Two weeks ago I made my first trip of the fall season south to the White River. October is the time of year that the pilgrimages south begin for me, and the Natural State never ceases to disappoint. This trip was something I had been looking forward to for a couple of weeks; as I was finally going to fish with some new folks and hit up the conclave between floats. It was going to be a busy as shit weekend, but it had lots of potential, and with that (and the boat in tow) I rolled out of St. Louis around 6pm on Friday night pointed towards the River Rock Inn in Mountain Home.
The plan was to hook up with Chance Maxville from the Chasing The Dream blog and Jimmy “T” Traylor from FlyFishArkansas.com and do a quick float on the White River before heading over to Conclave and checking it out. Chance rolled in from somewhere in Oklahoma around midnight and we hung out bullshitting until about 1am or so, before I headed back to my room to grab a few hours sleep. Generation was weak and we didn’t have many short float options, so we opted to float from Dam to White Hole and after dropping the boat in and running shuttle we were on our way. The fishing was slow, as we were throwing big streamers, but fish were caught although no pigs gave us any love. The morning was filled, like any good first date feeling out of a new fishing buddy, with stripper stories, beer, and political jokes. Any day in the boat with JimmyT is a good day, and Chance fit right in. Hell, we even had JimmyT on the oars for a bit (the sucker volunteered to row through Gaston’s hole…just as the wind kicked up…). We finished up about 11:30am and pulled the boat out and headed towards Conclave.
This was my 2nd time (maybe 3rd) at Conclave and I have absolutely no interest in going back. Just walking around, the average age of the attendees was close to two decades above my own age and as a 35yo, that is unfortunate. I don’t care to sit and watch fly tyers tie or take part in many of the seminars (although there were a few I would have maybe went to)……so I may be the exception; I want to meet people I correspond with over the internet for some beer, fishing, and food and try and solve the world’s problems (like why there is not a bustling adult entertainment business in Mountain Home or why the hell won’t the Corp of Engineers keep their page updated more frequently or perhaps more USGS gauges along the river to tell you where the flows are at and when). I have never been to the banquet, so I can’t offer any input on that. But as I looked around…..the place was smoky as hell from the kitchen and the hall was empty (at least on Saturday…..and it was a cold, wet day)…..I hope everyone was on the river.
I was hoping that more of the success of the Fly Fishing Film Tour would have rubbed off on the SCFFF, but it doesn’t look like it did. Make it a place where fisherman can congregate after a day on the river and toss back a few beers while listening to live music and bitching about their problems. But don’t call it a banquet……or an auction…..I won’t go to those until I get an ARP card. Why not combine it with an even like the Cotter Trout Festival. Why the heck wouldn’t they make this a Film Tour stop is also beyond me. I got in to town late on friday night and the hotel I was staying in was packed with young guys and drift boats….they were holed up in their rooms drinking and bullshitting….they were looking for a party….and had to throw their own. About midnight they walked back to their rooms with coolers in hand. For those under 40, I say conclave misses the target completely.
The issues facing the Southern Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers (SCFFF) is simple. It is member engagement. This is the same issue facing its member local clubs within the fly fishing industry and this is nothing different than what every other volunteer organization and association faces on an annual basis. Sure there may be other issues such as conveying value, identifying future leaders and leadership development, but at the end of the day membership engagement will help to solve the other issues. So the question that should be asked is, how do we get more of the members we do have involved and how do we get the younger members involved. In my past experience with a large local construction organization, the answer was simple, give members what they want. It was an organization that struggled to get 70 members to a monthly meeting, we were able to get monthly meeting attendance to over 110 members by giving them what they wanted and breaking from the mold of the association and providing them with networking opportunities and not monthly educational meetings. Suddenly, identifying future leaders of the association was easy because as the participation grew so did those willing to help because we created something they valued.
I like to bitch about things as much as the next guy, and have absolutely no interest in helping plan an upcoming event until someone can tell me what the Southern Council of the Federation of Fly Fisherman actually does for Matt Tucker. Tell me that the Southern Council FFF or the National FFF is being instrumental in having CFS Flow Gauges placed every 10 miles down the White River so anglers can get real-time flow data that means a damn, or that it was instrumental in helping establish additional smallmouth management waters, or how they have a lobbyist working towards minimum flow in the state of Arkansas? But I haven’t heard any of those things, so for me the FFF is just another organization with its hand out. About the only thing I can tell you about the FFF is that they offer fly casting certifications…………and at the end of the day fly casting isn’t fly fishing.
Secondly, it comes down to how I value my time. I am married 35yo guy with two daughters (ages 15 and 10). I am a partner in a small construction company in a midwest metro area and between work and family, I have very little time for anything else. For me, after choosing to spend time away from my family and my business, going to a “banquet” is the last thing I want to do. I have a hall pass and want to blow off some steam and fish. On Saturday night, while you a few were at the banquet, I was out at a bar living it up with about 12 others (many from the area, that chose to avoid the banquet as well). I have no incentive to plan something like this, because I will just grab my cooler of brew and find a party somewhere (I don’t need much…..but I won’t ever call it a “banquet”), but throw a party that I like a time or two and suddenly I want to become involved with it.
Sometimes the difference is in message and other times the difference is in content. Unfortunately for the Conclave I think the problem lies with both.
I can’t bitch about something, without offering up suggestions, so here you go:
- Move the location closer to a river (one of the events that does this right is Trout Fest out in the Townsend area…..just a spot on great event and set in a beautiful area) — at the fair grounds, it doesn’t even feel like fly fishing.
- Put up a beer tent / music stage with live music and tables / chairs for guys to sit in (and make sure it is going on after hours…when guys are on their way back to the hotel after fishing….hell serve up some BBQ for dinner)(you can either charge a ticket price or charge beer sales). There is a ton of great music in that area, why not help showcase it.
- Make Friday Night a FFFT event and make it outside (The Toad Fly’s approach is spot on)…you could possibly do this at the State Park (think of all the potential walk-in from campers staying in the park). Weather sucks, I get that, so if that is a concern than do it in house….but give us something to hang out for after the shows are over.
- Lose “Banquet” in the name of your Saturday night event. Nothing says “old” like “banquet”
- I am intrigued by the Casino Night event (in the construction organization I was president of, we changed our annual “Christmas Party” to a “Casino Night” and were able to increase attendance and draw new members. But it took people talking about how much fun it was to do that. The key for us was getting the alcohol flowing. Lose the sit-down-dinner, the food at any of those types of events is hardly ever very good, and provide appetizers and cocktail tables throughout the floor along with live music (DJ’s are for weddings and raves).
- Be family friendly (your future leadership has commitments to family), give the kids something to do during the day while dad is bullshittin’ with his buddies and both the kid’s and dad will want to go back next year (again, Trout Fest does this spot on). (I know it seems odd to say….make it a party….but make it something I can bring my kids to….but it can be done)
- Promote what FFF does and show value. Why is it so damn important for me to be a member of FFF (I currently am not).
- Promote the fishing and promote the fuck out of it
After saying a few hellos, Chance and I couldn’t get out of the Conclave fast enough, and Brian Wise (yeah, that Wise from Fly Fishing The Ozarks) was right behind us. As we “wadered up” (not really sure that is a phrase, but what else do you describe it) in the parking lot of the fair grounds and contemplated floating the Norfork on zero generation (I hope minimum flow starts soon), cooler heads prevailed and we floated the same stretch in the afternoon. The fishing was a little better than in the morning with Wise hooking into a good fish and getting tight on it, only to have it throw the hook. We took our time and picked up a few more fish than in the morning (all on streamers), and all in all it was another great day on the river. It was great to hook back up with Wise and to finally get on the water with Chance (something we had tried to do a few times in the past, just never been able to make it happen). We ended up pulling off the river about 7:00pm tired and exhausted, but the fun was just beginning.
We ended up heading into Mountain Home to a sports bar called The Arena to meet up with Larry Babin (Hogs On A Fly), Dominic Zametto (Two Rivers Fly Shop), Corey Dodson (Chasin’ The Dream), Steve Dally (Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher) and his wife, and a guy from Tailwaters Fly Shop out of Dallas, whose name escapes me. I can’t even begin to describe the evening at the bar. Phrases such as “Bitch don’t you know who I am”, the owner of the restaurant wanting to show me his meat (and me subsequently buying it), lots of beer, talks of motorboats, and deep conversations about the paths we are headed down filled the evening. It was the way a day on the river is supposed to end, and for that I was grateful and reset. We ended up leaving the bar around 12am and headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep; for me, it was everything the Conclave wasn’t this year and that made me happy. Early rise on Sunday morning, as I am fishing with Larry Babin and Dominic Zametto.