Bill Hilts Jr.: Fly fishing program gets anglers of all ages involved - The Buffalo News

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Bill Hilts Jr.: Fly fishing program gets anglers of all ages involved

On the afternoon of Nov. 8, a group of 17 passionate people met in the hills of Chautauqua County along Canadaway Creek to stock 400 brook trout – one fish at a time.

It’s not the first time that this has happened and many of those involved are repeat volunteers. It’s all about giving back. The amazing thing is that this is but one spoke of a conservation/fishing wheel that starts with one person in the driver’s seat – Alberto Rey of Fredonia.

Rey, born in Havana, Cuba in 1960, has made a name for himself as an educator, an Orvis fishing guide, an artist and a communicator. On this particular day, it was more than just stocking some trout. A few more spokes were added to that wheel as Rey worked as a conduit to pull things together. At the top of the list was "Children in the Stream," an educational program designed to introduce the next generation of anglers to the outdoors – from top to bottom. This was patterned after the old Sportfishing and Aquatic Resources Education Program (SAREP) that was started up in the state through Cooperative Extension, training mentors to teach about ethics, conservation, ecology and fishing.

While the state SAREP program was discontinued, Rey and company has seen the effort continue to flourish.

"We have a sizeable population of low to middle income youth around the Dunkirk/Fredonia area," said Rey to a group of writers at Peek’N Peak in September. "This program provided a means for kids to get involved with the outdoors. We decided early on that there would be no cost for the program. No student should ever feel embarrassed about their economic status. We provided the equipment, too, through sponsorships and fund raisers."

What started as an after-school program changed into the early evening hours. Rey and his volunteers made it a bit more serious, not just a program that allowed kids to mess around. Every Monday night, starting in October, SUNY Fredonia hosts a class from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Kids 12 and under have to be accompanied by a parent. Then they opened it up to anyone (of any age) who wanted to attend.

Working closely with Orvis and LL Bean, they came up with 100 pairs of waders, 120 boots, rods and reels … everything they needed to provide a quality experience, including fishing field trips to Canadaway Creek once a month. Fly tying, rod building and conservation workshops help to round out some of the activities.

"Every late October or early November after the inland trout season closes, we try to stock brooder brook trout that are ready to spawn right into Canadaway Creek," says Rey. "Most recently we have been buying our trout from Whispering Pines Hatchery in Holland, N.Y. They are bigger and healthier and we believe we are doing some good." They are making a difference, in more ways than one for sure.

Last year, Rey received a picture of a big brown trout from the lower stretches of this creek. Lake Erie fisheries biologist James Markham with the Department of Environmental Conservation believes that the fish swam into the main lake (Erie) and returned to the creek – a fat, healthy 16-inch brook trout that was a survivor. This is exciting news because it shows that this program is working, helping to re-establish a native species that is also our state fish.

Even more exciting and rewarding is the fact that some of the kids who have cast flies through the help of this program have ended up with careers in wildlife or fisheries management. Many of them are still involved with fly fishing as a pastime and a passion.

Another spoke to the Rey wheel is the Canadaway Creek Conservation Project, blending stream cleanups and invasive species removal with tree plantings. Fish stocking is a perfect complement to that overall effort. It’s a wheel with a multitude of spokes, grooming the next generation of stewards to help conserve, protect and enhance our natural resources – one kid at a time.

Speaking of kids, another spoke in that wheel could have been the three 8-year-old youngsters helping to release every single fish. They were representing Cub Scout Troop 267 of Fredonia, overseen by Den Leader Jim Stenger of Fredonia. His son Cooper and Devin Batten of Fredonia were both earning a fishing badge with the troop. Also along for the ride was Mason Tomaszewski of Fredonia. They had the most fun releasing the fish; the other dozen or so volunteers formed a human chain as they carried buckets down from the hatchery vehicle on the side of the road for a labor of love.

For more information on "Children in the Stream" and to see some of the videos that have been put together by Rey, check out www.albertorey.com. To quote George Peppard in his role as Hannibal in The A Team series on television: "I love it when a plan comes together!"

email: billhiltsjr@gmail.com

 

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