Bryan Burroughs has been fascinated by fish — and fishing — since he was 5 years old. The 38-year-old fisheries biologist recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as the executive director of the Michigan chapter of Trout Unlimited, a job he’s still pinching himself about holding.
“It’s a privilege to have the job I have,” he said. “It’s an organization of people who are passionate about stewardship, who fully accept that it’s their responsibility to take care of the resources.”
And it’s a great fit, too; Burroughs grew up 75 yards from a trout stream in New Hampshire. He came to Michigan 17 years ago to study at Michigan State — where he earned his Ph.D. — and has no plans to leave. He’s been enamored with Michigan’s fisheries since he was young because the local PBS station picked up Michigan Outdoors, and it was only natural he’d want to study at one of the best-regarded fisheries schools in the country. His personal angling experiences here only have reinforced that feeling.
A national cold-water conservation group founded in Michigan in 1959, the state chapter of Trout Unlimited has grown steadily since Burroughs took the helm. But he makes no boasts about his role in that growth, deferring credit to his members who do everything from on-stream habitat improvements to advocating for state policies that would improve the cold-water resources of Michigan. Protecting and improving habitat is what TU is all about.
“It was founded at a time when the DNR (actually, the Department of Conservation, at the time) was spending all of its money on hatcheries to meet the anglers’ demand for trout,” Burroughs said. “The (TU) philosophy’s always been, take care of the habitat, and the fish can take care of themselves.”
Burroughs says there’s something different about his job every day, from raising funds for habitat projects to surveying trout stream habitat. He prefers being in boots to wearing a tie.
It’s a privilege to have the job I have. (Trout Unlimited is) an organization of people who are passionate about stewardship, who fully accept that it’s their responsibility to take care of the resources.
— Bryan Burroughs
Married to a woman (Jordan) who is a wildlife outreach specialist at MSU, Burroughs says spending time with his family outdoors is a top priority. He takes his 8-year-old son (Bryson) and 5-year-old daughter (Marin) afield as often as possible.
“We make time for it,” he said, “It’s important to us as a family.”
The Burroughs live on a small parcel of land just outside of Lansing with a pair of Labrador retrievers (Coal and Rip) but try to spend every other week at least three seasons a year at the family cabin on the Pine River in Manistee County. It was near where he did his graduate work on the effects of dam removals. He bought the dilapidated one-room cabin — with neither power nor running water — and uses it for a base camp for hunting and fishing throughout the Manistee River watershed.
People who know him attest to his ardor. “He’s very knowledgeable and passionate about natural resources,” says Christian LeSage, a DNR fisheries biologist who’s known him since grad school and serves on a committee with him.
Trout Unlimited often is viewed as elitist — all about fly fishing and no-kill — but Burroughs is the opposite; he hunts and fishes for about everything.
“I do a lot of crappie and bluegill fishing and a decent amount of trolling the big water for salmon, steelhead and lake trout,” he said. “I’m pretty serious about catfishing — for channel cats — and about once a year, I like to take a trip for flatheads. But really, trout fishing seems like home.”
Bob Gwizdz is a career outdoor writer who works for the Department of Natural Resources and lives in East Lansing.