Growing up on the banks of the Yellowstone River in the trout-crazy town of Billings, Mont., Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion were primed for a life chasing salmonids with fly rods.
All three have decades of experience guiding in exotic locations about which most anglers can only dream. In 1995, Dan, the oldest of the Vermillion boys, abandoned his career as a lawyer to join his brothers and a small group of guides to form Sweetwater Travel, a fly fishing travel company specializing in delivering anglers to some of the world’s greatest waters.
Throughout the quest, which included countless exploratory trips that often resulted in dead ends, the Vermillion brothers recognized the need to be active in conserving the natural resources upon which their fishing operations rely. Whether advancing the Taimen Conservation Fund, formed by Sweetwater Travel to conserve Taimen populations in Mongolia, or working in British Columbia to prevent overfishing of steelhead, Dan, Jeff and Pat Vermillion are dedicated conservationists who take nothing for granted.
Dan Vermillion: “When you are lucky enough to make your living off of the bountiful natural resources that are found in places that are yet to be overly disturbed by a human presence, you feel a responsibility to keep those opportunities alive for generations in the future.”
One of the perks of being a fly fishing guide is the chance to meet some extraordinary people. In 2009 on his way to vacation in Yellowstone National Park, President Barack Obama stopped for a float trip down the East Gallatin River. Dan Vermillion served as his guide. Dan was presented with the rare opportunity to spend several hours fishing with the president of the United States – with no cameras or media present.
Were you able to do a little lobbying on behalf of sportsmen?
Dan Vermillion: “I didn’t really have to. Several times during the day we talked about water rights, we talked about water flows. He told me very clearly that he didn’t grow up hunting and fishing but that it is really important that we continue those traditions in the U.S. He said the key to those traditions lasting is caring for the resources that provide us with the ability to hunt and fish.”
Do you think he was genuine?
Dan Vermillion: “I do. I came away from my time with him feeling that he was the most genuine politician I have ever met, besides maybe Jon Tester. And I’ve met a lot of them.”
What do you see as the biggest threats to hunting, fishing and conservation?
Dan Vermillion: “I see two threats. The big threat, of course, is just the onward march of human beings to every corner of the planet. Unfortunately, whenever human beings seem to interact with a lot of these places that produce quality recreational opportunities for hunting and fishing, the hunting and fishing species tend to not do too well. But the reason that it is consistently allowed to happen is that the people that love to hunt and fish, with exceptions, of course, don’t tend to make decisions in the rest of their lives that are reflective of their dedication to hunting and fishing. They’ll go out and support politicians or they’ll support certain policies that ultimately undercut their ability to have quality hunting and fishing opportunities in their backyards; but they never put two and two together.”
The most pressing conservation issue in which the Vermillions have become engaged is the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Sweetwater Travel owns two lodges in Alaska that lie on either side of the proposed mine. Last month, Dan and Pat were among 40 sportsmen leaders from 17 states participating in a trip to Washington, D.C., to press Congress and the Obama administration to protect Bristol Bay and its unrivaled salmon fishery from the proposed Pebble Mine.
“Obviously it’s a potential threat to the businesses, but that’s not the main reason we’re backing this up,” said Pat Vermillion. “We’re backing this up more for the potential damage to the salmon runs.” The sportsmen delivered a letter to the Obama administration from more than 500 hunting and angling groups around the country who want the EPA to take action under the Clean Water Act to conserve Bristol Bay.
Dan Vermillion: “I think that Pebble Mine fly-in was one of the most impressive groups of people I’ve ever been around. As a group, we presented a compelling message, and that message was that Bristol Bay is far too important, not just to fishermen and hunters of the world, but also the native communities that live and have lived there for thousands of years. There’s no justification whatsoever for an open pit mine to be put smack dab in the middle of the last significant large sockeye salmon run.”
Pat Vermillion: “Pebble is something that will go through unless people are active and actively try and stop it. It’s way too big of a deposit. If people don’t stand up and get active and push, the mine is definitely going to happen. That’s what makes it such a compelling cause and one that needs to be recognized on a national basis.”
Dan Vermillion: “We took our message to the Hill, and I don’t think any of them felt that strongly that this mine has to go forward. And I think the same thing is true with Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA. Something she said really struck me, and I may not have it quite right. To paraphrase, she said that this discussion is not about always having the opportunity to fish for and experience the wild sockeye runs of Bristol Bay, but it’s about always having the ability to dream about going up there someday. Of critical importance is the simple fact that it’s out there and that makes our world a better place to live.” Learn more about the Vermillion brothers.Learn more about Save Bristol Bay.