Fly fishing remains an underdog in the South. We favor skill-negating gadgetry, obscenely powerful boats with ridiculous metal-flake paint jobs and names like (I'm guessing) The Bassassinator, and flashy tournaments that are essentially NASCAR for the angler world. But this could quietly change with the efforts of Mid-South Fly Fishers, a Memphis-based organization of 700 members (incorporated in 1977) that holds a little-known distinction: It is the largest fly-fishing club in America.
Numbered are the days of the sport as a long-reputed insular society of obsessives turning down their noses at any other form of fishing. With the hosting of the Home Waters Expo (along with Germantown Parks and Recreation) at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre this weekend, MSFF hopes to broaden awareness of fly fishing as an increasingly accessible sport, open to those of all incomes. "People have often thought of fly fishing as a gentleman's sport that required a lot of money," says Mike Isom, vice president of MSFF. "Now you can get into fly fishing for around $200. Ten years ago, it would have been $1,000."
Casual observers almost always associate fly fishing with cold, moving water and target fish being trout or salmon. Actually, you can fly fish for just about anything. "A five pound bass on a fly is just as exciting as a five pound trout. With sinking lines and other advances, we can fish the bottom just like everyone else," Isom explains.
"You could take a full month and still not fish all of the ponds, lakes, and watersheds in the Memphis area," Isom says. "Shelby Farms in particular is a great place to fish." In fact, MSFF is "sponsoring" Beaver Lake, one of the park's larger ponds, by clearing out the brush that runs along the eastern shore.
The Home Waters Expo '06 has dual focuses: introducing fly fishing to newcomers and promoting fishing in the warm waters of Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and the Gulf Coast. Rod and reel manufacturers, fly-tying experts, casting experts, fishing guides, regional and national vendors, additional conservation organizations such as the Wolf River Conservancy, regional fly shops, and fishing lodges will be among the attractions. Highlighting all of this will be the appearance of two legends within the world of fly fishing: Lefty Kreh and Cindy Garrison.
It's possible that every outdoor magazine in existence has at some point carried Kreh's byline during his 45 years of writing. He was the outdoor editor of The Baltimore Sun, has penned several books, and is an accomplished nature photographer. With a place in the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and with several prestigious awards under his belt (Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Sportfishing Association, to name one), Kreh has fished wherever there are fish.
Garrison belies her age (34) with an outdoor resume that seems the stuff of grizzled elders. After a stint of ski instructing and guiding fly-fishing trips in Alaska in her early 20s, Garrison settled in Africa for several years where she founded Safari Anglers, a guide company for anglers seeking one of fly fishing's holy grails, the African Tiger Fish. When ESPN2 was looking for new locations for its series In Search of Fly Water in 2002, Garrison was hired as a guide when the show filmed in Botswana. She was subsequently asked to host the renewed 2004-2005 season of the show and, beginning this month, will be hosting her own outdoor adventure program, Get Wild With Cindy Garrison!.
Garrison illustrates another attraction of fly fishing that other forms of angling most certainly lack: gender balance.
"It seems that at least 50 percent of our members, and fly fishers in general, are women, and if you take any fly-fishing situation with men and women, the women will out-fish the men," Isom says. He goes on to relate an anecdote in which a close friend is always stretching the truth with regard to the number of his catches. The wife doesn't bother, Isom says, "and you can bet that she caught 20 more fish than her husband."