Last Cast
Our Debt to Kay

By Joe Kolupke

My stories of fishing with Kay Watkins have a simple plot: Kay invites me and perhaps two or three others to go out with him.  We head out to the Rio Grande or the Arkansas or the San Juan.  The other guys catch perhaps six or eight trout; I catch two or three; and Kay catches (and releases, I hasten to add) two or three dozen.  We all have a beer and go home.

Not that it wasn’t fun.  Everything that Kay does in fishing is fun.  My enduring image of him is from a trip to the San Juan, I won’t say how long ago.  There are five or six of us this time, all scattered along the bank of a side channel of the river.  I am flogging the water and hooking an occasional 12-incher—minuscule by San Juan standards.  I look far upstream to the head of our party, who is, of course, Kay.  Just then I seen an enormous fish jump perhaps twenty feet in front of him, and in a few minutes Kay is putting his landing net under this outlandish monster.   That image of the fisherman and his fish, rod bent to the max, silhouetted against the glitter of that fabled stream, will stay with me till my last cast—and beyond.

But, wonderful as the company of this master fisherman has been over the years, it is not his angling skill that I wish to celebrate.   The younger members of the San Luis Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited may not be aware of the fact that without the service of Kay Watkins, there probably would be no such chapter.  When I came to the Valley in the late 1980s, an earlier incarnation of the group had gone inactive.  For a couple of years I let my TU membership lapse, figuring that without a local organization to support it there was no point in continuing.   Then one day I got a notice—I don’t remember if it was a letter or a phone call—of a meeting in the old Math and Science Building (now the Art Building) on the Adams State campus.  The purpose would be to restart Trout Unlimited in the San Luis Valley.   There were perhaps twenty-five or so people in attendance.  We agreed to nominate a panel of officers and board members.  The call went up for president:  “I’ll be president!” said the loud voice of a local businessman.  And so on down the line: vice president, secretary-treasurer, membership chair, projects chair, newsletter editor.   I, being perhaps the only English major present, got the last job.

So it looked as if we were launched.  We had our first regular meeting, roughed out some plans for future meetings and projects, and set regular dates for subsequent chapter meetings.  There was only one problem: as one monthly gathering gave way to the next, our newly elected president was nowhere to be seen.   As we all know, an organization without leadership very quickly begins to drift and soon dies.  Some of us figured that SLV TU was headed for oblivion before it really got underway.

But we had done something very wise—or perhaps just lucky: at that first meeting we had chosen Kay Watkins as our Vice President.  For all of the succeeding meetings of that year, Kay was obliged to take the chair.  And very deftly, despite the awkwardness of operating from the second executive position, Kay led SLV TU to become the highly successful organization that it remains today.  Since those early days, Kay has served multiple stints as our elected president, and he has remained a member of the Board of Directors for the entire time.  Kay has given countless hours to Trout Unlimited.  There can’t be many TU chapter officers in the state or nation who have a longer or more distinguished service record.  For as long as there are anglers in the San Luis Valley, they will owe a great debt to our most dedicated leader of all in the battle to preserve, protect, and enhance the waters in this unique region: Kay O. Watkins.