Cookies, Girl Scouts and trout may seem like an unusual combination, but, last month, 18 Girl Scouts from Western Slope chapters became STREAM Girls. This Colorado Trout Unlimited workshop is designed to introduce youth to their local watershed through river conservation and recreation.
STREAM stands for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), recreation and art. Ross Reels, Able Women, and the local Trout Unlimited (TU) chapter. The Gunnison Gorge Anglers hosted the workshop.
The day started with an icebreaker where the girls were grouped by their favorite Girl Scout cookie. Barbara Luneau, TU youth programming volunteer, engaged the girls in a watershed discussion. She explained the path of our rivers from their headwaters to their terminus. The Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers are tributaries to the Colorado River, which comprises the third largest watershed in the country. The Columbia River Watershed is second, and the largest watershed in the U.S. is the Mississippi River.
“Our rivers here are very hard working with many demands for drinking water, irrigation, livestock and recreation. These rivers are closely managed to meet everyone’s needs,” Luneau explained. “How much water do you think makes it to the Gulf of Mexico? Very little!”
The new Colorado Outdoor facility in Montrose provided easy access to the Uncompahgre River, where the girls explored the river corridor. Volunteers guided the girls with probing questions to help them use all their senses to observe the nuances of the river and adjacent riparian habitats as if through the eyes of a scientist, angler and artist. The girls described the river sounds and smells and sketched their observations in their STREAM Girls field notebook.
Ready to learn how to measure stream flows, the girls stepped into a small channel of the main river wearing hip waders. The scouts timed the travel of a ping-pong ball from a release point upstream to its catch by a scout 30 feet downstream, repeating this three times for an average. The girls rocked at the math, calculating channel area (average width and depth), velocity (distance and time), and finally flow in cubic feet per second. “This is math under pressure. Adding, dividing, and multiplying without a calculator!” said Luneau.
Kick nets were next on the agenda. The girls stirred up the stream bottom with their feet so aquatic insects drifted into the nets. With giggles and laughter, the girls enthusiastically scuffled about while trying to keep their balance! They rinsed the nets into buckets, and transferred samples into trays for critter identification. Referencing an insect guide, the girls identified species by using characteristics like shape, tails, location of gills, and cases. Of course, this activity also required math skills to determine overall stream health using the diversity of specific bugs (Caddis flies, Mayflies and Stoneflies) and their abundance. Luneau explained that high numbers of these bugs, which are highly sensitive to pollution usually, indicate a healthy stream. Guess what? This section of the Uncompahgre River scored well.
With a grasp of stream flows and aquatic insects, the girls had a better idea of where trout hang out and what they like to eat: basics for a successful angler. This is where the Gunnison Gorge Anglers stepped in to help each girl set up her fly rod and learn to cast. The girls and instructors began casting around the pond. Each scout looked like she was determinedly practicing the summoning charm from Harry Potter, “Accio -trout” that will magically bring whatever item is summoned.
Fly fishing is all about tricking the fish into biting your artificial fly thinking it is the real thing, and the art of fly tying is to imitate the look of those tasty morsels. After identifying the common aquatic insects, the Scouts had a better idea of what those morsels look like. Now, sitting at a fly tying station, each scout was patiently guided by a CTU volunteer on how to tie a midge or a winged emerger. With quiet concentration, the girls carefully created art for fishing.
To recap the day, the scouts returned to the river to complete a scavenger hunt for the key ingredients of a stream, and began working on a necklace. Colored beads represented those key ingredients: water, wood, rocks and plants with the added charms of mayflies, feathers and bugs. Kate Senn from Ross Reels, a Girl Scout alumna, awarded the Scouts their new patch, and congratulated each with their special Scout handshake. What was their favorite part of the day? “Going into the water with the waders; … finding all the bugs; …being able to see what’s in the water,” were a few of their responses. The day undoubtedly inspired new, young anglers, but their experience of standing in the river and understanding the river dynamics will be remembered long and vividly. Kudos to all Colorado Stream Girls. Our rivers need more stewards.
Colorado Trout Unlimited provides a voice for our rivers. CTU works to conserve, protect and restore Colorado’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. CTU offers a week-long River Conservation and Fly Fishing Camp designed to educate 14 to 18 year old students. For more information visit: coloradotu.org/youthcamp.
Gunnison Gorge Anglers, a chapter of CTU, hosts multiple activities including youth education, fly casting and fly tying lessons, and stream improvement projects. For more information visit: gunnisongorgeanglers.tu.org
Able Women is a non-profit public outreach initiative designed to spread the word about fly fishing and the many emotional, physical and spiritual benefits it brings to women. Find out more at: ablewomenflyfish.com
Friends of Youth and Nature is a non-profit that promotes opportunities for youth and families to go outside, experience outdoor activities, and explore nature. For more information visit: friendsofyouthandnature.org