September 14, 2023 5 min read

We sat down with Cheeky AmbassadorScience on the Fly Director, Allie Cunningham to chat fishing, science & what's ahead. 


CF: First off, where in the world are you Allie? 

Allie: I am originally from a small town in Southeast Massachusetts but went out west for college and now live in Ridgway, Colorado.


CF: Did you grow up fishing? 

Allie: I was connected to fly fishing immediately. After annoying my camp trip-leader when I was 12 to let me fly fish with him (he was most likely trying to find alone time away from the campers), I caught a handful of backcountry Wyoming trout one evening. It was a great experience. However, I forgot all about it until I was working at the Wyoming summer camp years later. I asked my co-counselor if I could borrow his fly rod while on our backpacking trip. First cast and fish on. Then I ran with it and it has been a part of my lifestyle/career since. Years after being hooked, I found out that fly fishing is in my blood- both my grandmother and grandfather used to travel the world fly fishing. I wish I could hear their stories, but I am fortunate to have paintings and books where their fly fishing tales have lived on. 


CF: How would you describe your relationship with fishing now? 

Allie: Over the years my involvement has changed from it being a hobby, to working in the fly shop and teaching kids how to fly fish, to now protecting the rivers and telling the story of the watersheds through fly fishing and research. I'm very fortunate that I have been able to make an impact and a career out of it with Science on the Fly (SOTF)! I'm also very fortunate that I still love it as a hobby!


CF: Could you tell us more about how you got involved with Science on the Fly? 

Allie: I was the very first volunteer, had enthusiasm for the project and helped grow it to where it is today. From there it grew into a paid position to evolve from volunteer to volunteer coordinator, to my role now as director of SOTF.


CF: And did you come from a background doing this? 

Allie: Yes! I have a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, and was a field worker, hands on learning. I was already in the fly fishing industry, am an entrepreneur, and was sampling my watershed for a different company at the time that SOTF started.  I was looking to get out of the fly shop and make more of an impact - I'm an impact-focused person - who didn't believe just selling fly rods to rich white men was impactful. It was all 3 things I loved together (fishing, science, and making an impact), so it felt like the perfect fit.

CF: Could you tell us more about SOTF?

Allie: SOTF is a community science program that partners with passionate anglers to collect water samples from their watershed once a month. We utilize this data to 1) add to the data set of climate science on our watersheds and how they are changing over time and 2) influence and create policies' to better protect our rivers and make them healthy. SOTF is also a Project of the Woodwell Climate Research Center and Fishpond


CF: How does the community science program work?

Allie: We call them community scientists. A passionate angler reaches out to us interested in sampling watersheds. We onboard & designate a location to sample (one or many), and send them a sample kit (bottle, syringe, notepad, thermometer, filter) with instructions. Community Scientists use this to collect samples - they sample watersheds 1x a month, as long as they are a part of the community – and send samples back to us. 

CF: What happens with the samples sent in?

Allie: The samples get analyzed at the lab at Woodwell Climate Research Center; analyzing for nutrient concentrations and organic compound concentrations. We’re also taking water and air temperature data in sampling. All the data is put online, it’s public for folks to use. If we see a watershed we sample being affected by something, we reach out to let that area know. And we'll continue to track data to see changes over time

CF: What do you mean by 'see a watershed being affected'?

Allie: We look at short term data and long term data. Short term, we have all this data, and we track to see anything that’s happening on the watershed that’s eye-opening. If we do, we'll dig in deeper, to see how we can make them healthier (these are more typically human influenced issues, for example waste facilities, discharge, agriculture, etc.).  Long term issues are more climate related, with their trends being associated over time when it comes to concentrations of these nutrients. Consistent sampling is really key for both and important for our rivers.


CF: And what's ahead for SOTF?

Allie: Ideally we'll have a lot of data from rivers all over the country and see how the climate is affecting these rivers over time. This would give us the opportunity to actively advocate for the health of our rivers. Mitigation could include creating  better infrastructure to counteract climate intensification including removing dams. We will also be monitoring algae blooms to see if they are more frequent, anything like this we can use to make decisions to help better manage our watersheds. We want to be a part of the solution and help provide that data.

Another outcome is making anglers (and anyone who loves rivers) understand they have a voice when it comes to the health and protection of our rivers. We've noticed through data and sampling, anglers are starting to be the biggest advocate for their rivers. Everyone understands we all have a part in keeping watersheds healthy. This helps teach them they have a place in the watershed and the protection of it.


CF: That all sounds incredible - we're stoked to have you on Team Cheeky! Speaking of, what is your favorite Cheeky Reel, and what made you want to fish Cheeky? 

Allie: My favorite reel is the Launch 350 on my Scott G Series 886 with a matching Scientific Angler line. It is a match made in heaven.

Why I Fish Cheeky: I fish Cheeky because I believe in every aspect of their business. They make fly fishing more accessible and inclusive- where you don't have to spend your life savings to get into fishing. They support many conservation and non-profit projects, like Science on the Fly, as they know that we need to protect our resources so that we can continue to fly fish for years to come. Cheeky really walks the walks in all categories and I believe we need more of Cheeky in the industry!

And of course, their reels are fantastic! The drags are smooth, the reels are very durable, and they are each beautiful. Not to mention, their team is amazing!

 CF: Alright and to close it out - what's your favorite fish?

Allie:I hate favorites, but I will say that I do love the beautiful, high-alpine Colorado cutthroat. Leopard Rainbow Trout and Arctic Grayling have a special place in my heart as well. I love fishing small creeks- high alpine "creeking" -for little sipping creek cutthroat is so fun!