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Fly Fisherman Conservationist of the Year Finalists

by Sarah Grigg   |  November 8th, 2017 0

It’s almost time to pick a winner. We looked at more than 50 nominations, and our selection committee very carefully reviewed the efforts of regular people who are lobbying government agencies, collecting data onstream, organizing river cleanups, teaching kids in the classroom, organizing river cleanups, and fundraising for conservation efforts on their local waters—whether they are saltwater flats or headwater streams in the mountains.

We narrowed the field down to our Top Ten Finalists. Our overall winner will be announced January 1, 2018. The winner will get a new Sage rod scripted with their name and “Conservationist of the Year.” They’ll also get a check from Sage for $5,000 made out in their name to the nonprofit environmental group of their choice.

Every week starting October 25, 2017, we will reveal another top nomination for the Fly Fisherman Conservationist of the Year Award sponsored by Sage. Here is the most recent finalist you should get to know:



Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project (SCRIP)
Mountain Laurel Chapter – Trout Unlimited

“Len Lichvar’s submission was huge, with dozens and dozens of newspaper clippings,” said Fly Fisherman Editor Ross Purnell, based in Harrisburg. “Lenny has done huge things for Pennsylvania fisheries.”

Currently, Len’s the District Manager of the Somerset Conservation District where he and his staff enhance and conserve natural resources and improve water quality through on the ground projects, education and technical assistance. Since the 1980s, he’s worked on the formerly-barren Quemahoning Reservoir and Creek, which culminated in the creation of a new trout fishery. After much lobbying and negotiation, a 10.8 MGD release of cold water was mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Len also assisted with creating the first abandoned mine passive treatment system in the Stonycreek River watershed, thereby restoring 12 miles of trout fishing after 100 years of sterile water.

Len fishing event spring 2017

Voluntarily, Len is a state-appointed official as the District 4 Commissioner on the Board of Commissioners of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Chairman of the Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement. Lenny is additionally a Board Member of the Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Somerset County Conservancy and a member of the Somerset Lake Action Committee, and Land Committee of the Jenner Rod and Gun Club that manages over one thousand acres of land open to public recreation. He’s served as a Hunter-Trapper Education Course instructor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission for 25 years. Len’s been an outdoor writer for decades and most recently co-authored the new book, Keystone Fly Fishing.



Trout Unlimited – El Dorado Chapter

In early 2014, Melinda and her family became aware of critical stressors to the Cosumnes River, including significant flow barriers to Chinook Salmon passage.

“The Cosumnes River is the last free flowing river on the western slope of the Sierras,” said Melinda.”’Cosumnes’ is a Miwok word. Cos means ‘salmon’ and umne means ‘people’. So together it means ‘salmon people’. We made a decision as a family to do what we could to help this important ecosystem, and were fortunate to connect with key mentors at organizations and agencies to form a Coalition to work at a watershed scale.”

Today, Melinda facilitates the Consumnes Coalition (formed in 2014) and works for the American Rivers Conservancy as the Cosumnes River Water Quality Monitoring Coordinator. Three years later, the Coalition has made significant progress in connecting people and applying science to create solutions.


in 2016, Melinda donated 40 hours per week to these causes and coorindated more than 40 volunteer citizen scientists to monitor flow, temperature, pH and habitat quality at more than 20 sites on the Consumnes.

“The time investment to achieve win-win, lasting solutions can be daunting,” said Melinda. “But I can’t imagine a world where my son would not have the opportunity to see salmon in the wild.  Their survival is a symbol of our hopes for the watershed as a whole.”



Trout Unlimited – Pere Marquette
Pere Marquette Watershed Council


John Karakashian (left), Steve Fraley (right)


The Pere Marquette River—legendary for its part in the introduction of German brown trout to American fisheries–is a designated Wild and Scenic River, as well as a Blue Ribbon fishery.

The PM remains “scenic” due to the efforts of the grass roots conservation organizations and requires constant attention from conservation organizations and caring individuals to maintain the resource for future generations.  Two such individuals are Steve Fraley and John Karakashian.

Steve Fraley

For more than 10 years, the two have co-owned Baldwin Bait and Tackle in Baldwin, MI. During that time, they have funded, sponsored and organized two annual clean-up days on the Pere Marquette. During those days, they cover 35 miles of river. Steve and John also guide on the PM and have taught countless anglers the art of reading water, understanding fish habits and techniques for stalking and catching Brown trout, migratory Steelhead and King Salmon.

Both are members of the Pere Marquette Watershed Council and help promote and have participated in the “Cast for Conservation”, a one-day flyfishing fundraiser, for the last 20 years. The funds raised by this annual event go towards stream improvement projects to create fish habitat and for the placement of rip-rap to prevent bank erosion.

Both promote the mentality to protect and preserve the fishery for future generations and they’ve converted many to their conservation mind-set and beliefs.

John Karakashian


Save Our Smith
Montana Environmental Information Center

gilbert 1

For 43 years, Steve Gilbert’s worked as a biological consultant in Montana. During that time, he’s worked on hundreds of natural resources projects in the Rocky Mountain West and beyond. In addition, Steve’s fished and floated on Montana’s crown jewel river, the Smith, for four decades , half of those as a guide.

He has testified in the Montana Legislature and U.S. Senate on water and air quality, soils, aquatics and wildlife habitat issues relating to irresponsible energy development, coal and hard-rock mines. His biological background, combined with angling and guiding expertise have helped to rally many people to join the efforts of the conservation community. Steve is a strong environmental advocate and has served on numerous conservation non-profit boards, as well as received awards for his service.

Gilbert 3

With the recent threat of a copper mine on the headwaters of the famed Smith River, Steve put all of his conservation know-how to use through the Save Our Smith campaign. Derf Johnson, Water Program Director of MEIC, wrote: “Steve has done more than we can recollect for this cause. He very willingly reviewed the biological information in Tintina’s application, pro bono, and pointed out several discrepancies in their data and methodologies that will serve to inform our advocacy. Steve is unwavering in his position that the mine should never be built, and he has the ability to convey this message thoughtfully and effectively. His volunteer work has served to grow our movement and turn a strong majority of Montanans against this mine.”


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