In 2017, Trout Unlimited started a program with an aim to raise awareness around America’s public lands and native fish. During this 10-week journey, the 5 Rivers Odyssey takes college students from across the country to fish rivers for native trout and salmon.
The year before this idea came about, Trout Unlimited had published their State of the Trout report, which painted a fairly grim picture for many species and the habitats they relied on to thrive. Andrew Loffredo, the TU Costa 5 Rivers Coordinator, said that he saw the opportunity to shed light on these threats by taking college students on a trip to fish some of the best waters in America and to share their experiences.
The USDA Forest Service was able to help out by contributing funding to the endeavor, and rivers managed by the agency became the destination for the Odyssey.
“The Forest Service has some of the most special coldwater fisheries and most of the last remaining strongholds for wild and native trout and salmon in the country,” said Andrew Loffredo, the Coordinator for the Odyssey program. “The raw and natural beauty, diverse watersheds, and other recreational opportunities is unmatched.”
This year, college students Daniel Eiden, Morgan Bradley, Theodore Benjovsky and Matteo Moretti fished Forest Service-managed rivers across the Pacific Northwest.
“The Odyssey was an experience like no other,” said Eiden, “I’m almost at a loss for words.”
The students were moved by the people they met and the places they visited. One such place was the Deschutes river town of Maupin, Oregon, where they said they had only intended to do a quick stop off. Instead, they spent three hours talking to the owners of a fishing shop about the challenges the river and the town face.
“It was eye opening to see such places in struggle,” said Benjovsky, “but it was also a relief to see so many individuals doing their part to save them.”
This was a sentiment they felt through the entire trip.
“If I’ll take one thing away from the Odyssey, it’s the power of positivity,” Bradley said, noting that the small actions people take every day add up and make a difference to places like the ones they visited, helping people, communities and ecosystems thrive, even amidst challenges.
Moretti calls the program exceptional, and not only because it helps to highlight the problems and opportunities facing America’s fisheries. He says the real strength of the Odyssey, is how it brings people together.
“When you put many unique and different people together who all share a common, passionate connection to the environment in their own way,” Moretti said, “they push each other to continue to make a change.”
The Forest Service’s Assistant National Fish Program Leader, Nathaniel Gillespie, says programs like the Odyssey, combined with partnerships with organizations like Trout Unlimited help emphasize the importance of rivers and fish to communities, economies and ecosystems around the nation.
“Water is where everything begins, nothing survives long without it,” Gillespie says, “healthy waters mean healthy fish populations, which fuel the economies and forge experiences that last a lifetime.”
“We’re extremely proud of this partnership, and we’re honored that we can host programs like this on the rivers we all work so hard to manage on behalf of the American people,” he added.