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20 years ago if someone would have told me I was going to run a fly fishing business one day and steelhead would be my biggest passion, and I was going to be a mother, I would have called bullshit.

20 years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do or who I was, and spent a lot of time at a bar stool, raising hell.  I’ve now fostered that energy into a more productive path.

photo courtesy of - Mia And Marty Sheppard

My story starts in Tennessee, where I was born.  My parents where ex-hippies. My father worked odd jobs and spent evenings painting and acting, my mother was a full-time mom and taught us about gardening, cooking and how to be adventurous and love the outdoors.

I credit my mother for molding me into the person I am today.  We were not rich, but she made a point to get us outdoors every weekend. Some of the most memorable moments as a child were spent in the Smoky Mountains, camping near rivers, fishing for trout, skipping rocks, catching fireflies, hiking and the smell of campfire on my clothes after the weekend. My mom taught us how to be gentle and respect all animals and the environment. I didn’t realize it then, but all these experiences were fostering my love for wide open spaces, rivers, oceans, mountains, fish and wildlife.

photo courtesy of - Mia And Marty Sheppard
photo courtesy of - Jimmy Hague

At the age of 26, I connected with some commercial fishermen and they talked me into going to Alaska to work on a crab boat.  I jumped at the opportunity and a few weeks later landed in Dutch Harbor and climbed aboard the Ocean Fury, a 125 foot, sea-worthy boat. As a cook and deckhand, I worked hard.  I spent the next few years working on gillnetters and tenders and traveling all over Alaska. I have seen firsthand the impact from by-catch, oil spills, corral ripped off the ocean floor from crab pots to trash dumped in the sea.  I’ve witnessed disregard for living animals and environment.  I think back to my childhood and remember, I was not raised this way.

I met my husband, Marty, and In 2003, we purchased LCO.  We intended to sell in 10 years and here we are today.  Owning a business and guiding was not something I was inspiring to do. Neither Marty nor I had business degrees or had ever run a business.  What we did have was a knowledge of fishing, determination to be successful and passion. We learned as we went.  We practiced Leave No Trace and Keep-Em Wet fish handling.

photo courtesy of - Mia And Marty Sheppard
photo courtesy of - Mia And Marty Sheppard

My desire for wanting to be an advocate for environmental change grows as each year passes. I attend local watershed council meetings, plant willows, participate in volunteer snorkeling surveys.  I sign petitions and started working for the United States Forest Service in fisheries.

In 2007, Tegan was born.  I never expected to have kids or be a mother.  She changed my life.  Finally, the world wasn’t just about me.  It was very important to me to keep doing what I was doing and include Tegan in the activities and fishing trips we went on.  It was important for me to raise Tegan the way I had been raised, playing in the dirt in the mountains and by the rivers.  Seven months after Tegan was born, we took her on her first bass trip. She has been on many river trips since and has grown to love the water and all critters great and small. When she saw her first steelhead at the age of one, she articulated with just a few words and pointed to the water saying, “back, back.” My heart melted.   She was already on the path of respecting and cherishing the fish and resources around her.

As a mother, I feel a responsibility to Tegan and other kids to protect the resources for the future and to teach them about the environment.  Kids are the future and next stewards.  Children need to play by the rivers and oceans and discover the ebbs and flow of life.  Growing up outdoors builds confidence and trust in our surroundings and who we are.

In 2011, I went back to my job with the Forest Service and found a job with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.  TRCP is a national organization that is working to influence federal policy to benefit fish and wildlife and public access and conservation funding.  One of our battles is keeping public lands public.  In the west, we are blessed to have endless access to rivers, mountains, hunting and fishing but there are threats from people that would like to see public lands sold to the highest bidder.  There are also threats from climate change, pollution and dams.  My home river, the Deschutes River, has been suffering from warm water temperatures and dam regulations that have turned this tailwater fishery into a river that is now warm.  The rising water temperatures are causing algae blooms and a decline in insect life.  This is altering the Deschutes River as I know it.

As the health of our watersheds and public lands decline, fish lose, we lose and our children lose.  This year it really hit me.  My life is half over.  I chose to look at the glass as half full and still have 40 to 50 years ahead of me.  I want to spend the rest of my life working to make a difference and putting my energy into collaborating with others to make that difference.  This is why I must engage and be vocal.  Change requires action, persistence and passion. I want to be a voice for the places and people that can’t speak; that are silent.   As a community, we can make a difference when we collaborate and put our energy together.

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