Heath Sershen, the new director of marketing and operations at the National Trout Center, is shown with a 24.5-inch Fillmore County spring creek brown trout that was caught on a cat fur fly and released. Sershen stalked the fish for five seasons before successfully handling the fish.
Heath Sershen, the new director of marketing and operations at the National Trout Center, is shown with a 24.5-inch Fillmore County spring creek brown trout that was caught on a cat fur fly and released. Sershen stalked the fish for five seasons before successfully handling the fish.
The idiom "gone fishing" usually means that someone is clueless about what is going on around them, but for many people in Fillmore County, it is a very legitimate excuse for not being elsewhere.

For the new director of marketing and operations at the National Trout Center (NTC) in Preston, Heath Sershen has revolved most of his life around going fishing and is now working to ensure more people are aware of the local fishing industry's potential, how the NTC can help the local community, and how Preston can make it's boast about being "America's Trout Capital" an even truer statement.

Fishing has captivated Sershen, 33, since he was two and growing up in Austin. "My father taught me fishing wasn't just about catching the fish," he shared, "I fish to escape and to observe nature."

Having never gotten into competitive angling to a great extent, Sershen has instead refined his catch-and-release craft over the years, becoming an expert in artificial spin, fly and bait fishing. He picked up much of his information from his father.

"He was always encouraging me to take notes about what I was catching, where I was catching, and with what," related Sershen.

That background and natural draw to the streams in southeast Minnesota stayed with him when he and his family moved to Albert Lea when he was eight and also when he lived in Minneapolis when he went to college.

"I would come down here every weekend if I could," recalled Sershen. After testing the waters of city life at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, he decided that Winona State was a better fit for him. "I honestly went to Winona not because of the school aspect, but because of the fishing opportunities," Sershen shared, "I felt like I was in a better mental state with being closer to where I loved to fish."

While at Winona, he obtained a bachelor's degree in mass communication with an emphasis in public relations and minored in adventure travel and tourism. Working with people has interested Sershen for a while. While still at the University of Minnesota, he started a marketing and promotions company that turned into a business venture; specifically, a coffee shop. The shop has long since closed and Sershen has been able to focus and refine his communication, marketing and promotion skills for the benefit of the NTC.

Sershen was hired just after the first of the year to take control of daily marketing and program operations at the NTC. He will be making what he hopes will be vast improvements to the information systems that send the message of the NTC out to the community and nation at large.

Before joining the NTC, Sershen ran his own guide service and made a habit out of blogging about his experiences through social media and rich media content such as video. Following his note-taking skills learned as a kid, Sershen understands that more people can be reached if you focus on documenting stories and ideas, entertaining your audience, and marketing to them. Through website development, Sershen hopes to be able to create a national resource of information on trout while also being able to disseminate that information through a married web of multiple social networks.

Simply put by Sershen, "If you aren't on the first page of Google, then who are you?"

Once the information systems are running smoothly, Sershen will begin to focus more of his efforts on improving programming at the NTC and fundraising for the proposed permanent NTC building. Currently, the NTC is temporarily housed on St. Anthony Street in downtown Preston while it waits for the state legislature to vote on a bonding bill that would levy funds for the building.

Sershen envisions the NTC creating programming that could be integrated into kindergarten through post-secondary classroom settings. Therefore, establishing relationships with educational institutions is important.

Sershen is working on developing a partnership with his alma mater, Winona State, that would provide students with experiences based near the trout streams of Fillmore County. These would include winter hikes and overnight trips. Sershen hopes these experiences would give the students a better skill set they can then use in leading other groups of students through the same experience, as employees of the NTC.

In return, Sershen hopes that educational institutions would provide additional scholarly insight into the surrounding geology and stream environment. "Once that information is there, it will enhance the lore of the region and bring more people in," described Sershen who thinks the NTC is a huge asset to Preston and the surrounding communities. Increasing local awareness about the existence of the NTC has been on Sershen's mind a lot lately.

"The trout industry brings more people into the region," he stated, citing the region's unique geological that was a product of ancient glaciers never touching this part of Minnesota. Sershen is hoping that the local community starts noticing the impact that the trout and fly fishing industry has had on the area and makes the connection between that and what the NTC can do to have an even greater impact.

"I think that's the most important thing," Sershen added. "You don't realize what is here in the area until you stop and take a look."

Sershen himself has fished over 200 miles worth of streams in southeast Minnesota and has seen very few places like it in the world that can compare with the value of its natural resources. Sershen knows this from experience.

As a student, Sershen traveled throughout the world. Wherever he ended up, he made sure that he fished. When he was a summer student at the London Conservatory in Great Britain, he paid big money in order to have the privilege to fish in the Queen's Pond in London. The fish there were few and far between because of heavy fishing pressure, but the ones that were present were as long as they were wide.

When Sershen studied abroad in Costa Rica, he spent a half-day of fishing for a unique fish species called the Roosterfish. But it was in New Zealand that Sershen was able to see trout tourism at its finest.

"New Zealand has a very similar marketing strategy as us," he described, "We are the 'Trout Capital of the U.S.' while they consider themselves the 'World Capital of Trout.'"

The biggest threat the trout species are experiencing in New Zealand isn't from the anglers, but from invasive algae species that kill the eggs. Sershen believes that what Preston has is just as valuable a national resource as New Zealand's.

With his world view, expert understanding of fish ecosystems, and marketing management skills, Heath Sershen is looking forward to build lasting partnerships between the NTC and businesses, educational institutions and people from abroad and locally. Beginning after the winter season, the NTC will be open longer hours and more days during the week. There are also plans to expand the popular nine-hole angling course along the Root River.

Sershen also mentioned that the NTC will be open during the winter season starting next year. He has been coming to the Preston area for 30 years to fish and Sershen now wants to "bring people to Preston" so they can experience the "America's Trout Capital" for themselves.

If one would like to stay up-to-date on the NTC's programs and events, visit the NTC on Facebook at facebook.com/NationalTroutCenter as well as Twitter at twitter.com/NationalTrout.