! What was most surprising about the entire endeavor was discovering that this side channel was primarily being used as habitat for juvenile fish. In 2013 thousands of fish died in this channel. In 2014 nearly 5,000 of the 7,000 fish we moved were juvenile fish. That's over 70% of the fish for those of you slow with the math. To repopulate this 1 mile stretch of river with that many juveniles in a single season was an astounding number showing how important it is to the overall health of the population and genetic diversity and need for this habitat.

What was even more astounding was that all it took was a handful of people to organize and accomplish this goal. It proves that each of us as members can make a difference, and that there are many people in our community that will show up and help out. All they need is someone to talk to them about it and ask for their help. On review of the volunteer sign up sheets and comparing those names to existing members of TU, would it surprise you that less than 20% were members of TU? It sure as hell surprised me and the leadership.

What it indicates to me is that all it takes is a small group of people to mobilize, inspire, and organize efforts. The most difficult thing to do is create a forum where sucdesses like this can occur. Do not demonize the irrigators, embrace them, do not admonish the wildlife management officials, assist them, do not discount the youth for fear of their outlandish behavior, teach them how to channel their spirit toward a positive goal.

In approaching our waters as conservationists and anglers in this method we support the heritage that brought us to the river in the first place. We honor those that came before us and taught us these valuable lessons. We create opportunity for growth, diversity, and leadership within our ranks. And ultimately we bring our community closer together.

As Trout Unlimited grows in the Pacific Northwest, and more opportunities are created by the handful of dedicated leaders, my optimism abounds. Not just for the environment, but for the thought that the peace our action of angling brings us will be sustained for the next generation of leaders we foster.


said on Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Gabe, as I embark on my new journey your path and leadership are proving to be so true. Patience and optimism, sharing the story with anyone who will listen, and working together are all elements of your commitment that I'll remember when we bring our energies to the people and community. 

Bravo again, and thank you for your leadership!


said on Sunday, January 4th, 2015


You have a much harder road to hoe than I do. You are recognized as a leader and guide in the PNW and throughout the angling community. Taking on the role you have, you will no doubt face harsher critics than I have up to this point because of your profession. I applaud you for taking the leap, and will always be available to help and support your efforts however I can.

Thanks for the kind words.


said on Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Bravo, Gabe.  Thank you and thank all of the other people who came out to help the fish. You are exactly right, optimism and (determined) patience are key. 

Thanks for your good work. 

Chris Wood

said on Sunday, January 4th, 2015


As long as you and the organization continue to provide me with opportunity to do my part, I will continue to add what little I can to reach forward for the goals we put in front of ourselves as members of a great team of volunteers and staff.

Thanks for your support!


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