This fall I received word that the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo was closing up shop after 12 successful years. The Helgeson family, who has kept this wonderful event going since the passing of Tom Helgeson, the Expo’s founder, had reached the difficult realization that it could no longer dedicate the countless hours and energy necessary to keep the Expo going. The sad news circulated quickly and spurred a few of us to explore whether we could help keep this community celebration of fly fishing and conservation going. I am happy to report that the Expo will be held in March 2016.
The annual Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo has always provided us with a unique opportunity to introduce Trout Unlimited to hundreds of people and convey the importance of conservation to the preservation of the fishing we all enjoy. Trout Unlimited is not a fly fishing club. It is a group of dedicated conservationists who pursue trout, steelhead and salmon using every ethical angling method, based on personal preferences. Many choose to fly fish exclusively, but many others have more eclectic tendencies and mix in spinning, drift or bait fishing to match conditions or whim. Like Minnesota TU, the Expo has always drawn a good number of non-fly anglers and others who participate if only to celebrate the fish.
It has become clearer to me with each passing year that conservation success depends upon sharing a sense of awe for our natural world and building a wider community of support for these unique resources. No one understood this better than Tom Helgeson, and his words and writings inspired and energized many of us both in our angling and our conservation work. It is no accident that Tom’s Expo has always woven together a joy for the sport and fish, an awe of the special places where we pursue it, and a passionate commitment to preserving both.
I first met Tom in the 1980s in his fly shop on 38th & Grand Avenue. As a starving university student I had only enough money for fly tying materials (who could afford to buy flies?) and tippets. But Tom and Julie welcomed all of us into a community, well-heeled and well-patched alike. Tom shared his knowledge and passion freely, managing to slip in a conservation note as well. His magazine, Midwest Fly Fishing, continued the twin themes of joy for the sport and the need for conservation. Not surprisingly, Tom took great pains to ensure that the Expo programming always included a separate conservation track. And having worked with Tom for several years on the State’s Trout & Salmon Stamp Oversight Committee, I came to understand just how central conservation and community building was to everything Tom did.
The annual Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo unites thousands of anglers in a community celebration of the coming seasons. We owe a great debt to Tom Helgeson and the Helgeson family for the countless hours and energy expended to create these community events. By stepping up to keep the Expo going, Minnesota TU hopes to keep this legacy alive and begin to repay some small part of that debt. We look forward to working with many of you and our partners in the fly fishing community to continue the Expo legacy. We hope all of you, whether fly angler or not, will join us March 18th through the 20th to share the joy of angling and rewards of conservation.
Mark your calendars and visit the show website for regular updates: http://greatwatersflyexpo.com/