PROTECTING WHAT MATTERS / DAVE LASS’S STORY
Nature found Dave Lass at a young age — hooked him really.
A moment exists, a defining moment, for every person of the outdoors when you get it. A pivotal point in time when the world drops away and you realize just how special nature is. How a trickling river, boundless mountain peaks, or quiet forest can contribute to a oneness inside yourself that begins to define you and your place in the world. How small you are in our vast environments as well as the deep, lasting impact you can have either to the detriment or preservation of our natural spaces.
For Dave Lass, the moment wasn’t remarkable in the visceral sense. It wasn’t filled with existential enlightenment from sun glistening off the rumbling water around his submerged waders. It wasn’t a breath of crisp mountain air while he hooked the fish of a lifetime…it was in a classroom. As a junior in college from a well-worn seat in a lecture hall at Colorado State University, Dave watched a presentation about fish populations and the devastation of pristine river banks from over-grazing. Razed edges once filled with life now completely parched. Then he saw the after. The restoration. How working with local communities could change grazing patterns and set a course to bring back clear, habitable waters for fish and other wildlife. He knew he had to get involved. He had to give back to the natural spaces that had given him so much.
Dave had grown up appreciating the outdoors and fishing had always been a mainstay in that upbringing. Growing up in the Mount Hood area, he started like most kids, hooking worms and dunking power bait. They’d head out to catch what they could but if nothing was biting, they’d head over to the rainbow trout farm and catch stocked fish. Over the years, he saw anglers fly fishing and couldn’t get over how graceful it all looked. The ebb and flow of casting, the precision and technical skill that it took was immediately attractive to him. This wasn’t just blind luck. This was tactical. It was work to catch these fish. He remembers this moment as magical. One of those River Runs Through It moments where the half-light in the canyon highlights the water clinging to the fly line. Spray illuminating with every cast and movement. Dave was in love in only the way adolescent kids can be.
The addiction carried him through to college where on that fateful day, Dave knew it was time to put up or shut up. If he can have great experiences outdoors, he felt he owed it to other people to help provide them with the same experiences. When he graduated he made moves to start helping wherever he could. With an eye on environmental law, he managed to secure an internship with Trout Unlimited in California’s Bay Area focusing on natural resource management. A lot of his work revolved around the intersection of water rights, land, and fish habitats.
But he became disenchanted with the desk work, and eager to have a small escape from the cars and chaos of the city - Dave needed something new to figure out just exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He shelved the wayward law degree goals for warmer water, and moved to Oahu to surf, fish, and relax. Working on a catamaran and bartending, he took the time to reassess his purpose, his drive. He lasted eight whole months before receiving a call that brought him back from the tropics, right into the heart of the rivers that gave him life. Trout Unlimited was opening a new office in Truckee, offering him the chance to begin coordinating with private landowners to support creek restoration and repopulation of native fish. Dave put down the piña colada and never looked back.
He’ll tell you now, as a new father and as a steward of fishing that this is a gift you can give your kids and future generations. Giving your children things you never had will always be an honorable trope. Money, education, opportunity - but for Dave, it goes deeper. He wants to provide experience. He can take his boy, Arlo fishing now to spots on rivers that are more pristine, than they were five, ten years ago.
There was a time not too long ago, when cutthroat trout were non-existent in a local creek. They thought they’d never get them back. The process is too long, the conditions too grim. But after time, a lucky big water year, and the continued effort of Dave, Trout Unlimited, and other conservationists like him, cutthroat have found their way home where they haven’t existed in decades.
And that’s the drive. More than landing a gorgeous rainbow or netting the perfect brown, he can give his kids, his friends and their kids, something better. Something pure. Dave is taking the opportunity to shape more beautiful natural spaces. Even if he’ll just tell you it’s all an excuse to sit around sipping beer on the water.