The Costa 2 Fly X-Stream fly fishing competition is undeniably one of the premier events on the contest calendar. Top anglers from around the West come to test themselves against the best and hopefully walk away with some prize money.
But for Jay Johnson of Pig Farm Ink, fly fishing isn’t about competition. It’s about community. And the GoPro Mountain Games are a major part of his mission.
While the competitive casting crowd was slugging it out Saturday morning to determine who would get to go fishing in Sunday’s finals, Johnson and his fellow Pig Farmers tucked their little yellow school bus into a corner of the Kids’ Adventure Village to host their third annual “Pig Farm Fly Fishing Academy.” There’s no water, and frankly not that much in the way of instruction. But for the line of kids waving fly rods at wooden fish with mousetraps and velcro in their mouths, the makeshift school was all they needed to get hooked on a new sport.
“You see these kids running around with, like, attention deficit, and once they start casting to these things they won’t stop until they hit it,” Johnson said as he tied another hookless fly onto the line. “It’s a nice way for them to at least be exposed to the sport. They get to wave a rod around, hit a mousetrap and people scream, so they’re stoked.”
When it’s all said and done, Johnson estimates he and the posse of Pig Farm volunteers will engage more than 1,000 newbie fly casters, most — but not all — of them kids.
That’s a rarity in the modern world of digital entertainment, where people are increasingly less inclined to unplug and make their way to the great outdoors. Pig Farm has made it its purpose to remedy that trend through fly fishing.
“You have to have a pretty rare vision of the world to think fishing and going outside are cool these days. Being an outdoorsman or being an outdoor participator is less and less every year because of cell phones, video games, the internet. There are people all over the U.S. who have never been exposed to the outdoors,” Johnson said. “So why do they play with us? Because they see something entertaining and interactive. It’s building a relationship with the outdoors, which is how you build this community. Some of these kids are going to go home and say, ‘Man, that was bitching. I want to do that more.’ As opposed to the new video game.”
In the 3 years Pig Farm has been reaching out to kids at the Mountain Games they’ve seen ample evidence their approach is working. Every year they’ll hear from several kids or parents who return to their patch of grass to cast to colorful fish cutouts in an effort to snap a mousetrap. Often that return visit comes with word that the kids are now way into fishing.
Liam Green of Littleton, CO, may very well be the next to tell that tale. While awaiting the start of the family Mud Run, the 8-year-old cast a fly rod for the first time on Saturday, beaming when the trap snapped shut on his fly.
“I liked trying it,” he said as proud papa Mike Green envisioned a future fly fishing partner. “I want to do it again.”
While the GoPro Mountain Games likely offer the most dense concentration of budding anglers, it’s just one stop on the Pig Farm tour that takes the little yellow bus on a poky journey from its home base in Ft. Collins down to New Mexico and as far north as Canada this summer. Jackson Killion of Boulder is one of the volunteer Pig Farmers willing to go along for the ride in recognition of a mission bigger than himself.
“We’ve been doing the Mountain Games for a while and kids are definitely into it,” Killion said. “And we’ve also had a fair amount of adults come out, like security guards on their break will come over to see what it’s all about and give it a try. It’s definitely cool to see the kids out, but whoever wants to go should go. Colorado is a pretty easy place to get out and go fly fishing if you want to do it.”
Eventually, the farmers believe the seeds planted here in Colorado will take root and create something great.
“That’s the whole thing: Getting people exposed to the sport and building their communities,” Johnson said. “Just getting them rolled up in the sport and then have them participate is building community.”
By Scott Willoughby
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