By Skip Hosfield
This is a question we often hear among club members when they are approached to join the Federation. I suppose it is an attitude to be expected in an age when fly fishing has expanded far beyond anything imagined by those of us who helped to found this international fraternity of fly fisher’s. Speaking as one who served many years in membership development, at both the regional and national level, I shall try to provide a response to this question.
Anyone who was not already a fly fisherman in 1965 when the FFF was founded cannot really know the nature of the world of fly fishing at that time. I have been a fly fisherman all my life. My father was a fly fisherman and I learned it from him, as most people did then. I moved to Oregon in 1958 and I never met another local fly fisherman until the McKenzie Flyfishers was started in 1964.
There were obviously lots of them around, but they didn’t advertise or proselytize. Unless one had a relative or friend who was a fly fisherman, chances are there was no opportunity to learn. Prior to the founding of the McKenzie Flyfishers there was only one fly fishing club in Oregon – the Flyfishers Club of Oregon. Unless you are a member of the Portland business or professional community you have little chance to enjoy the fellowship of other fly fisherman.
Those of us who were fly fishing in 1964 were such a small part of the sport fishing world that we did not even exist in the eyes of those who made our laws and managed our angling resources. There were no magazines devoted to fly fishing. There were very few books written about fly fishing. You had to be living in a major city in order to have access to a fly fishing shop. If you were a fly tier, you were probably self-taught from basic instructions in one of the three or four fly fishing books in print at the time. And you had to order your materials from catalog descriptions. The really accomplished fly tiers were rare, and most of those were tying professionally full or part-time, and typically they jealously guarded their methods.
Fly rods and tackle in general had changed very little for fifty years. After World War II fiberglass rods were being manufactured but that technology was in its infancy. The big tackle boom was in spinning rods and reels which originated in Europe. Fly fishing was such a small specialized market that it comprised a very small part of the production of the major fishing tackle manufacturers.
All this began to change in 1965. The FFF was founded for the purpose of getting fly fishing clubs linked together in common purpose to promote fly fishing as a favored method of angling and to give fly fishermen a unified voice in the management of our angling resources. Its leaders adopted Lee Wulff’s maxim that, “A good game fish is too valuable to be caught only once.” The FFF waged the fight to establish the principle of catch-and-release.
Another purpose of the FFF was to publish a magazine devoted entirely to fly fishing. No publisher was willing to risk a publishing venture on a market presumed to be so small. With the publication of The Flyfisher in 1968 we had the first magazine exclusively for fly fishing. After the FFF had shown what the potential market could become, commercial fly fishing magazines began to appear.
When the McKenzie Flyfishers organized the original Conclave of Flyfishers in 1965 they established the paradigm for all FFF conclaves which have followed. It would be based on education, information sharing and outreach. It would finally shatter the shell of exclusivity which surrounded this sport in the public mind. The most famous and revered anglers in America would come to these annual gatherings and freely give their time and knowledge. The fly tying demonstrations at FFF conclaves soon attracted tiers from everywhere. Tiers which had been working in isolation for many years were soon coming into contact with one another and sharing methods and ideas. This initiated a fly tying renaissance which continues to this day.
From the nucleus of a dozen or so clubs represented at the first conclave, FFF members have gone out and organized many hundreds of fly fishing clubs throughout the United States, Canada and many other countries throughout the world. The growth of FFF during the 1970s brought forth a corresponding growth in the fly tackle industry bringing an exponential increase in the availability and quality of fly fishing tackle of all description. This growth has been paralleled in the publishing industry which now churns out more magazines, books and videos than anyone could have imagined forty years ago.
Anyone engaged in fly fishing today has benefited in many ways from what the FFF has done and continues to do. The availability of high quality and relatively inexpensive equipment in an astonishing range of choice would not be possible without the growth of the sport which the FFF has fostered. Your fly fishing club would most probably not exist if not for the FFF. The proliferation of fly fishing shows is mostly the result of FFF activity to promote the sport and extend knowledge. Anyone who has attended the Northwest Fly Tyers Expo has the FFF to thank for the experience.
If you fish in Oregon, you can thank the FFF for the fact that efforts to eliminate all regulations restricting certain waters to fly fishing were defeated by the Oregon Council, FFF. If you enjoy the improved fishing on catch-and-release waters, you owe it to the FFF. The fact that fly fishing is now taken quite seriously by the ODFW is the result of efforts by members of the Oregon Council.
In conclusion, when asked by someone what the FFF does for him, turn the question around and ask him what he is prepared to do to continue the work of those who have gone before him, and who created the improved climate for the sport he enjoys today. The very least one should do is to join the organization and thereby help to build a strong membership base which will enable the FFF to remain a strong force in conserving, restoring and educating through fly fishing.