November 9, 2023

Hunters, Anglers, and Other Wildlife Conservationists Ready to Ensure Colorado Deer, Elk, Pronghorn, and Bighorn Sheep Habitats Are Conserved and Enhanced Statewide   

Draft plan provides opportunity for BLM and Colorado to synchronize oil and gas leasing, permitting, development, and mitigation protocols within high priority big game habitat

On November 9, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management published their Draft Big Game Corridors Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement. Colorado BLM lands are popular for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and many other forms of recreation. These millions of acres are also critical for the long-term survival of Colorado’s wildlife.  

The continued health of migratory big game populations depends on their ability to move between suitable habitats seasonally, year after year. Of the 8.4 million surface acres of BLM-managed public land in Colorado, millions of acres constitute high-priority seasonal and migratory habitats for big game animals such as elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep, and these high priority habitats are managed under 16 separate land use plans. This Plan Amendment offers a pathway for BLM to create a standardized approach across relevant field offices that facilitates responsible oil and gas development to avoid the highest value habitats for big game wherever possible, and minimize and mitigate direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse impacts to those species in areas where they cannot be entirely avoided.   

The Draft Plan Amendment’s action alternatives direct BLM to consider alternative locations for oil and gas operations to either avoid impacts to specified high priority habitat where feasible or minimize adverse impacts through surface disturbance limitations, and/or by paying for compensatory mitigation to offset disturbance, habitat loss, or habitat degradation. It would also prohibit surface occupancy and surface disturbance within bighorn sheep production areas and within 0.5 miles of CPW-mapped big game highway crossings and migratory pinch points.  

TRCP urges the BLM to incorporate into the final plan and analysis additional conservation and mitigation measures and a more comprehensive analysis of up-to-date science on the impacts of BLM’s range of programs and land uses on deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. We look forward to completing an in-depth analysis of this draft plan and engaging during the comment process to advocate for BLM oil and gas management that works seamlessly with the State of Colorado’s regulatory system, and effectively avoids and actively reduces direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse impacts to Colorado’s iconic big game herds.  

“The BLM should ensure strong conservation and mitigation protocols are included in their Final EIS and Plan Amendment to ensure they’re consistently conserving and restoring key remaining big game habitats according to current data and science, while still allowing for economic activity on BLM land,” said Liz Rose, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Colorado field representative.   

This draft plan is an important opportunity for the BLM and State of Colorado to better synchronize oil and gas leasing and permitting to provide more consistent and efficient cross-jurisdictional processes and successful conservation of habitats most important for the long-term viability of big game populations in the state. Currently, companies that seek to develop oil or gas resources on BLM-managed land in Colorado must complete federal leasing and permitting processes that differ from one BLM field office to the next, and which may differ significantly from requirements issued through individual county permitting processes. This is on top of a state permitting process administered by the Colorado Energy and Carbon Management Commission.  

“By updating BLM plans with the best available science and management practices and providing more regulatory consistency across the state, the BLM can better conserve Colorado’s iconic big game species, while supporting the responsible use of Colorado BLM lands and resources,” said Bryan Jones, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ coordinator for Colorado and Wyoming. 

“Colorado Wildlife Federation appreciates that 13 of BLM’s resource management plans in Colorado would be amended under its action alternatives,” said Suzanne O’Neill, Colorado Wildlife Federation’s executive director. “We favor closing those big game high priority habitats to new leasing that have only low, moderate or no-known oil and gas development potential. We continue to be disappointed that BLM has declined in this amendment process to address future siting and management of recreational and renewable energy development to reduce harm to big game habitats and connectivity.” 

The BLM’s original goals for this Plan Amendment were “to evaluate oil and gas program and other management decisions across existing BLM Colorado RMPs to promote conservation of big game corridors and other important big game habitat on BLM-administered land and minerals in Colorado.” While the Draft Plan Amendment would update the science and management practices in BLM’s oil and gas planning and management processes, other land uses outside of the scope of this plan amendment also have significant impacts on the survival of big game species – such as roads, renewable energy development and authorized and unauthorized recreational trail use. If not properly managed, these activities will continue to pose significant threats to big game species and their habitats. We encourage the BLM and the State of Colorado to address these other management challenges on BLM lands while the Plan Amendment process for oil and gas advances. 

The publication of the Draft Big Game Corridors Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement kicked off a 90-day public comment period that will close on February 6, 2024.   

Photo credit: Mark Byzewski

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November 8, 2023

In the Arena: Brian Flynn, Two Wolf Foundation

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Brian Flynn

Hometown: Hamilton, Montana
Occupation: U.S. Army Special Forces | Founder and Executive Director of the Two Wolf Foundation.
Conservation credentials: Through his leadership at the Two Wolf Foundation, Brian provides Veterans a chance to serve together again with purpose through conservation and stewardship projects on America’s public lands.

Following a distinguished career in the U.S. Army, lifelong outdoorsman Brian Flynn returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan and struggled with the challenges of transitioning to civilian life. Hunting, fishing, and the natural beauty of America’s public lands helped propel him through his darkest days and launched a personal journey of healing that ultimately led to the founding of the Two Wolf Foundation and a new mission to bring meaning and purpose to his fellow Veterans through conservation and land stewardship projects. We are inspired by his commitment to empowering and healing others through these experiences, and we’re proud to share his words with you.

Here is his story.

“Once the uniform comes off, it can feel like it’s just you, left to scrap it out alone. In the creation of Two Wolf Foundation, I saw conservation and land stewardship as a new mission, one that would need a team to accomplish it. This new mission would give us a chance to continue to serve together again with meaning and purpose.” 

Brian Flynn

My introduction to the outdoors began with weekend fishing adventures for largemouth bass with my father. Early childhood was a difficult time in my life, my parents divorced when I was very young, and I struggled as most do, trying to make sense of it all. Around the age of 8, I moved to southern California to live with my dad — not far from the world-famous largemouth bass haven of Lake Casitas. Every Saturday morning before the sun had time to rise over the Topatopa Mountains, we would head to the lake with a bag full of PB&J sandwiches and our spinning reels. Those early days of my life fishing for the next world record largemouth would become the foundation of my love for the outdoors. Fishing would serve as the primary outlet in my life, allowing me to disconnect from the stress and noise of a chaotic world while keeping me curious about each body of water I would encounter. 

Twenty years later, and what felt like a lifetime of war as a U.S. Army Green Beret (Special Forces), I returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan and found myself struggling with posttraumatic stress (which I wouldn’t admit until years later) and the laundry list of associated mental health struggles including depression, anxiety, and a general loss of joy in my life. One of my closest friends, and Special Forces teammate, recognized the bad shape I was in and took me to a local bow shop and said, “pick one out, we’re going deer hunting.”

I had fished nearly all my life, and hunting was totally new, yet I appreciated the challenge that archery hunting whitetail deer presented. I walked out of that shop with a brand-new Mathews ZXT, a handful of arrows, and a practice target. I had a lot to learn in a hurry and I became fully consumed by crafting a new set of skills that were necessary for a successful harvest in the woods of Tennessee and Kentucky.

It is hard to explain, but I believe that over the following years, hunting is what pulled me through one of the darkest times of my life. It brought me closer to people that I cared for, it gave me necessary solitude in nature to decompress, and it provided me with unparalleled moments of gratitude surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes filled with incredible sunrises and sunsets that I might not have ever seen.

On my personal journey of healing from the invisible wounds of war and the common struggles associated with transition from military service (loss of purpose, loss of identity, and loss of belonging) I was on a mission to relocate my family from the southeastern United States to the mountains and woods of the West.

On a scouting trip to Montana, my wife and I took a day trip to Bowman Lake, a remote alpine lake in Glacier National Park. After making the trek from Columbia Falls, down more than 40 miles of washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a small campground right on the lake. It was the most breathtaking view I have ever witnessed. Standing there on the shoreline, I was so overcome with joy, amazement, and awe from the towering mountains ascending straight from the water’s edge. My life’s calling was revealed. My new purpose would be to create moments like I was experiencing — a joyful and healing connection to nature — for my fellow warriors struggling with PTSD and associated mental health issues. The work to establish Two Wolf Foundation began immediately. 

The Two Wolf Foundation is a military veteran founded 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that organizes small teams of military veterans and former first responders to connect, serve, and grow stronger together in the accomplishment of a new mission: the conservation and stewardship of our public lands. 

I am very grateful to now call western Montana home. It is truly an outdoorsman’s paradise. Its abundant hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities provide more for me than I will ever be able to describe. I very recently started to fly fish, and now I would say that my dream day is hiking along a small mountain stream catching native Westslope Cutthroat trout right here in Montana. I am planning a trip next year with some friends to fish for native California Golden Trout in the Eastern Sierra. Ask me this question again in a year and I might have to change my answer…

Being involved in conservation and stewardship of our public lands has brought a whole new level of appreciation and meaning to the time that I spent outdoors. The power of nature and outdoor recreation to promote healing is undeniable. Time spent outdoors has proven measurable positive impacts on our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Being able to give back to these outdoor spaces that provide us with so much is incredibly special to me. Through participation in conservation and stewardship, I find myself cultivating a much deeper connection to the land and a sense of pride knowing that I am doing my part to ensure that these healing spaces will still be accessible for future generations.

One of the most impacting elements of Two Wolf Foundation’s Warrior Stewardship program is being able to serve again as a member of a team. It fosters a renewed sense of belonging. The transition from military service can be extremely difficult and very lonely as life in the military is built on the framework of community. Throughout a military career, you will rarely do anything alone, there is always a “battle buddy” — the squad, the platoon, the company, and so on. In my case, the SFOD-A (Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha), a twelve-man Special Forces team, was the hardest thing to lose. The bond and friendships built during deployment, training, and in the team room give you the greatest sense of belonging achievable. But once the uniform comes off, it can feel like it’s just you, left to scrap it out alone. In the creation of Two Wolf Foundation, I saw conservation and land stewardship as a new mission, one that would need a team to accomplish it. This new mission would give us a chance to continue to serve together again with meaning and purpose. 

Two Wolf Foundation piloted their first Warrior Stewardship Team in October 2022, putting together a team of six combat veterans that embarked on a 1,100-mile overland adventure from Montana to Arizona with a mission to assist the Arizona Trail Association and the AZT VETS program with badly needed trail maintenance on the Arizona National Scenic Trail within the Four Peaks Wilderness. Over the course of the 11-day expedition, the team camped and explored public lands across 4 different states and successfully improved 12 miles of the Arizona National Scenic Trail and contributed 369 volunteer hours. 

The health of our public lands is impacted by many things including habitat degradation, invasive species, and climate change. I know there are amazing people, and organizations like the TRCP, working daily to develop solutions to protect the land and wildlife. But the biggest problem I see every day within every recreationist’s control is litter and pollution. You don’t need to be a biodiversity scientist or wildlife biologist to have an immediate and positive impact on these natural ecosystems. You just need to be responsible enough to pack out your trash. Responsible recreation is everyone’s job. It is increasingly frustrating and sad to see trash left behind at every campsite, to see every forest trail littered with soda and beer cans.  

It is my commitment to give back to what pulled me through the darkest moments of my life. For years, I relied on one “treatment” to deal with the mental health struggles that I faced: self-medication (alcohol abuse and dependency). In that time, I had lost my connection to nature and the peace that it brings the mind, body, and spirit. I only focused on numbing whatever pain, sadness, and stress was plaguing me and booze was the self-destructive “easy button. With the unwavering support of my wife and a few amazing friends, I was able to rediscover how beneficial the outdoors was. Pretty simply, I realized that a sober day afield hunting, fishing, hiking, or camping simply made me feel better! Committing my renewed life to conservation and stewardship service is in the hope of sustaining this incredible resource for others who may find themselves struggling the way that I was.

The outdoors is the ultimate classroom and provides so many valuable life lessons. Whether hunting or fishing, you must be totally present and aware of your surroundings. The woods and the water teach patience, critical thinking, safety, and responsibility. As important as it is to learn these skills in austere environments, it is equally important that the next generation of hunters and anglers understand how their actions impact this invaluable natural resource. We must lead by example, knowing that one day the responsibility of caring for these special places will lie in their hands. In every wonderful memory created by an outdoor experience, the next generation’s commitment to conservation will ensure those same opportunities exist for generations to come. 

In the last year, Two Wolf Foundation has organized three additional Warrior Stewardship Teams that have participated in public land stewardship and conservation projects in Utah, Idaho, and Montana in collaboration with their 2023 stewardship partner, Tread Lightly!  

Learn more about the Two Wolf Foundation by visiting Two Wolf Foundation | The One You Feed 

Click here to learn more about TRCP’s commitment to habitat and clean water.

Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email us at info@trcp.org

Ryan Nitz: The ‘Barefoot Bandit’ of the Everglades

In part one of a two-part blog, the charter captain and swamp stalker talks bowhunting close calls and using his social platform to push Everglades conservation

If you’re Ryan Nitz, South Florida hunting is all about risk taking. Along with a little sacrifice, and even more suffering.

After bushwhacking through the subtropical forest, the Florida native once swiped a massive, fuzzy, orange-striped puss caterpillar from the back of his neck. Almost immediately his vision blurred and profuse drool dripped from his slack mouth as he stumbled back to his truck. That injury was just to his neck. His feet take bigger risks.

That’s because Nitz often opts to hunt barefoot. Not in the cool, open woodlands or grassy meadows of middle America, but in the snake and spider-filled swamps of the Everglades. While wading northern Everglades haunts in search of goonie bucks, his feet find a lot more.

“I’ve literally stepped on a water moccasin,” Nitz says.

He trod on the squirming snake while walk-and-stalk hunting for deer, jumping away before it could strike because by sheer luck he’d stepped on the serpent’s neck. He’s also stumbled into an alligator while heading out of a cypress dome in fading twilight. He was marching toward his swamp buggy pickup spot, bow in hand, not paying attention as he tried to get a cell phone signal. He ran smack into a massive gator, luckily facing away from him.

“When I hit the tail of him, he did a one-eighty and snapped his jaws,” he says. “I’ll never forget the sound it made, like a 12-gauge shotgun going off. I could actually feel the percussion.”

While he says those reptile encounters were scary, they don’t compare to his worst barefoot experience: stepping on a scorpion. “The only way to describe it is if you stepped on a knife. I couldn’t put shoes on for like nine days.”

Risks Are Worth the Rewards

Why does Nitz, nicknamed by peers the “Barefoot Bandit,” risk exposing his feet for hunting? Because where he lives, the best place to find 10-point whitetail bucks is in inundated cypress swamps, where wearing boots means overheating, having soggy socks inside sunken boots, and making lots of noise. He also barefoot hunts, for deer as well as hogs and turkeys, for better maneuverability and stealth. He acknowledges the risk. But he’s onto something. Because this story is not just about his feet, but also his feats.

Feats garnered due to his early sporting success – and not just personally bagging the biggest South Florida bucks. Feats like the rush of getting to guide out-of-state hunters into pristine Florida uplands to call in Osceola turkeys. Or like changing his career from pest control specialist to one of the more highly sought after (and youngest) snook fishing guides in South Florida. And like being able to lend his experience to offer fishing and hunting trips that leave positive lifelong memories with those who hire him.

“I really like showing people what I’ve learned over the last 20 years,” he says. “And my clients are sometimes almost in tears because they had such a memorable day in the field with a family member or friend.”

Social Media Sensation

Nitz has spent his entire 32 years in coastal southeast Florida, in and near the northern reaches of the Everglades ecosystem. From turkey hunts in north Florida to whitetails in the Glades, he’s had hunting success throughout the state. But it was snook fishing in his backyard that really launched his business, Ryan Nitz Charters.

Nitz became an expert snook fisherman near his Jupiter home after spending every afternoon in high school wading along mangroves and under bridges in what he calls “the snook capital of North America.” Until seven years ago, it was only for fun. Back when he was working in pest control to earn a living. But as a wildlife photographer, he started taking pictures and filming experiences using the GoPro on his head. His girlfriend at the time insisted he set up social media accounts and post his unique photos from the field, which he’d resisted because he thought people often use these platforms for all the wrong reasons. But he gave in and started posting the snook shots online.

His Instagram following blew up.

Television shows began to find him through his social media accounts, as did a sudden rush of people willing to be clients. He suddenly realized he could make a living out of doing what he loved. So he went and earned his captain’s license, bought a better boat, and stopped doing pest control. The rest is history.

“Now I’ve made myself known for the biggest snook you can catch.”

Over time Nitz’s Instagram account has literally become his business. It also lets him showcase the deer and gobblers he still stalks for fun, and which ultimately led to him guiding hunters into some to the best Osceola turkey habitat in the state.

He says that much of the land he leases for 20 to 30 turkey hunting clients each year is in the eastern part of the Everglades, in the “most pristine Florida woods you can find.” But recently he’s been running into more and more problems with development. One 300-acre property he leases for hunting, along with the property to the north, will soon be developed.

“There goes another piece of the woods we’ll never get back,” he laments. “And all that new infrastructure will block the flow of water from the Kissimmee [River] to Biscayne Bay.”

A Mouthpiece for Conservation

Like the sacrifices he makes for a successful hunt, Nitz has come to recognize that if we care about the natural world and conservation, we all have to be willing to give something up. Like turning down clients who want to fish an area that’s been hit too hard one season, regardless of regulations, or offering time or effort to support restoration efforts. He also wants to use the platform he’s created for conservation.

“Because I have that voice and following, I want to use it while I’m still young.”

Click here to support critical Everglades restoration projects

Nitz readily admits that the South Florida areas he’s put in the spotlight have gotten more pressure due to his own social media popularity, but he intends to use this to his advantage now. With 50,000 followers, that means a lot of potential hunters and anglers to hopefully follow his lead on caring about conservation.

“Because I have that voice and following, I want to use it while I’m still young,” he says.

Nitz says the allure of Florida has always been the beautiful beaches, the inshore waterways, the vast swamps teeming with wildlife, and the resulting fishing and hunting. Without these, and the fish and wildlife they support, all Florida would have left are theme parks and new condos. He sees rampant development and the politics that enable it as the biggest problem Florida’s terrestrial ecosystems face, due to the flood of people moving to the state and too many decision-makers focused more on money than conservation.

“I wish somebody would have wild Florida at heart,” he says of the powers that be. “Right now is the time to act to have any chance of saving the state. And the Everglades are the heartbeat of Florida, so you have to start there. Once they’re gone, it’s all gone.”

Solutions Lie in Teamwork, Targeted Funding

Nitz believes one of the main pathways to conservation is getting organizations and individual hunters and anglers rowing in the same direction.

“It’s a great thing to have organizations like TRCP, because there’s strength in numbers,” he says, referring to the nonprofit’s large following in the sporting community and its connections to partner groups. Like TRCP’s involvement with the Everglades Coalition, a group of almost 60 conservation and environmental organizations dedicated to restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. The coalition’s efforts to restore North America’s largest wetland largely revolve around getting the sporting and conservation communities to notice, and to care.

“That’s really our only chance,” Nitz says. “Get enough people involved and pissed off enough about it that they’ll do something.”


Read part 2 of our blog on Ryan Nitz, which focuses on his fishing charter business and risks to giant snook.

Click here to support Everglades conservation efforts by insisting that lawmakers continue to provide funding for critical infrastructure work.

Want to Hunt or Fish with Nitz?
He still does everything through his Instagram account, including respond to inquiries. If you don’t use social media, just type ‘Ryan Nitz’ into Google to find him and request to book a charter. He’ll get back to you between barefoot backwater hunts and midnight snook runs. 

Photo credits: All images except of water moccasin courtesy of Ryan Nitz

October 26, 2023

Three Reasons Clean Water Protections Are Vital to Hunting and Fishing 

As lawmakers examine the implications of Sackett v EPA, TRCP and partners highlight how the future of hunting and fishing opportunities depends on protecting and restoring our nations’ wetlands and streams. 

On October 18, 2023, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing which further emphasized the risk to America’s hunting and fishing heritage resulting from the Supreme Court’s ruling, Sackett v EPA, and the recent conforming rule issued by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. The hearing coincided with the 51st year of the Clean Water Act and gathered testimony to examine the full implications of these landmark decisions. 

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, alongside the Wild Salmon Center, Trout Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, Fly Fishers International, and the American Fisheries Society submitted a letter for the record to the committee calling on Congress to take action to protect and restore our nations’ waters in the wake of Sackett v EPA. The future of hunting and fishing opportunities for our children, and our children’s children, depends on it. Here are three reasons why: 

Wetlands and Tributary Streams Are Vital to Hunting and Fishing

The health of our nation’s watersheds is the barometer of our wildlife and fish populations. Aquatic habitat and connectivity in the vital network of small, tributary streams and in their downstream rivers not only provide fish habitat, but also provide essential habitat for upland birds, deer, bears, and many other wildlife species. The vast category of “non-adjacent” wetlands—that no longer benefit from federal protections after the Agencies’ conforming rule—provide essential migratory bird and duck habitat, such as the deservedly famous prairie pothole region. Places that serve as vital nesting grounds for migratory birds are at risk too, such as the groundwater dependent wetlands and springs in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and California’s Central Valley.  

Overall, wetlands provide breeding grounds for over half of North American waterfowl. The loss of these protections puts wildlife populations and crucial habitat at risk and, in turn, would mean fewer quality hunting and fishing opportunities for future generations.  

Aquatic Resources Are at Risk.

Aquatic resources, vital to maintaining the “. . . physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” are now at risk. A 404 Permit is no longer required prior to their destruction or harm if non-adjacent wetlands are located where a new development, road, bridge, pipeline, or transmission line is proposed. This means that a 404 Permit’s requirement to avoid, minimize, or mitigate harm no longer applies to non-adjacent wetlands. EPA estimates that between 51-63% of wetlands are at risk of loss under its conforming rule. In addition to the loss of wetlands, the conforming rule’s limitation to “relatively permanent, standing, or continuously flowing” tributary streams as coming under Clean Water Act jurisdiction, means that ephemeral streams are at risk.

A recent analysis calculated that 57% of the nation’s total stream miles are ephemeral. These networks of headwater streams not only function as the vital capillaries of the larger arteries in our watersheds, but they also convey pollutants downstream with their seasonal flows.  The loss of federal protections for these headwater features means the potential for more pollution downstream in addition to the loss of aquatic function and habitats on which many of the species we as hunters and anglers rely.    

Outdoor Recreation is a Sustainable Economic Driver.

Clean water is a lynchpin of an outdoor recreation economy that creates 4.3 million jobs and generates $689 billion in consumer spending annually. What’s more, the entire outdoor recreation industry is built on sustaining and protecting aquatic resources, as opposed to industries that encroach on or pollute these vital, national resources. A national bipartisan poll shows that 92% of hunters and anglers support clean water protections. Healthy habitat and clean water serve as the backbone of the outdoor economy, and this link will help drive future economic opportunities and the chances for future generations of hunters and anglers to enjoy the great outdoors. 

Over the past 50 years, the Clean Water Act has been the driving force to protect water quality and enhance the condition of rivers, lakes, wetlands, and other water bodies of the United States. The next 50 years present even greater challenges, from newly discovered toxins in drinking water to extreme weather events super-charged by climate change. High-functioning watersheds are the best bulwark of protection from these threats.

Click here to learn how TRCP is working to ensure healthy habitat and clean water to support the wildlife and fish we love to pursue. 

Click here to watch the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing, Examining the Implications of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency for Clean Water Act Protections of Wetlands and Streams.

October 19, 2023

Montana State of Mind

Cameron Smith and Harrison Creed of The Omni Collective witness the intensity of Big Sky fly fishing culture and learn about the conservation efforts that make these adventures possible

October in the West brings its own kind of quiet to the rivers. Cottonwood galleries catch the light at all angles, while aspen leaves flicker like minnows in the shallows. Most tourists have returned to their states far away, and the locals are trying to find that one bull still bugling or chasing pronghorn on the prairie.

Cameron Smith and Harrison Creed likely couldn’t have picked a better window for their ten-day, five-state fly fishing sojourn across the mountain west. The two former football stars connected over their common passion for the outdoors and photography and took a leap of faith to spend over a week on the road together having shared little more than a meal before.

Their circuitous route took them through the promised land of fly fishing: Montana. Here they fished the Madison and Gallatin Rivers after driving through the southwest corner of the state.

“I felt the gravity of Montana when I entered,” said Creed. “I’m from Kansas and so whenever I come West, I’m in awe. As soon as you cross into the state I feel like ‘it’s on.’

Fly fishing in Montana is like hunting ducks in the timber in Arkansas. It’s special and everyone talks about it, but not everyone gets to do it.”

Smith also sensed the power of the treasure state when it came to fly angling.

“Growing up and not fly fishing that much, I feel more comfortable with a camera in my hand than a rod,” Smith confessed. “So, when I walked into a fly shop in Montana it felt like walking into church after not going for a couple years, but not in a bad way. You can just feel the passion and knowledge about fly fishing across the entire state.”

The duo was able to find an October caddis hatch along the Madison after a slog along the hundred-mile riffle. Eventually they were rewarded with a pod of rising rainbows stacked up behind a deadfall on the riverbank.

“They were gulping those bugs as if they were carp,” said Creed. “They weren’t sipping like you’d expect. Their whole mouths were coming out of the water.”

Taking time to position himself, Creed was able to drop his fly along the seam where the current pushed the bug into the slack water, pausing perfectly to rise the wild rainbow.

“That rainbow was special because it was my first fish in Montana. And on a dry. You can’t get any better than that.”

Smith tied into two others, but unfortunately the river took the trout back before he was able to bring them to hand. Yet he, along with Creed, began this trip with a mindful approach to the fishing. There was no expectation to measure their time on the road together by the lowest metric of success, catching a fish.

“I still felt frustration of those fish shaking off,” Smith chuckled. “But I was able to return to the heart of the trip, which was time spent with a new friend and the adventure.”

“What we really wanted to get out of this trip is to inspire people,” said Harrison. “There are a lot of people who get stuck in the rut of the patterns of life. But through this experience we hope to show people that you can go on a ten-day, five-state fly fishing trip with a buddy. Just go for it. There is a lot of life that people don’t tap into.”

These fishing opportunities, and the open space and wild that raise the quality of the adventure, are only possible because of the conservation efforts of diverse interest groups working together to make Montana the unique place anglers the world over know and love.

Creed and Smith’s trip passed through the southwest corner of the state, and as all folks who have undertaken a journey of this scope know, the best plans usually crumble. Weather and conflicts made their trek for Arctic grayling fizzle out.

Montana’s southwest corner holds the headwaters of the Missouri River where world-class brown and rainbow trout share pools with the only remaining native population of river-dwelling Arctic grayling in the contiguous United States. The largest rivers, along with some of the most productive spawning grounds in the region, flow mostly through private land. The fertile valleys are home to multi-generational ranching and farming families that support a rich tradition and thousands of livelihoods. These open spaces on working, private lands also provide valuable wildlife habitat that enhance the fishing opportunities Creed and Smith experienced.

“The rivers are taken care of in Montana, and having people who genuinely care about the rivers, fishing, and anglers is really special,” said Smith. “You don’t see that everywhere, and there are more places to fish because of that care.”

Currently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing the Missouri Headwaters Conservation Area that would provide the region’s farmers and ranchers financial support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to keep their working lands in business by enrolling in voluntary conservation agreements. This kind of investment paints a bright future for keeping working lands in business, while at the same time benefiting anglers and hunters on public land. Comments can be submitted at MOHWCA@fws.gov or through TRCP’s action alert. The comment period extends through November 27, 2023.

Learn more about the ongoing efforts to guarantee you quality places to fish across America by visiting trcp.org, and read about Cam and Harrison’s story here on Flylords.

Follow Cam and Harrison through the @_theomnicollective, and follow Cam @_killacam and Harrison @harrison.creed to keep tabs on their individual adventures. 

Photo credit: The Omni Collective



Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

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