“Rusty” was a conservationist, fly-fisherman, and author. But, he may be best known as a tireless champion for environmental justice. Rusty Gates was also nearly synonymous with Michigan’s Au Sable River, a river system he championed like no other. From his great example, riverkeepers everywhere can learn the meaning of advocacy. As a result of his efforts, he forged the path taken by countless catch and release proponents who followed in his footsteps.
Rusty Gates was a moving force in a campaign to establish catch and release rules on the stretch of the main stem of the Au Sable River. The issue became contentious, dividing even the Michigan chapters of Trout Unlimited, so, in 1987, Rusty founded a new organization called the Anglers of the Au Sable and served as its president until his death. Anglers of the Au Sable turned the tide in support of the no-kill policy. His new organization next took on other issues, such as oil and gas exploration, chemical pollution, and a threatened expansion of nearby Camp Grayling, Michigan’s National Guard training camp. For those and other efforts, Fly Rod & Reel magazine named Rusty Gates “Angler of the Year” in 1995.
In 2003, Gates led a challenge to a US Forest Service lease allowing exploratory drilling for gas below the wilderness section of the South Branch of the Au Sable, and despite incredible odds, changed the business of gas and oil exploration near Michigan waters forever. As with catch and release, Rusty’s energetic example of pressing onward until the conservation battle is won, established a model of determination for all to follow.
Tom Rosenbauer once wrote, “Of all the strong conservationists in our world, Rusty was one of the toughest. He was tireless, and he was like a missile in his precision and deadly accuracy”.