WFFC History

A Short History of the Team Fly Fishing Concept
by Robert H. Jones

In November 1991, I covered the 11th World Fly Fishing Championship in Rotorua, New Zealand, as a journalist. As I had been involved with Fly Fishing Canada since its formation in 1987, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall experience, especially the camaraderie that developed among the participants from 17 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, USA, and Wales.

Although New Zealand is world famous for its abundance of large rainbow and brown trout, it was hard to tell during the WFFC. Rather than give anyone an unfair advantage, organizers had made it equally difficult for everyone. None of the Rangitaiki River beats included pools, runs or riffles; instead, competitors had to fish the flat, uninspiring water flowing between them. While luck of the draw decided each competitor’s beat, everyone agreed that the most knowledgeable and hardest-working anglers were the ones who coaxed occasional trout to their flies.

Each team member fished four venues over the three-day competition: one day each on the Rangitaiki River and Lake Aniwhenua, and a half-day each on Flaxy Lagoon and Whaeo Canal. Lake Aniwhenua was the only location where boats were used. While driving from venue to venue, it quickly became obvious that the real competition was still strictly between individual anglers and the trout.

When the dust finally settled, New Zealand had barely squeaked into first place over Poland, England was third, and Canada placed 10th.

After the event I interviewed each member of Team Canada. The team captain was Dr. Martin Lamont of Comox, BC, who had fished all five previous competitions. When I asked what had attracted him in the first place, he replied, “I thought of it as a new fishing experience and fell into it quite easily. England was a real eye-opener. It made me realize that our technical capabilities -- with regard to fly fishing -- are very deficient. We don’t have any genuine, grassroots interest in fly fishing. There is no Canadian publication specifically aimed at our group, so technically, we are not reading about innovative techniques or alternative approaches to problems. Also, we have no great gurus of fly fishing, whereas the English revere their champions. By competing, we have learned techniques and tricks that the average Canadian anglers aren’t aware of.”

(Author’s note: We now have an excellent national publication in The Canadian Fly Fisher.)

Another BC competitor was well-known angler and fly tier Tom Murray, who then lived in Nanaimo. Although it was his first WFFC, he placed 39th out of 85 in the overall ranking, and like his team members, Murray was upbeat and positive about the event. “This was absolutely the first time I have ever fished in a competition -- and I enjoyed it. There was an evening factor all the way through the process, so nobody at any time got water that was better than anybody else’s. It was the luck of the draw and the time of the day, so nobody had an advantage. If you were a good fisherman, you did well.

“Some of us came over early and did very well before the competition, because we could choose the best water to fish. That was the thing about the competition -- it wasn’t the best water, so it was tough slugging. However, it was fun and I’d do it again.”

Paul Marriner, then of Munster, Ontario, was attending his fourth consecutive WFFC. He originally entered the 1988 Tasmanian competition in order to see a new part of the world that interested him. “I wouldn’t enjoy competitive fishing every weekend, like the English do,” he said, “but for once a year it’s a lot of fun and you meet a lot of very interesting people. In addition to visiting new places, over the years I have learned a lot from fishermen from other countries. They are enjoyable experiences, so I intend to stay involved.”

Dale Freschi, then of Yellowknife, NWT, considered joining the 1991 team a once in a lifetime experience. “I really enjoyed the competition, but it was tough. I’d never done it before, so it was all relatively new, but the camaraderie and spirit of the event was quite good -- all the countries up there singing their national songs was excellent, I really enjoyed it. I would have no hesitation in entering another competition.”

Although John Huff of Wakefield, Quebec, was at his first WFFC, he placed a very respectable 11th in the individual rankings. “In retrospect,” Huff said, “this whole experience has been very positive. There was good camaraderie, and by getting here a few days early we had a chance to develop some very good team chemistry. I started out with some philosophical problems about competitive fishing, but they are resolved and I’ll enter again.”
Jack Simpson, the founder and executive director of Fly Fishing Canada, was also present in his role as president of the Federation Internationale de la Peche Sportive en Mouche (International Federation of Sport Fly Fishing). I asked how he responded to anglers who feel there is no place in fly fishing for competition.

“I tell them they are wrong, because Canadian fly fishers are disorganized,” he replied. “Competitions provide a focal point that will bring them together to exchange technical information about the sport, but also to address problems concerning conservation, water quality, habitat loss, and other environmental problems.

“Each WFFC has provided a chance to learn something new, and to exchange valuable ideas and information. For example: a fairly recent problem in New Zealand is an aquatic weed called ‘water net.’ As it spreads, water quality is degraded seriously and fishing opportunities decrease -- and might even be eliminated. It’s similar to our problems with zebra mussels in Ontario, and yours with milfoil in BC. By exchanging information, we might someday be able to control or beat them, which is why so much emphasis is being placed on the international water conservation symposium that will accompany the 13th WFFC at Kamloops in 1993.”

(Author’s note: Conservation Symposiums have since become an integral part of the WFFCs. In addition, provincial fisheries biologists involved with the Kamloops event developed a type of release tray that continues to be used in all competitions.)

In the 15 years since those interviews were conducted, all six men went on to attend more championships, and some are still at it. I mention this because now that we are holding FFC National Fly Fishing Championships and Conservation Symposiums (NFFC), there are still people who question the integrity of competitive fly fishing. I merely point out to them that the passage of time has proved that the WFFCs are beyond reproach, and the NFFCs have followed with the same strict regulations with regard to governing tackle requirements and the immediate release of all fish after they have been recorded. A few have decided to participate, albeit begrudgingly, and in virtually every case they have gone on to become some of our staunchest supporters. It’s truly amazing what a little enlightenment does when it is blended in with friendship, excitement, and a healthy dollop of fun.

Among my friends and acquaintances are an even dozen who have competed at several WFFCs and Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships, or attended in support roles as team captains, coaches, alternates, fly tiers, or simply observers. Most have since become involved with the NFFCs, either as competitors or in supporting roles. One need only listen to their reasons for attending to determine that while the actual competition is important, they thoroughly enjoy the overall experience. The events are structured to ensure that there is ample time for participants to socialize, visit, swap flies, exchange information, or try to outdo each other with outrageous stories about those big ones that got away. And, in many cases, to plan future fly fishing trips together, for many lifelong friendships have been formed over the years at these competitions.

Just as the Conservation Symposiums are highlights at the WFFCs, so they have become at the NFFCs. It’s now a proven fact that habitat and environmental problems in one place often relate to other areas. The fish might be of a different species, and the rivers might flow in different directions towards the oceans, but the problems created by pollution, destruction of habitat, degradation of environmental conditions, or over-fishing all have similarities that might be resolved by implementing success stories from elsewhere.

Although the emphasis at WFFCs is on team participation, this is not the case at the NFFCs. Because the team concept is still relatively new to Canadian fly fishers, competitors need not be on an organized team in order to attend a NFFC; in fact, individual participation is encouraged. Some individuals enter into correspondence and form teams prior to the event, while others wait until they arrive and have a chance to meet and feel each other out before making a commitment. Then they can form teams on their own, or be appointed to a team by the FFC organizers. During the 1st NFFC in 2003, the bronze medal-winning Double Hauls consisted of two Newfoundlanders and three British Columbians who met at the event. This was repeated at the 4th NFFC in 2006, when individual competitors from various provinces formed Team Grand and walked off with the bronze medal.

So, although there is a medals competition between teams that are in attendance, they need not be formal teams. By the same token,
each competitor is judged solely on his or her personal performance, and the individual medals are awarded accordingly.

As mentioned elsewhere in this web site, competitive fishing has long been popular in many European and Commonwealth countries. This includes match fishing with bait for so-called coarse fish like carp, tench, rudd and bream; saltwater fishing for various bottom fish species; and fly fishing, usually for trout, char, grayling or whitefish. Local or club teams fish in competitions to become regional team members, which in turn fish in competitions to become national team members. These are the teams that eventually go to the various world championships to represent their country.

Making it onto a national team in a given country is accomplished only by beating the best anglers, so the competition can be stiff. As a result, the teams at each level are held in high regard, and they are every bit as well known and publicized as other sports teams. As such they receive funding from their home clubs, the fishing tackle industry, corporate supporters, plus regional and national governments.

It was originally hoped that within a five-year time frame, regional and provincial fly-fishing teams might become equally as well known here in Canada, and that the NFFC would become the bridge toward representing our country at the WFFCs. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. Several NFFC winners have since gone on to represent Canada at WFFCs, but media coverage has remained within the realm of national outdoor publications like Outdoor Canada and The Canadian Fly Fisher (which is always appreciated), and in regional and local newspapers, radio broadcasts, and television coverage (which is also appreciated). The interest is growing, however, so it should all eventually fall into place.

In the meantime, it is gratifying to note that of the original group of 30 competitors (6 teams) who attended the 1st NFFC at Russell, in the Manitoba Parkland, over half showed up at the second event in Kenauk, Quebec, the following year, where 35 entrants formed seven teams. Of those, 22 appeared at Campbell River, BC, where 10 teams were formed by 50 competitors. Ten teams were also fielded at Fergus-Elora, again with many familiar faces among the entrants, several of whom were attending their fourth NFFC. Now, as the 2007 NFFC is shaping up at Grande Prairie, Alberta, it is equally as gratifying to see so many familiar names appearing on the registration roster, and so early in the game. So many, in fact, that the FFC and local organizing committees have agreed to raise the maximum number of competitors from the original target of 60 to 80, hoping to avoid disappointing any new teams or individuals who might wish to attend. All indications are that the 5th FFC National Fly Fishing Championships and Conservation Symposium will break all previous attendance records. Time will tell....