If you asked me what I got out of college, I’d tell you ‘a 4-year degree and six figures in student loan debt.’ That seems to be a resounding theme among Generation X’ers. We were conditioned to believe that there was but one way to achieve the American Dream and we never questioned the process. We followed the ‘plan’ and chased a future that fit prettily into a box that was seemingly not of our own conscious choosing.
Fast forward 20 years and lots of folks in that same category are full of criticism, misguided advice and judgement for those (Millennials) following a different path. Many of them are also stuck in a dead-end job with a degree they never use….and still drowning in student loan debt. All while waiting until ‘just the right time’ to follow their dreams. Even after years in the classroom as well as the workplace, we’ve still got lots to learn.
One of the biggest lessons we can glean from the generation coming up behind us is that there is no better time to chase down a dream than right here and now.
We recently caught up with one such dreamer who milked the college experience for all that it was worth, launching for himself a lifelong connection with the outdoors and a career path that has adventure written all over it.
During college, Anton Pohl fell in love with fly fishing. Not knowing anyone on campus with the same passion, he struggled to find his tribe of like-minded folks. “There’s really nobody to learn from or go with unless you already know someone. Realistically, you need an in in the industry,” he told us.
As he searched for his own ‘in,’ he quickly learned that what he was looking for existed, but not at his college, which, just so happens to be in the ‘Driftless Area,’ an outdoorsman’s dream. So, with the help of close friends, Trout Unlimited and the 5 Rivers leaders…. he created it. That kind of ingenuity is what gave birth to the Trout Unlimited Costa 5 Rivers Program at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville.
This program helps to organize clubs on college campuses in order to help young people learn how to fly fish, tie their own flies and develop an understanding of, and appreciation for, their home waters through a variety of volunteer conservation activities such as stream cleanups. With a network of over 100 TU-affiliated college fishing clubs around the country, these young people are the face of tomorrow’s conservation efforts.
The name ‘5 Rivers’ symbolizes the 5 aspects of the program, which are:
Conservation: Students often clean up streams, advocate for clean water and water health or help restore water sheds.
Community Outreach: Clubs engage their campus and local community through a wide range of potential events that promote angling and philanthropy.
Costa Ambassadorship: The club president has the option of becoming the Costa Ambassador for their college, which comes with untold benefits.
Fundraising: Each club is self-sustaining in that it completes an annual fundraiser to support their own programming.
TU Connection: Each club works with their local Trout Unlimited chapter to complete their club goals for the year.
After all these initiatives are completed, the club earns access to a student discount program, allowing members to buy gear that might otherwise be cost prohibitive for a college student. Industry partners (like Costa Del Mar, Simms, and Cheeky) have rallied around this incredible program, making the discount possible in hopes of helping young people hurdle the cost curve of the sport. Which, according to Anton, is one of the greatest obstacles for interested students who are already on a limited budget. Surely, any angler to ever wet a line could relate to those sentiments!!
‘One of the things we need to do is to make it easy for people to fly fish at the college level. To help them get out and explore and do cool things. You can learn on a $20 fly rod, but it’s hard. It helps to be able to start out with something decent. Until I started the club, I hadn’t really found a good way to be involved with TU. This gave me the opportunity to get involved and to help a younger generation get involved. To help them find their in.’
Historically, lots of folks have used a broad brush to paint a not-so-favorable picture of fly fishing as a rich man’s sport. Unfortunately, that has turned away some would-be amazing anglers or discouraged their interest. While some of the early ties to the sport might be rooted in ‘old money,’ times (as they say) are a’changin. And it’s because of young men and women like Anton who are willing to take a chance on themselves. To challenge the status quo, to promote a passion that others might not understand and to expend every effort to recruit kindred spirits to the cause.
We asked Anton to summarize his experience with 5 Rivers. He inspired us with these words:
Looking back now, I don’t think I ever realized how much it changed my life to get involved with that club and to help other people. It really took me a lot of places. There’s a lot of clubs in college but this a different ballgame. It has erupted into lots of other opportunities. When you get to fish outside your own environment, it really does open new doors. And then you want everyone to get to experience the moments you’ve gotten to experience. It was truly something to have a group of folks my age to share all those cool moments with. I loved helping to get people on cool gear, get them outside and teach them what they’re missing out on.
One of the most memorable things that 5 Rivers has helped me do is to get kids to be as passionate as I was when I started. I wanted to keep this thing going after I left college. I didn’t truly realize what we had created until after I was out of it and I’m so proud of what continued after I left.
I could never have done this by myself. I feel so lucky for having been a part of it. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for 5 Rivers.
Upon graduation from college, Anton passed the baton to Adam Levenhagen, the current President of Fly Fishers of UWP-5 Rivers. The two men share a mutual and passionate vision for the future of this club and the world of fly fishing. When we asked Adam to tell us about his journey and his goals for the club, here’s what he had to say:
I joined this club but didn’t fly fish for about the first year. For me it was just about exploring. Then Anton took me out and taught me how to cast and showed me different tactics. It’s an interesting thing to see how someone can foster a fire in another person.
Nationwide, we have about 6,000 members and everyone has a strong passion for conservation, especially cold water and wild places. Through this organization, it’s amazing to see the difference you can make. Our position allows us to work with lots of different people; Trout Unlimited, Project Healing Waters, The Mayfly Project. I want to cement us on campus as a group that cares about our local community as much as our international community. I hope our work to puts us in a position to be recognized as leaders that are dedicated to local issues.
Less than half of all Americans recreated outside last year. That’s insane to me. The best way to get people to care about things like that is to teach them while they’re young. Some of my fondest memories of the outdoors are from when my dad got me involved as a kid. I might not have been focused the entire time back then, but it made a difference later in life.
To that point, the 5 Rivers Program is doing what it needs to do mitigate stagnation and embrace adaptability. We need both young folks and those who’ve been fishing for years. That’s how we take our fly fishing to the next level. We all learn from one another.
From humble beginnings to a solid 5-year track record that continues to grow, the Trout Unlimited Costa 5 Rivers Program in Platteville has been shaped by some very capable hands. Organizations like this are helping to mold the face of fly fishing one angler at time, making the sport available to a demographic that otherwise might never have the chance to participate.
You can find Adam on campus at UWP, still recruiting young people to the cause. On the other hand, Anton is even more so passionate about the sport of fly fishing and making a difference in the world of outdoor adventure. He’s living out his best life as Shop Manager and integral part of the team over at www.aventuron.com in Sheboygan. Stop in and see him. If your proverbial wood is wet, he’ll help you get your fire back. He might even point you towards his favorite honey hole, but we make no promises.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Trout Unlimited Costa 5 Rivers Program, click the link below.
In a world full of division, we truly are much more alike than we are different. Our love of the outdoors and the pull of the river transcends generational gaps, bank accounts and stereotypes. Maybe the fact that the Earth’s surface AND the human body are both comprised of about 70% water is no coincidence. Water is essential for survival. For humans. For fish. We’re inextricably linked by a common thread.
The human desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves is an undeniable part of our nature. It flows through each of us. Just like water.
And the places fish live? Always….and in ALL ways…. much more than a river.
Words by Amber Leach
Amber is a freelance writer with roots in Appalachia and a passion for clean
water conservation. She founded the Kentucky chapter of The Mayfly Project
and represents the Bluegrass State as the 2nd District Director for Kentucky
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Connect with her on Instagram, @amberleachky
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