Many of you that know me well enough have probably understood all you've read so far on the Sacred Waters website those of you have not let me elaborate.
My latest inspiration for finally spearheading this project came on a day that just kept replaying in my mind, feelings that at least for me am incapable of putting into words.
I was guiding with a young man 9 yrs of age (solo as preferred to teach children or any loved one you’d like to learn and enjoy what you love).
This young man was very eager to learn and asked tons of questions on our short drive. He expressed a strong interest in catching a sucker fish (which he and his grandpa seen in the river the previous day) so that was a conversation starter on the role sucker fish fit in the ecosystem. The facts that they are one of just a few of truly Native Fishes here as well as an endangered species. For me, his interest touched a nerve of the innocence and non prejudice nature of children.
Long story short, we went through all the ins and outs of fly fishing. He did awesome catching a few suckers, smaller trout and the Big 20" Bow pictured here 100% all on his own. Afterwards, I dropped him off with his Grandpa discussing the day’s events with such enthusiasm and smiles. It was just a wonderful feeling that is hard for me to explain in words.
Afterwards I proceeded to my next event for the day which was a Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Event we were hosting here in Pagosa Springs.
I arrived at the event in time to help a few of the disabled veterans at a neighborhood pond while waiting for dinner to get finished.
Again, those who have open-minds wanting to learn are inspiring to me. We commenced through all details of fly fishing. Seeing the excitement as people made good casts, caught fish, hearing the stories of their day fishing with our volunteer guides; their stories of how the sport of fly fishing has helped heal them being physically, emotionally, &/or spiritually.
How it has Helped Save Their Lives, it all just hit home deep in my soul.
As the evening progressed I gave a little speech and presented gifts to the Veteran group donated by Ross Reels USA. Once again to see the excitement, appreciation, gratitude from all these people and being able to give them all free rods, reels, fly lines, leaders, flies, and the ability to keep on Healing through Fly Fishing.
I remember speaking of my morning’s event and how grateful I was to be able to do all of these things for everyone.
How I wish I didn't have to work for a living so I could do all this for free everyday.
Fishing makes us less the hostages to the horrors of making a living. It is a time warp we may step into for a little peace.
Over all the years in this industry and all the conversations with other Professional Anglers, Landowners, and Clients about how the average Retail Fly Shop Outfitting does not work well for anyone or anything.
In March 2017 these discussions came back up with two Ranch Owners I've held long-term leases with for most of my time here in Pagosa Springs about 8 years. They stated they were not wanting to renew contracts due to it wasn't worth the money, the hassle, and the abuse of their land and fish.
I’m not going to lie, they were totally right, but I felt like my whole world pulled out from under me with no warning.
I was always told and always believed that I held higher standards for my Outfitting, towards myself, my guides, and even my clients everywhere I’ve worked.
We did not overbook trips, on our busiest year(season) for example in the retail outfitting of these two properties we guided a total of 264 people through these waters and turned down just as many other trips. Our actual capacity on just these two properties could be 2760 people total in just our short season if ran like most seasonal tourist guide services.
What if I didn't spread out pressure equally between each beat, for example on if I guided each ranch everyday one ranch it would be 6-7days before I’d see the same beat again and 3-4 days on the other Ranch.
What if I didn’t cut down two years ago to only guiding my own clients. To just offering guided trips to my own long term existing clients, a few client referrals, and a few disabled Veterans got on these waters.
We never fished or booked trips during bad environmental conditions low, warm waters that may be hazardous to the health of the fishes will not be fished.
We did not do any fishing or guiding that may have affected spawning fishes at those locations . I managed all my waters as Wild Trout Fisheries, unless there's extreme adverse environmental conditions (flooding, landslides, winter kill, droughts or recent necessary stream rehabilitation work) occur that may harm the fishery then some hatchery fingerlings may be planted to help sustain the population.
Even with my best efforts to apply my fishing ethical standards, the Retail Guiding business model was/is Broken. I'm not saying this acrossed the board. In some states, some localities, it does work well enough, but does not work here due to many factors. We will continue to touch on through future Blog posts as well as with some Sacred Waters Advocacy Actions.
I discussed this Idea I’ve had for the last few years of what is now Sacred Waters and the Ranch Owners were very receptive and decided to continue our contracts.
This all has been a kick in the pants to not be afraid of taking the risk to do what I’ve always thought was right and the best, well personally speaking only option for our local environment and to help others.
Now the Sacred Water Journey begins……
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
Welcome to Sacred Waters. I’m the founder and President Joe Eichelberger and I’d like to give you a little background on why we exist and what we intend to do. But first, a little background...
Those that know me have heard me say time and time again “I care more about these waters and their fish than I do about money.” I say it because that is how I truly feel, and starting this non profit is me doing something about it instead of just talking. I constantly preach about not booking trips during low, warm, lethal water conditions. I’d rather not work than to book a guided trip on overfished water or fish during spawning activity. This is a chance to do what I know is right.
Recreationally and professionally, I have been in this fishing game for a long time. No seriously, I've done it all from fly shop staff, sporting goods staff, buyer, manager, fly tying, casting instruction, guiding, commercial fishing, field testing equipment, writing articles, interviews for articles, photo shoots, filming for movies & TV, and ranch/fisheries management. None of those careers provided me with much sense accomplishment. I don't want to be famous I want to help change the world. What I can say is that I'm happy teaching (guiding), managing fisheries, writing educational newsletters, publishing fishing reports, and enjoy testing & developing quality gear as a pro-staffer/field tester to help make fishing more fun and less work for everyone.
I was raised to believe that making money hunting and fishing were somehow bad, but I justified my guiding knowing that I'm a teacher, and a damn good one. I teach people how to cast, tie knots, properly handle fish. I teach them about fish & insect life-cycles, ecosystems, and water conservation. My family had also stated many concerns about the long term direction of the outdoor industry. They saw declining fishing and hunting opportunities and a downward spiral of ethical standards. High pay-to-play costs, unauthentic high fence ranches and “canned hunts”, big money corporatized tournaments, headwater degradation, over usage and abuse of our public lands. The more outdoor industry jobs I worked, I began watching more and more of my families predictions start to unfold in front of my eyes.
Helping the environment and people have always been more important and rewarding to me than making a six figure salary but let’s keep it real, money is a necessity of life in our society. We considered a private fishing club, with a traditional corporate business model and likely higher profits, but something just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel true to the core beliefs that my family instilled in me. My family and many close friends fought these private clubs and guide services and they’ve advocated against heavily-stocked, inferior GMO pellethead fisheries. No, the ethics of a club or guide service didn’t appeal to me, and was the total opposite of what direction I wanted to move Sacred Waters in. I could not morally go down that road nor be a hypocrite. Like I’ve always said “I care more about these waters and fishes than I do about having a profit driven organization.”
As the mission and vision of Sacred Waters was coming together, it quickly became clear that the openness and accountability of a non-profit were the only direction for us. I wanted to rule out the greed and compromises that too often come with profit-driven fishing clubs and companies.
In the second part of this introductory series I’ll tell more about how Sacred Waters is going to change up the model.
Since I began to fish in the days before memory and have no consciousness of ever not fishing, the evidence is clear that I was born a fisherman.
We’ll pick up where I left off in part 3 where I gave some background on myself and why I wanted to start Sacred Waters as a nonprofit. Part 4 continues the story and the direction we’d like to head in.
I gathered a board to manage and direct Sacred Waters who all have a background in ethical fishing and sportsmanship and most importantly a desire to change things for the better. We started imagining how differently this whole thing could look.
So imagine this, a non profit organization run by the highest quality Professional Anglers that can afford to give an educational guided experience, not just to clients, but by giving back to youth and veterans as well. We want to share fishing with youth from local schools, other non-profits like 4H, and help heal at risk youth from Human Services with the best education and experiences on fly tying, fly fishing, ecology, entomology, and fishery science.
Imagine having the time and money to sponsor Disabled Veterans through groups like Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing or to help veterans start their own fishing organizations, fly tying clubs or classes. The ability to plan and execute top quality events for veterans groups, while providing professional anglers to guide and assist them in enjoying the highest quality waters with the best fishing results. Veterans who have given so much deserve healing time outside that can help take away the horrible thoughts, memories, and scars of war they experience even only if for that moment.
Imagine having the time and money to dedicate to land stewardship that has a lasting and positive impact on the waters. This can be done by:
Imagine being able to guide clients who are like minded in their passion to protect the environment and others, have a drive to learn, and a possess a better understanding of our natural world. Because these clients are our donors who make ALL this possible these are the people I want to spend my time with, to teach and to learn from.
Imagine helping a recovering addicts find escape from their addictions and the deep seeded scars that caused them. As the dude bros say, the #tugisthedrug bra...
#flyfishingsaveslives. Trust me, it saved my life more than once and has and continues to offer me the pleasure and opportunity to touch the lives of so many others. I meet countless numbers of interesting people and hear their stories while guiding. Fly Fishing has given this addict the privilege to Live, Work, Play, and Protect these Sacred Waters.
Imagine All these people will become lifelong stewards of our environment and hopefully spread our CARE Mission to future generations.
These things are all possible through the benefits of a Non-Profit Organization.
So that’s why I chose to start Sacred Waters and that’s my perfect outcome.
You guys in???
PS: We’ll let them all introduce themselves and talk a bit more at length on the blog, but here’s the team of board members that is helping make this vision a reality:
I never go to rivers to kill trout. I go to unkill parts of myself that otherwise might die.
Our President Joseph Eichelberger, with 19 years of guiding experience and a long family heritage of responsible outdoorsmanship, brings a unique perspective to our blog as he promotes fishing conservation and education in Pagosa Springs, CO where he's lived since 2009.