Fly-fishers, trail runners & beer lovers unite!
Flyathletes on the run
How many points will this catch score me?
Since trail running, fly-fishing and craft beer are things undoubtedly adored by many in our great state, it’s no surprise that someone decided to establish a Colorado event that includes them all — and supports incredibly worthy causes to boot.
Denver-based Federal aquatic biologist Andrew Todd, whose personal adventure-packing list often includes trail-running shoes, a fly rod and a craft-beer-stocked cooler, started the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon in 2014. Swapping swimming and biking for fly-fishing and beer sipping, the triathlon started out as a small affair with just 40 participants at Middle Creek near the town of Saguache in south-central Colorado.
How do you win a Flyathlon? Complete the designated trail run (short and long courses are available for different skill levels), catch and release a fish at the spot of your choice during the run and take a picture of the catch on your race bib (cleverly equipped with a handy ruler) — all in the speediest way possible.
Scores are participants’ running times minus their “fish bonuses,” calculated by the length and species of fish you catch. Extra points are given for hooking native cutthroat trout. Then, volunteers, participants and their supporters toast with beers donated by Colorado craft breweries at a lively après-race bash.
An aquatic ecotoxicologist (aka: one who studies the effects of toxic chemicals on water organisms) who has always had a passion for river and stream ecology in Colorado, Todd also wanted the event to benefit the waters he loved the most. He decided to reinvest the Flyathlon’s proceeds into improving and restoring native species and fisheries throughout the state with the help of nonprofit Colorado Trout Unlimited. Additionally, “Flyatheletes” are asked to encourage their supporters to donate funds to charity on the event’s website.
The 2015 event included more than 50 participants and raised more than $22,000. Coveted wooden trophies topped with a mounted metal fish were presented to the male and female Flyathletes of the Year, who have the privilege of burning their names into the wood. Prizes donated by sponsors are also bestowed upon top fundraisers and those who bagged the biggest and smallest catches.
By the summer of 2017, the Flyathlon grew to include three annual events in Saguache, Gunnison and Creede that included more than 120 proud rod-toting runners. Todd also created a partnering nonprofit in 2016 for the Flyathlon: Running Rivers connects people with freshwater ecosystems through recreational events, education activities and on-the-ground projects like trail building and creating educational signage near waterways.
While the Flyathlon has gained success as a unique event for those with like recreational interests to thrive, it also has a deeper mission: Todd hopes that participants who learn how to fish in the wilds responsibly will want to see our native fish thrive — and become citizen stewards who volunteer to conserve precious public lands outside of the event. We’ll raise our rods to that.
Photo credits: flyathletes, Erik Myhre; participants examine a catch in a stream, Erik Myhre; flyathletes on the run, Craig Hoffman.