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Blue Ridge Trout Fest: A small town festival's big impact

Posted by Jim Mize on June 6, 2016

The first-ever Blue Ridge Trout Fest attracted more than just crowds when it debuted in 2016; it brought in funds to support a number of local conservation efforts.

BLUE RIDGE, Georgia--Small towns often have a festival they are known for. All their efforts during the year go toward planning it, and when it arrives, it swells the local population to two or three times its normal size. A couple classics are the Old Fiddlers’ Convention in Galax, Virginia, and the Chitlin Strut in Salley, South Carolina. A new one Subscribe to Rethink:Rural's monthly e-newsletterlaunched this year in Blue Ridge, Georgia, with a slightly different spin.

The Blue Ridge Trout Fest and Outdoor Adventures kicked off this spring, luring men, women and children who fish along with other outdoor enthusiasts and those just looking for entertainment. The location is no accident. Blue Ridge is a small town in Fannin County, Georgia, designated the Trout Capital of Georgia. It received this honor in part because the county contains more than 500 miles of trout streams. So the festival begins with a proper home.

How Blue Ridge Trout Fest benefits local conservation

What is the different spin the festival offers? The profits stay in the community to benefit local conservation efforts.  Ralph Artigliere, Advocacy Chairman of the Blue Ridge Trout Unlimited Chapter #696, explained that the funds they receive from the event will go toward education and conservation projects in the North Georgia mountains.

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An artist creates pottery live at the event.

For example, their chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU) sponsors “Rivers Alive.”

“It’s a river clean-up project that collects tons of litter from local streams,” explains Ralph. “It benefits the stream, but the bigger part is that we get people involved in conservation.”

In the area of education, their TU chapter has been conducting Trout in the Classroom projects for 10 years.

“We show the kids how to raise trout from eggs in their classrooms, monitoring the water conditions. Then they take them out and release them into local streams. Our graduates tell the younger kids about it and they want to do it too.”

Other education events include:

  • Work with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as well as a Family Fishing Day, all geared toward instruction with a goal of putting more people on the stream as good stewards;
  • Project Healing Waters; and
  • Casting for Recovery.  

“Project Healing Waters is one group we work with to provide wounded warriors a way to take a weekend and get away to just spend time fishing. Equipment and instruction are provided and fishing helps with the rehab,” says Ralph.

Casting for Recovery seeks to help women recovering from breast cancer, using fly fishing and fellowship as therapy. The organization explains that the motion involved in casting for fly fishing closely aligns with the exercises breast cancer survivors are instructed to do.

“It’s a case of finding like-minded organizations that can work together. That’s what we did for this event.” And that’s what they do to leverage efforts from people and stretch tight dollars in the local community.

Inside the 2016 Trout Fest

The event kicked off on a Friday night in April 2016, when about 330 passengers took a scenic ride on a trout train for an evening of drinks, hors d’oeurves and talk of trout.

Blue_Ridge_Trout_Fest_Trout_Train.jpgThe next morning opened a day of events, entertainment and shopping.

A key part of the festival is education. Experts from the area taught courses on equipment selection, lines, knots and insects trout eat.  These were followed by casting instruction, fishing tactics and directions to local streams. By the end of the day, listeners knew how and where to pursue trout.

The vendors offered hands-on opportunities with fly rods, lines and reels. Even a few tips on casting were thrown in as newcomers turned their casts from flailing the air into perfect rolls and presentations.

Artists with a passion for fishing also set up tents to display carvings and paintings of fish, pottery with fish themes, even fish fossils converted into art or countertops for the home. Fly-tyers demonstrated their techniques and selections of local flies, while live music played in the background.

 

The Blue Ridge Trout Fest and Outdoor Adventures will become an annual event.  From the sounds of it, they have a lot to celebrate.

Learn more about the Trout Fest, including plans for the 2017 event, at BlueRidgeTroutFest.com.

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Jim Mize

Jim Mize has written humor and nostalgia for magazines including Gray's Sporting Journal, Fly Fisherman Magazine, Field & Stream, and a number of conservation magazines, picking up over fifty Excellence In Craft awards along the way. His most recent book, a collection of humor for fly fisherman entitled A Creek Trickles Through It, was awarded best outdoor book in 2014 by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. More on Jim and his writing activities can be found at acreektricklesthroughit.com

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