Paul Moinester of Memphis, a former congressional staffer, is four months into a six-month fly-fishing adventure hes calling his Upstream Journey.
In what he estimates will be a 20,000-mile trek through North Americas best but often-threatened fish habitats, he is calling attention to a variety of often-local or regional environmental issues that might otherwise go unnoticed.
And hes picking up a following on blog posts and Twitter with his expertise. In some ways, hes uniquely qualified to tell fish stories.
A 27-year-old graduate of Memphis University School, a college-prep institution, and Washington University in St. Louis, where he was student body president and studied environmental science and politics, Moinester went on to win the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship and an environmental policy fellowship at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington.
From there, he took a job as a senior legislative aide to his hometown congressman, Steve Cohen, working on issues like the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, of which Cohen is one of the most vocal opponents in Congress, and other environmental and transportation issues.
The Memphis Democrat applauds Moinesters mission and says hes smart to do it while hes still young.
The office work on Capitol Hill was stimulating, but Moinester says he knew something was missing.
After 3 1/2 years of working there, I sort of realized that I needed to take a little bit of a break from the federal policy side and get out into the field and have a better understanding of how environmental issues play out on the local level, he said last week in a telephone interview from northern California.
He came up with a plan after he talked with fellow Potomac River fly fishermen. One of them was Dan Davala, 35, an expert fly fisherman and customer adviser at the Orvis store in Arlington, Va., and the founder of Tidal Potomac Flyrodders.
Im a big believer in chasing your dream, said Davala, who jumped from a career as an auto mechanic to professional fisherman five years ago.
Moinester set out to explore the habitats of Florida tarpon; western brown, rainbow and steelhead trout; and salmon in some of the most pristine and remote environments.
So far, hes fished the Florida Keys, Louisianas Grand Isle to see the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Oregon, Washington state, Idaho and Colorado.
From California, he was planning a trip into Alberta in Canada to look at the downstream impact of coal tar sand mining for oil and the Northern Gateway pipeline planned to deliver it to British Columbias Pacific coast. Hell end his travels in Alaska and return to Memphis in late August.
Moinesters journey is being financed by burning through my life savings, but is also underwritten by sponsors such as Orvis, which supplied high-end fishing gear and for which hes blogging; Patagonia, which supplied some equipment; Advanced Elements, which gave him an inflatable kayak; and the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Save Our Wild Salmon.
Trout Unlimiteds Idaho-based spokesman, Chris Hunt, said the group, with more than 400 chapters in 38 states, has been hooking Moinester up with volunteers to study local projects for making fishing better, protecting habitat and reconnecting watersheds.
Gilly Lyons, the Save Our Wild Salmon policy director based in Portland, Ore., said her coalition met with Moinester and members gave him advice or what to see and where to fish along the lower Columbia River. Theyve linked their Web pages. Lyons said its a wonderful thing hes doing calling attention to the plight of fish.
Moinesters running commentary on his own website, www.upstreamjourney.com, keeps followers aware of his adventures. Hes also on Twitter @upstreamjourney, last week telling of catching the best fish of his trip near Redding, Calif., and displaying the monster.
In Florida, he learned that pesticide-laced diesel fuel used in the 1970s to eradicate mosquitoes also devastated the marine invertebrates and bait fish that once attracted huge populations of migrating tarpon. In Oregon and Washington, he studied the decline of steelhead and salmon and the negative impact of hatchery-raised fish on their wild cousins.
He couldnt fish the Snake River in Idaho because the snowmelt made the water volume too high, but he has fished almost everywhere else, releasing every one hes caught so far, and memorializing his battles with the elusive steelhead, the fish of a thousand casts he has yet to land.
A critic of dams along the Snake River used to produce hydroelectricity and permit barge traffic, he visited the site of the former Elwha River dam in Washington state. Demolished in 2011, it opened up 70 miles of habitat behind it for salmon returning from the sea.
One of the big factors on salmon and steelhead habitat recovery is the availability of pristine habitat, he said, noting that the river above the Elwha Dam is a national park.
The trip so far has taught him that many environmental issues are local or regional but the need for habitat preservation is everywhere.
For people who are really dedicated to protecting and preserving these fish, he said, wrapping your head around how you resolve that issue (global warming) is a really complicated one.