Are Fly Fishing Clubs Headed to Extinction? An Outsider’s Editorial Opinion

| August 12, 2014

texas fly fishing clubs #flyfishing

PREFACE – Across the board, it’s easy to see the impact of modern times (technological innovation) on North American club structures; waning participation, aging members, loss of membership, and a leadership adrift in a sea of change with no safe port and storm clouds close on the horizon. To be clear, I’m not just talking about fly fishing clubs. Take a look at our most commonly known unions, like the AFL-CIO, teacher’s unions (outside Texas of course) and other high profile organizations with much higher stakes than a fly fishing club – local or national or international. These unions (“clubs”) are in a much bigger game of power, politics and money. And now they too see a steady erosion of their prominence, bargaining power and membership. This editorial is intended as a cautionary tale – for those of you new to the fly experience, and it is intended to be (part of) a roadmap for clubs to find their way back to viability in the 21st. Century.

Make no mistake, fly fishing clubs certainly are valuable to so many fly fishers, and even non-fly fishers. They have the ability to share fantastic information, bring together people of all ages with a common interest, and do great good for the sport, the environment and overall awareness about the sport. Fly fishing clubs, at their best, use fly fishing to raise awareness about conservation, the outdoors and emphasize exposing new people of all ages to the sport.

The social value of clubs to members cannot be calculated. The undeniable aging of the fly fishing club membership population means that a good number take solace in sharing the happiness that fly fishing brings them, and have a safe place to share the the sadness of lost members, and even lost spouses. This safe haven for such weighty worldly woes has two sides to it as you will read later*.

Generally, the modern fly fishing club and supporting organizations are a grass roots-up style of of club structure where local clubs are part of a larger regional structure, and that in turn, is part of a national organization. Typically, the locals are doing good things on an ongoing basis while being blasted by falling memberships, and an increasing disconnect from the younger generations which are the future of the sport and hence the respective clubs. Local clubs can also suffer from “balkanization,” as different groups within the club form cliques that have their own fly fishing agendas, pursuits of power, pursuits of good and selfless acts. My experiences make me believe that there are no distinctions of race in these cliques, but there can be gender, age and ability cliques. *Age is the biggest balkan-izer at work these days. As with any animal pack mentality, the elders (through their worldly experiences / sharing / success / loss) pretty much stick together for “safety” and familiarity we crave as we age.

For someone like me, an outsider who has never been a club type, never known what “points of order” are, and never “seconded” a motion, my motivation for delving into the club life was never to become the president, or even be much above the radar in clubs I have been part of. For clarity, virtually my entire life has been spent in recreationally “solo” sports since playing high school basketball in a highly racially charged high school setting. It’s no wonder my DNA bias about clubs can be called into this discussion.


At the national level, organizations like Trout Unlimited (TU) have a fine record of activism in behalf of coldwater fish – their environs and sustaining membership in cold water trout clubs. Their National publications, website, outreach, fund raising, public relations – all have been modernized (to the extent of not alienating the elderly) greatly in the last ten years. I have no idea what their “corporate” structure and pay is for those employed by TU, but these jobs aren’t exactly falling off the trees these days. Envy? Sure. Willing to relocate? Sure. Have waders, will travel. But it’s easy to see that here in Texas, where one of the most popular bumper stickers we see is “Come And Take It,” that we have an individual idealism (outside Austin and surrounds) that can have us looking at TU as a distant political entity that really has only one interest in the entire State of Texas. So why join? Why be a lifer as I am? More on that later.**
Here is the latest Financial Statement for Trout Unlimited, officially a non-profit organization. If this organization were a publicly traded stock, I would “hold.”

Another club, the International Federation of Fly Fishers, or IFFF, has a dominating interest in fly casting, a sizable budget committed to their administration and a steadily declining membership. Typical of so many organizations, the response to their woes, and what I call the demographic train wreck dead ahead, has been reactive, unimpressive and generally backward looking. That goes for the use of words like “conclave,” which should be banned, their dreadful publications (even videos and pamphlets on fly casting), their website and total unresponsiveness (at the National level) to my personal dissatisfaction about some of the paid services I used on their website. I don’t know if my dues are current for the IFFF, or even for local Fort Worth Fly Fishers (now an IFFF charter club), but they certainly have been – until now. More on that later.** Here is the latest Annual Report for IFFF 2013, officially a non-profit organization. If this organization were a publicly trated stock, I would rate a “strong sell.” Full disclosure: I am or have been a member of Fort Worth Fly Fishers, the IFFF, built the Texas Council IFFF website for free, and am a member of Texas Women Fly Fishers currently. That last club stands out as one that I recently joined, and am looking forward to learning more about in the immediate future.

One other club that I am a “current” member of is the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), which I have been in and out of for the last few years. I define “in and out of” in this case – as a dues paying member. I have never attended a single local meeting, or much else, except have an image or two published in their magazine. If you live in Texas, and go fly fishing on saltwater, it’s impossible to miss the presence of this organization. The CCA is not exclusive to fly fishers, and has a much, much larger conventional fishing membership that makes all their fund raising, environmental project, political activities, makes all this and more – much easier for the Texas fisherman to relate to, get behind and fund with elbow grease and money. I am finding much more outreach by the local CCA chapters at events like the Tailwaters Annual Birthday Bash, but make no mistake; conventional fishing dominates their agenda. And that slows down participation of someone like myself, much less knowledgable advocacy. As a distinct individual looking at this organization, I must say they (the CCA) express their positions, goals and needs directly and without any semantic shading. The Texas CCA certainly has had a greater impact on the Texas fly fishing experience than any other fishing organization mentioned, and wields noticeable political might and money. CCA is a non-profit organization. The financial report I found is here CCA Charity Rating. If this organization were a publicly traded stock, I would “hold,” and buy on the news. I’ll be spending a lot more time getting to know this organization in the future – if they let me in the door.


** Many of us join clubs shotgun style when we first come into any new obsession, looking for more of the fellow obsessed, to in this case, smoke our 9-foot crack pipes (fly rods for the new readers among you) as a group thing. For any new fly fisher reading this, as always, I hope you learn from my mistakes. If you are new to fly fishing and want to join a club for any reason, I suggest you “try some on for size” first. There are no rules I know of that prohibit someone interested in joining a local club from attending meetings before joining. I suggest a year of attending events and meetings before you commit anything more than dues to a local club. In that time you will get the opportunity to quietly get the pulse of the organization, and your own pulse for God’s sake!

Then, ask yourself a few questions, like: Do I play well with others? Does this organization play well with itself? Does it play well (outreach) with others? Do they have compatible goals as a group that I have as an individual fly fisher and human being? Do they have any goals other than fundraisers? Is the organization being properly managed – top down? Does that matter to me?

Don’t be like me. Take your time before committing your skills and talent (all of which have monetary market value) to any organization. Dues are one thing (more or less), but when you find yourself investing in, even raising the value of, a stock … what do you do?

UPCOMING – Are Fly Fishing Clubs Dead? Part 2 – Kill or Cure the Patient
In the conclusion to this editorial; I’ll tell you exactly what is going on with fly fishing clubs, and why they are headed toward a slow extinction. I’ll also offer dramatic (to the old folks) solutions to cure club’s woes and head off the “demographic train wreck” that awaits down the tracks.

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Category: Culture on the Skids

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