Fly Fishing Canada is a not-for-profit organization aimed at using national and international fly fishing championships to promote issues concerning the sport as well as conservation, water quality, habitat loss, and other environmental problems.
Whenever the Olympic Games are in progress, world attention becomes focused on skilled athletes from around the globe as they compete to determine which ones will represent their country on the medals podium. Although sport fishing is not a recognized Olympic sport, 26 countries are involved with annual competitions that follow the Olympic ideal.
Shortly after the Second World War, match fishing became popular in many European and Commonwealth countries. As the number of competitions between countries increased, members of the various organizing committees realized that there would be mutual benefits by amalgamating under a single governing body. At a 1952 meeting in Rome, Italy, a confederation was formed to organize and promote international fishing championships “on the basis of friendship and understanding as expressed through the Olympic ideal.” The Confederation Internationale de la Peche Sportive (International Confederation of Sport Fishing) is comprised of four groups that represent freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, fly fishing and competitive casting championships.
Fly fishing competitions are governed by the Federation Internationale de la Peche Sportive en Mouche (International Federation of Sport Fly Fishing). Each member country may enter one team of up to eight persons in a World Fly Fishing Championship (WFFC): five anglers, one alternate, a team captain and a coach. Only the five anglers are allowed to fish during competitions. In some cases, only five persons attend with one acting as team captain.
In 1987, Jack Simpson of Etobicoke, Ontario, was contacted through the Izaak Walton Fly Fishers’ Club and asked to field a Canadian team for the 7th WFFC in England later that year. Simpson, then the owner of UMG Cable Telecommunications Inc., was well known in southern Ontario for his involvement with organizing, supporting and funding wetland conservation, river habitat reclamation, and bluebird rehabilitation projects. The challenge was accepted and he set about organizing the first Canadian team with six members from across Canada.
During the 1987 WFFC, Simpson recognized the potential that the competition had for promoting conservation. While the event had attracted fly fishers from around the world who were eager to compete for medals, there was always ample time to exchange technical information about their sport, and he noted that the discussions often turned to addressing mutual topics concerning conservation, water quality, habitat loss, and other environmental problems.
After returning to Canada, Simpson enlisted the aid of several well-known Canadian fly fishers and outdoor writers in forming Fly Fishing Canada (FFC). This non-profit organization received its charter in 1988 and Simpson became the executive director, a position he still holds. Since 1987, FFC has represented Canada every year at WFFCs held throughout the world, and also at Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships and Oceania Fly Fishing Championships.
Simpson served as the president of FIPS-Mouche from 1991 to 1997, a period during which many positive changes were introduced. In 1991, with the backing of Australia and New Zealand, Simpson led the effort that resulted in FIPS-Mouche reorganizing in order to provide a level playing field for all competitors, and to rewrite the Competition Rules to introduce the “fish-friendly” catch-and-immediate-release procedures that are now in use. He also proposed the establishment of a one-day Conservation Symposium, which was introduced at the 1993 WFFC in Kamloops, British Columbia, the first competition ever held in North America. It proved to be an outstanding success, and Conservation Symposiums have since been integral to all WFFCs. Only venues that can boast a true story of conservation, either by preserving water, creating new waters, recovering degraded habitat or regaining control over their resources, qualify to host a WFFC. Through these symposiums, many problems that plague freshwater fisheries in several countries have been addressed, often with positive results.
Prior to 2003, team selection for WFFCs was made by prospective members submitting a résumé to the executive director detailing their fly fishing experience and level of expertise. Judges from across Canada reviewed and rated the résumés, then the scores were compiled and the winners announced. Starting in 2003, Team Canada positions were awarded to the top individual contenders at the first annual Fly Fishing Canada National Fly Fishing Championship and Conservation Symposium (NFFC), which was held at Russell, Manitoba, in September 2003. The 1st NFFC was based on the same precept and time frame as a WFFC, with team and individual gold, silver and bronze medals presented to the winners. Competitors were attracted from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island to the Northwest Territories.
The 2nd NFFC was held at Montebello, Quebec, in October 2004 and the 3rd NFFC at Campbell River, BC, in September 2005. The range of competitors remained similar, with many of the same people attending all three events. The 4th NFFC was held at the Grand River watershed, Ontario in June of 2006. The 5th will be held at Grande Prairie, Alberta in September of 2007 and the 6th will be held at Mont-Tremblant, Quebec.
NFFCs have stimulated interest among anglers of all stripe in the host communities, as well as from non-fishing residents, from businesses and industry, and from politicians and bureaucrats at all levels: municipal, provincial and federal. Those who devote long, hard hours to local conservation and rehabilitation projects have found that with the media suddenly focussed on local wetlands, streams and lakes, funding often appears for various projects by those wishing to associate their name with pure water, healthy fish stocks and a clean environment. That the events have been successful is illustrated by the fact that all three host locations intend to bid for another NFFC in the future, and Campbell River may bid for a WFFC.
Despite this increased interest in fly fishing through the efforts of FFC, competitive events remain relatively unknown to most Canadians. Competitors from most countries receive financial support from their government, business or industry, or from their local fishing clubs, most of which belong to a national parent organization. There has never been any federal government monetary support for Canadian teams, and corporate support is usually in tackle and equipment, which is always appreciated. Canadian competitors have always paid all of their own expenses, and they are prepared to continue doing so until such time that outside funding in part or in total might become available.