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This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

The Ladyfisher

August 17, 1998

Farewell, FFF

I recently received a letter from the Federation of Fly Fishers, (FFF) a "Final Notice", that my fee to keep my "Official Casting Instructor Certification" current was past due.

A bit of background here. JC (or Castwell if you prefer) and I were among the first to be "Certified Instructors." We were proud to be part of what we then thought was a terrific way to get new people involved in fly fishing. Teach them how to cast, get some basic information on rods, reels, lines, leaders to them and get them on the water fishing.

The first people certified were asked to serve on a 'board' to help set up some kind of teaching standards across the country, to help run classes for certification of other instructors, and to share teaching methods. The idea was to improve everyone's teaching ability. We were honored to serve on that board.

The concept was great. And perhaps still is. Unfortunately it only lasted about a year.

Then certification became a political situation where who you were, whom you worked for were more important than your knowledge or ability to teach. If the person to be certified worked for a major manufacturer, retailer, or catalogue the barriers were lowered. FFF certainly did not want to insult any possible financial supporter. So the "certification" process suffered, and the losers were/are folks who might have wanted to somehow learn how to fly fish.

Before the next FFF Conclave, JC and I suggested some sort of a no-host breakfast or round table for the certified instructors attending to present their best teaching technique to share with the others. That was shot down on a purely political basis. (A company we know had offered to pay a reservation fee to a local restaurant in Livingston MT to have a breakfast function during what was normally a closed time. FFF declined since some other company might be insulted if this companies name was mentioned - like saying "Thank You" to company X for helping out.)

Just so you know we are not quitters, a bunch of the instructors did get together, without the sanction of FFF, in a motel parking lot and had our little get together.

A dollar shortage in FFF, along with ego flexing on the part of some "certified" instructors who felt they were so much better than other "certified" instructors brought a new category for "Certified" instructors. The Master Casting Instructor. Rather, I should have said MASTER.

Cost to take the test for Master Casting Instructor is $100, plus $50 if you pass. (The cost now for just "Certified Instructor" is $50 to take the test, and an additional $50 if you pass that one.) I have a memory lapse on what it was in the beginning, but I'm sure not anywhere near that. You do have to be a member of FFF to take the tests, another $29.

What wonderful advantages did having a "Masters" category bring to the average Joe out there who wanted to learn to fly fish? None. Or something great for the lesser casting instructors? Nothing.

Did anything bad happen? In my opinion, you bet! Some hard feelings among those who were certified which didn't help the program or FFF, and sadder still, those who could now call themselves "Masters" could raise their prices for teaching their classes. After all, they certainly are "Masters" - FFF says so. The potential student loses again. Not that FFF cares in the least. It makes them money!

Sitting out here on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, far removed from the politics of FFF in Bozeman MT, I probably would not have let all of that bother me too much, but the final straw came last Friday.

FFF publishes a little bulletin a couple of times a year, just for Certified Instructors, it is called the Tailing Loop. Jason Borger is the Editor. There have been some interesting articles in the Tailing Loop over the past few years, (we originally became certified instructors in 1994.)

When I read the request for articles on teaching casting by Jason Borger the hair stood up on the back of my neck and gave me absolute shivers. I can't quote it exactly - because I was so furious that I tore it up and threw it in the trash. This is very close: we would like your articles and ideas on teaching casting for the Tailing Loop, unless they are proprietary teaching methods.

What happened here? The whole bloody idea was to teach folks how to cast. To share information with the intent to improve the sport. To improve casting instruction. To bring new people into fly fishing. To improve the skills of those already in fly fishing. The best idea FFF ever had!

Proprietary Teaching Methods? Who do these puffed up, egocentric, self-centered, arrogant, elitist, holier-than-thou (and better than thou too) so-called instructors think they are? Do they have each person taking a class sign a non-disclosure and swear in blood they will never use any of "those methods" to teach their child or buddy? Or tell any living soul?

It seems someone forgot something. Sort of like the old story about it's hard to remember your job was to drain the swamp when you are up to your butt in alligators. It looks like the whole certification program forgot what the job was. It was to form a group of people, representing FFF who could go out and teach folks how to cast. PERIOD. Not to stroke their own egos, or feather their own nests, or to pump up the FFF treasury. Greed is such an ugly thing.

I choose not to be part of such a group. It is a matter of principal and ethics! JC and I will continue to teach as we always have. We will continue to do it for less than the going rate, because we feel the "usual" prices most charge are directly responsible for discouraging folks from taking a class - plus it just reinforces the elitist, rich-man's- sport image, erroneously flaunted and touted by some.

We have also choosen not to renew our FFF memberships. ~Deanna Birkholm

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