Some of Jeff Dean’s earliest memories are of fishing with his grandfather at Salt Creek in Ohio. His family moved to Colorado in the ’60s and Dean was introduced to fly fishing.
“(Fishing) is my passion,” said Dean, who serves as the president for the Gunnison Gorge Anglers, or GGA. Dean added that he started tying flies before he even started fishing, but once he did, that passion continued to grow.
GGA was founded in 1984 and is part of Fly Fishers International and Colorado Trout Unlimited. Currently there are over 200 members. The GGA is more than just about promoting fishing; a big aspect of the organization focuses on conservation efforts. The group played a role in the work in Chipeta Lake in Montrose, work on PaCoChupuk (tail water from Ridgway Reservoir) stream, worked with Friends of the Gunnison River to purchase land at the confluence of the North Fork and Gunnison River, partnered with Western Slope Conservation Center to secure the Embrace-a-Stream Grant, the Valley Floor Project in Telluride and many more.
From the work GGA did, PaCoChupuk is now a top fishery and is featured in national magazines. When GGA and the Friends of the Gunnison River were able to purchase the land at the confluence of the North Fork and Gunnison River, they turned it over to BLM. The area is now public point to access to that water. The Embrace-a-Stream Grant helped fund the reconstruction of the Monitor Ditch diversion structure on the North Fork of the Gunnison River.
A current project is the Valley Floor Project. When mining was a big industry, Dean said those working in the Telluride area straightened the San Miguel River’s path. The Valley Floor Project has the group attempting to reestablish the San Miguel River to its natural course and mine tailings. This is an on-going project with multiple phases. GGA works with a variety of groups to get its conservation projects done.
“That’s the key to conservation efforts and education efforts it’s that connecting with disparate groups that you may think we don’t really share anything in common, when you really get down to it, you find that you do,” Dean said. “Wildlife in general benefits from the work we do restoring and repairing the habitat around the stream.”
Many of the projects GGA does is looking not only to improve conservation now, but also in the future, Dean added.
There are a few annual events the organization hosts which includes Cottonwood Days, two-day learning day at Crawford Montessori school for fourth and fifth graders and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Program.
Cottonwood Days takes place on the Gunnison River in conjunction with Colorado Canyons Association, BLM Uncompahgre Office and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This event is for fifth and sixth grade students throughout the Delta school district including Olathe. At this event, the children learn about the plants on/in the river, the bugs that call the area home and how to tie a fly. CPW goes out ahead of time to shock fish and place them in bins by the river bank so students can get an up close look at the fish.
The GGA provides volunteers to mentor veterans through the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Program. Dean said they will teach the veterans fly tying, how to build a rod, knot tying and how to cast. The volunteers then take them out fishing.
“Hopefully they catch a fish on a fly they tied on a rod they built — there’s nothing better than that,” Dean said.
This program provides veterans with comradery with other veterans and volunteers and much more. Some have even gone on to compete in fly fishing and rod competitions. Seeing them overcome their disabilities and struggles is gratifying for the volunteers, he said.
“... There’s nothing more peaceful than fishing,” Dean said. “Whether it be fly fishing or spin fishing or bait fishing. There’s just something about being by the water and the focus that it requires — it just takes away the world’s problems.”
GGA also takes part in Deltarado Days for the fishing derby. Dean said they organize and keep records for the event. There are prizes for a variety of feats including smallest fish caught.
“It’s not all about the biggest fish or most fish. There’s more to it than that,” Dean said. “It’s about getting out and enjoying it.”
All of the work GGA does is done on volunteer time, Dean said. GGA clocked about 2,500 volunteer hours last year. Donation and members fees all go back to their efforts. The group meets the third Wednesday of each month for a social meeting and the first Tuesday and the fourth Thursday of the month is open fly tying. There is also a Monday fly tying gathering, but that day varies. Meetings are posted on Facebook.
For more information visit Fly Fishers International at flyfisherinter