A special gathering of friends and family took place Thursday at Dodge City Steakhouse as Trout Unlimited honored one of its own.
“We are here to honor Bill Hooper. He got our chapter started in 1979,” said Keith Cockerham, vice president of the Stone Mountain chapter of Trout Unlimited, as he and others mingled and fellowshipped before dinner on the patio of the restaurant.
“The organization is for survival and protection of trout waters,” said Hooper. “I’ve been trout fishing for 47 years.”
The Stone Mountain chapter includes members from Surry, Wilkes, Yadkin and Forsyth counties and meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Foothills Arts Council in downtown Elkin, Cockerham explained.
“I helped organized the Winston-Salem chapter years ago,” said Hooper, adding he’s served as state Trout Unlimited secretary and on the board of directors of Stone Mountain State Park in addition to helping organize the Stone Mountain chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“Dr. Jimmy Harrell Sr. taught me to tie flies at his house in his little office,” said Hooper of how he got started fly fishing.
In attendance at Thursday’s dinner, which was a surprise event planned for Hooper, were Dick Randleman of Yadkinville and Gary Brown of Kernersville who go on an annual fishing trip with Hooper.
“We go out west, anywhere there are trout. We’ve been to Montana, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Yellowstone,” said Hooper of the few places they’ve fished.
“We started fishing together 47 years ago,” said Rick Boyd, who also was in attendance Thursday. “We started Trout Unlimited in Elkin 37 years ago, and we were involved in a lot projects. Before the land was acquired for Stone Mountain State Park, a land developer ran a bulldozer up Garden Creek 18 times, and we had to restore that. We helped clean up and reseed the damage so it wouldn’t run sediment in the creeks.”
Boyd said Trout Unlimited was part of the advisory group that helped set the regulations at Stone Mountain State Park as it was being created.
“Bullhead Creek became a trophy trout stream. Bill headed that up and we helped,” he said of the organization.
Another key focus of the group is to get youth involved not only in trout fishing, but also in the conservation and preservation efforts to protect the trout waters, said Boyd and Cockerham.
Cockerham said many, but not all, of the members are fly fishermen.
“We do stream cleanups along the Mitchell River, stream restoration, trout classroom programs with one at Elkin Middle School and others at Wilkes County schools with a release set for April.
“The chapter wants to educate the younger generation and keep the momentum of conservation going and interested in fishing in general,” said Cockerham.
He said the organizers of the group “enjoyed fishing and wanted to protect the resources they have in this area.”
The Stone Mountain Trout Unlimited group has roughly 100 members, with about 20 of those active, Cockerham said. “You don’t have to be a member to attend – just if you like fishing or are interested in conservation or tying flies, anything related to fishing.”
Each meeting the group tries to have different speakers.
Several youth have joined the group, said Hooper, naming Noah Smith, Dillon Wood, Harden Walker and Colby Jones.
Several members of Hooper’s family were in attendance for the special dinner and a surprise award presentation Thursday. He said his family includes his wife, Patsy; oldest son and family, Ken and Robin and children Mary Claire and Ellie; youngest son, Joel and wife Leslie; and adopted son, Len Hooper.
The Stone Mountain chapter of Trout Unlimited meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday at Foothills Arts Council. More information about the group can be found at www.smtu.org or on the group’s Facebook page.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.