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Thanks to Gary Rihn, Pittsburgh participant, for providing this update about the 2023 Penn’s Woods TU Cabin Fever event.

The term “cabin fever” is frequently used to describe the feeling of being pent up and not being able to do a favorite activity after being stuck inside all winter. Fishermen in particular use it as spring approaches as they look forward to getting back out on to their favorite streams and chasing fish again.

The Penn’s Woods West chapter of Trout Unlimited also uses it to describe their premier fly fishing expo held each year during February in western PA. After two years off due to the Covid pandemic, “cabin fever” had an even stronger meaning for those attending this year’s show, the 22nd annual event.

The show featured nationally known fly anglers, speakers, fly tyers, vendors, a casting area, conservation community members, and other members of the fly fishing community. There were more than 60 vendors and over 1000 attendees. Among those having a presence at the show was the Pittsburgh Program of Project Healing Waters, a group dedicated to the healing of disabled veterans. Volunteers from the program manned a booth where they interacted with show attendees to explain the organization and hopefully connect with more local veterans who could benefit from PHW. Pittsburgh Program Lead Amanda Thompson explained, “We like to have a booth at Cabin Fever because it gives us the opportunity to educate the public about our mission. We’ve missed that connection with anglers for the past two years, so we were eager to attend this year.”

During the course of the day, PHW Veteran participants and volunteers (who lead fly tying, rod building and other activities for the participants) took turns staffing the booth and interacting with the public. One of the attendees that they talked to was Tony DelVecchio, an Army Veteran. Prior to the Cabin Fever show, he had never heard of Project Healing Waters, but after talking to the PHW folks at their booth, he had this to say: “It sounds like an awesome opportunity for Veterans interested in fly fishing. I’m definitely going to look into it.” Another person that stopped by said that although he wasn’t a Veteran himself, his father was a Vietnam era Veteran, and that he was going to be taking some promotional information home for him.

Shows like this are an excellent way for PHW to spread the word about their program, what they have to offer to more local veterans, and how they could help. Thompson said, “We definitely made a lot of new angling friends and supporters and had two Veterans express an interest in joining our group. Whether folks were interested in volunteering, participating, or making a donation, we provided them with all the information they needed. We also received an in-kind donation of rod blanks. In addition to that, we connected with local guides who offered us discounts and waive fees for private water.” 

It is also a great way for organizations like Trout Unlimited to educate the fly fishing community about their mission of conservation and water improvement. When asked about why they host a show like this, PWWTU Ian Brown said, “This show is our primary fundraiser for the year. It allows us to things like stream improvement projects and also to have money available to help other groups like Allegheny CleanWays that help to keep Pittsburgh’s three rivers and surrounding areas clean.”

Project Healing Waters and Trout Unlimited both rely on quality places to fish and are therefore both conservation-minded. On that front TU’s Brown said that in the Pittsburgh area, there aren’t as many traditional cold water trout fishing streams as is other parts of the state, so their chapter has started to shift to a broader view. At the Cabin Fever show, the first thing to meet attendees was the Conservation Corner, with all of the conservation partners on display. Brown explained, “We have chosen to focus more towards the conservation mission, dealing with warmer waters and partnerships. We are doing great work in the Pittsburgh region and figuring out how to best help other TU chapters because of our lack of traditional trout waters in this area.”

Shows like Cabin Fever are a great venue for both PHW and TU to get their messages out to the public, and make them aware of what each organization has to offer.

The mission statement of Trout Unlimited states that they “aim to conserve and improve cold-water fisheries, protect the environment, restore watersheds, and educate tomorrow’s leaders”. For more information, please visit www.pwwtu.org or www.tu.org.

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