MIDDLEBURY — On most days of the week, Michael Beachy can be found casting his fly-fishing rod across the Little Elkhart River, where he has spent more than a decade creating a suitable habitat for his favorite fish.
“Some of my earliest memories of fishing have been on the Little Elkhart River,” said Beachy, president of the Little Elkhart chapter of Trout Unlimited. Beachy helped found the chapter out of his affinity with the Little Elkhart River and his deep appreciation for trout.
“It’s a beautiful fish,” said Beachy. “They just look pretty, they fight hard, and they’re rare for around here.”
Beachy, a dentist, maintains and grooms the Little Elkhart River by organizing volunteer labor and working with state and local legislation to make sure trout won’t remain a rarity.
Beachy says that he feels that his work on the Little Elkhart River is “something that I can do that really makes a difference. It’s a part of who I am.”
In 1963, his father, Larry Beachy, caught the Indiana state record brown trout, which weighed in at 7.25 pounds and was 25.5 inches long.
“I was 6 years old when he caught that,” Beachy recalled, “and ever since then that was my goal.”
Beachy’s father and grandfather were both avid trout fishermen and because of them he feels that taking care of the Little Elkhart River is his responsibility.
In a discussion that Beachy had with Jim Phillips, who was at the time the outdoor writer for the Goshen News, the two developed a plan for what they knew would be “an uphill battle on many different levels” in 2003.
What they wanted was a year-round trout fishery. Until that time, “In Indiana the trout fishing season was over in a three- to four-week period,” Beachy said.
In order to achieve a permanent trout population, they knew it would require a designated catch-and-release zone of the river, which would prohibit fishermen from keeping what they catch and ban the use of live bait.
The state restocks rainbow trout every year on the last Saturday in April. Because of the conditions of the river in 2003, trout rarely survived the high temperatures and low oxygen levels of the water as the summer heat blazed on.
A year-round trout fishery, Beachy said, was dependent on the more resilient brown trout since rainbow trout were “problematic in our marginal trout habitat.”
“We contacted all of the trout fishing clubs, fly fishing clubs, the city of Middlebury, and everyone who might have influence about our idea in an effort to bolster support,” he said.
As Beachy tried to push the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to establish a catch-and-release section on the Little Elkhart River, his proposals were dismissed.
However, as multiple state departments suffered massive budget cuts in 2005, the DNR reconsidered the proposal, which Beachy said “fit right in with the program — something new that didn’t cost the state a dime.”
In 2005, Beachy and Phillips formed the Little Elkhart River Association, which was an independent group of trout fishermen that wanted to improve the trout fishery on the Little Elkhart River. Almost two years later, LERA became the Little Elkhart chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Joining Trout Unlimited brought quite a bit of support, but Beachy said that, most importantly, “We get name recognition. Most outdoorsmen know about Trout Unlimited.”
Of an estimated 360 chapter members, 15 meet monthly to discuss renovation plans, organize events and report what they’ve seen on the river. For Beachy, his work developing LECTU and the Little Elkhart River has been very rewarding.
“To get in on the ground floor of a project,” he says, “make it work, and then see it actually happen. It just charges you up.”