As remembered by Dr. Jack Miller, DVM and Dario Travaini
Arizona Flycasters Club (AFC) began with an organizing meeting on January 12, 1962. It is not known just who was the spark that initiated the idea of organizing an informal group of 26 anglers interested in fly fishing. This group met only in the off season and membership at that time was by invitation only. We do know who the first group of officers was. Elected as President was C.W. (Doc) Jones, John Sandige was elected as Vice-President, Fred Weiler (at that time Director of AZ Game and Fish) was elected as Secretary/Treasurer and Art Tayler was elected as Chief Fly Caster, a title given to the officer responsible for club programs.
Prior to this first meeting an effort was made to survey several prominent fly fishing clubs to determine how they were organized and how they conducted their functions. Three organizations contacted were: Golden Gate Flycasters in northern California, Empire Flycasters in Washington State and Harvard Flycasters in Illinois. There were 24 attendees at this first meeting. We only know the names of eleven of these men.
Over the years the club has grown to over 200+ family memberships.
It may surprise you to know that the original membership premise was for “Men Only”. AFC was started as an exclusive, men’s fly-fishing club and applicants had to be approved by the Executive Committee prior to being accepted. This restriction was removed in the early 1980’s. In 1984 after serving two terms as Club Secretary, Jo Watson was elected as Club Vice-President under the enlightened leadership of President Jack Miller, DVM. Jo was an avid fly-fisher and would stay out on the San Juan longer than most club participants. One year as it grew dark, she almost missed the last bus back on the last day of the outing because she lost track of time up-river. A search party was dispatched and when found she said, “No excuse. I was catching fish and thanks for thinking of me.”
In the 1990’s a few women came and went and the woman membership was sparse and remained static. In the spring of 2000, then President Dario Travaini made a concerted effort to increase membership and to encourage women applicants. Dario made several appearances at the Desert Flycasters Club and Dame Juliana Anglers meetings and offered to welcome their members to join AFC and participate in the club’s broad menu of educational, conservation and fishing activities. AFC female membership has steadily increased as a result of this outreach, and the club’s participation in related efforts such as support of “Casting for Recovery” instituted by the Board in 2002 and supported by subsequent presidents.
Financially, the club has gone from an organization where the members donated $1.00 so a newsletter could be sent out to today’s status where the club has been able to endow a $10,000 scholarship program.
AFC has been a very active club throughout its life. It was one of the first fly fishing clubs to host a national Federation of Fly Fishers conclave in 1968. Twenty four members of the club went to Jackson Lake Lodge in Moran, WY and produced an excellent conclave that not only made expenses, but also made a profit. The “Limit Your Kill – Don’t Kill Your Limit” program was started and passed to Jack Miller. AFC carried on the program and many thousand patches, signs and decals were sold and shipped worldwide. A second FFF conclave was hosted by the AFC in 1971 in Aspen, CO.
In 1965 the club gave its first public casting class with 96 students. Since that time numerous other classes have been offered in fly tying, rod wrapping, landing net making, lanyards, personal flotation devises (PFD’s), wading and float tube safety.
In 1972, “Operation Antifreeze” was initiated. This project involved soliciting funds from concerned sportsmen, including AFC and FFF grants, and governmental and tribal funding partners. These efforts resulted in the purchase of ‘Pond Masters’, wind driven devices to keep water open and prevent winter-kill. The devices were used at Crescent Lake and later at Seneca Lake.
AFC has taken on many other conservation projects such as assisting the Forest Service and AZGF in renovation of a dam at the Lee Valley head-water to allow only native trout propagation, and the building of a Gabion dam on Mineral creek with the help of the Desert Flycasters Club. AFC has purchased aquacide and donated it to AZ Game and Fish for stream renovation, worked on fin-clipping at Page Spring Hatchery and on numerous projects to improve Canyon Creek. The crayfish and noxious weed eradication projects are on-going programs.
Club outings have been a significant part of club activities. Many members have improved their fishing techniques by attending monthly outings. Novice fly fishers learned from senior members who were happy to mentor less skilled attendees in the valuable skills acquired through their years of experience. AFC has sponsored outings ranging from the White Mountains to local bass lakes. Although the club now carpools to the San Juan River, bus outings to the San Juan River have been a success since the 1980’s. Participants stay at Abe’s motel. Fishing is done by either wading or floating in the upper reaches of the San Juan River below Navajo Dam.
The highlight of each year has been the annual banquet, which began in 1970. For many years AFC had some of the best and well-known authorities in fly fishing as guest speakers. Notables included Dave Whitlock, Lefty Kreh, Charlie Brooks, Doug Swisher, Carl Richards, Dave Hughes, Rick Hafele, Leon Martuch, Leon Chandler, Polly Rosborough, Tom Nixon, Darwin Atkins, Virginia Busek, Maggie Marriman, Michel Fong, Ed Schroeder, John Shewey, Mel Kreiger, Jim Teeny, Jay Buckner, Gary Borger, Bob Krum, Lee and Joan Wulff, Dan Blanton and Craig Mathews. These names represent the “who’s who” in flyfishing and many were legends in their own time. In addition, the Club invited Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to become a life member of AFC. She wholeheartedly accepted and graciously attended our Annual Banquet in February 2006 to accept the honor.
In 1987 the Club celebrated its 25th anniversary with a full day meeting open to the public at Turf Paradise racetrack. This facility was made available to the Club through the generosity of owner, Herb Owens an AFC member/Fly Fisherman. Guest speakers/presenters included Dave Whitlock, Tom Nix, Dan Blanton, Gary Borger and Doctor Dick Nelson. An outstanding raffle was held with a special raffle for a fishing boat, outboard motor and sonar fish finder donated to the club by a former member. Doctor Jack Miller’s daughter, Cynthia, presented a fashion show for the ladies. The models were wives of members. The celebration was concluded by a catered barbeque.
It is clear that AFC is evolving and changes it’s focus from time to time. A few may argue that some of these changes are causes for concern, however this is hard to argue in light of AFC’s continued success. One thing that we all can be certain of is that if one looks back on the history of AFC, we can all be proud to be part of this active organization – well known in the western states as a club consisting of a great bunch of folks!