Old-World Fly-Fishing Club Comes to the American West

Flyfishers' Club in Denver

Gordon Wickstrom reads a letter of greetings from the Queen of England to the
gathering at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver.

photo courtesy Gordon M. Wickstrom

In August, out of the blue, I received an invitation from my friend (and sometime contributor of
historical musings
to this blog) Gordon Wickstrom, who lives in Boulder. Here’s what it said:

G. William Fowler and Gordon M. Wickstrom
The Flyfishers’ Club
Are Pleased to Announce
the first
Flyfishers’ Club Dinner
In The United States
The Brown Palace Hotel
in Denver
The Evening of September Thirteen, 2012
The matter of the evening shall be to consider the future of sport fishing.
Speaking to the issue will be
Anders Halverson
Prize winning author of
An Entirely Synthetic Fish:
How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World
With a response from
Harry Briscoe
CEO of Hexagraph Fly Rods, and angling authority
Ladies: warmly welcome     Gentlemen: Black Tie

My first response was, “Am I correct in that this is an actual black-tie event? In Denver? How the cowboys will laugh!” But Gordon didn’t take the bait. As an actual member of the London Flyfisher’s Club, he and his pal G. William wanted to bring some of the Old World formality and intellectualism to the Wild West. The next day, guests were invited to “go out after Front Range trout, helping to prove that Denver is indeed the exact center of American fly fishing.”

I couldn’t make it to Denver for the big event, unfortunately, but I asked Gordon for a report, which he was all too happy to provide, in his inimitable style:

Who Was There?
One diner was heard to observe, “These (33) people look like the medical, legal, and literary establishment of the mountain West, and, what’s more, they are really having a good time. And so many women in a gentleman’s club!” Indeed, there were editors, doctors, writers, lawyers, scientists, manufacturers, all manner of professional people—and anglers—of every gender, all splendidly turned out and glittering against the background of the beautiful Brown Palace Hotel Club Room.

Flyfishers' Club in Denver

There aren’t a lot of black-tie fly-fishing events in the Rockies, but this one spared no formality.

photo courtesy Gordon M. Wickstrom

What’d They Say?
Following the luxury of the Flyfishers’ Club lavish dinner, Anders Halverson rose to speak on his seismic book on the dangerous ubiquity of what has become the synthetic rainbow trout.

Harry Briscoe, geologist and manufacturer of highly advanced fly rods, responded in kind. Scientists both, of the physical and the sociological, they presented to the diners a somber and unsettling view of what may lie ahead in our sport and our fisheries. Both speakers expressed deep uncertainty, were full of doubt, and surely without consolation as to our future as anglers.

For Halverson, our manipulation of species in general, our efforts on behalf of the preservation and favoritism among species, could, in the end of things, prove our folly. He reminded the diners that there is now even some doubt as to what constitutes a species. The rainbow trout, a synthetic something that we have developed, is Halverson’s red-light alarm against the danger, error, and mischance that lie, not unlike chaos, ahead of us. There lie out there more ways of going wrong than we could have imagined. Halverson seemed to suggest that we have only our human capacity for intellectual and ethical caution to guide us against the pressing law of unintended consequences in our management of our world.

Briscoe parried Halverson with an emphasis on the sociological as opposed to the biological. Both would agree that not only has the rainbow trout become synthetic, but the entire order of angling for any trout equally synthetic. Nature, as we are wont to speak of her, is nowhere in the equation. From that first instant when Prometheus brought us fire and Adam and Eve a garden, we have made of Nature, as much as possible, a phenomenon of our imagination and manipulation. And yet, we are unable to predict results of our actions with any certainty at all.

Briscoe, unlike Halverson, professed to see and, indeed, to have experienced a sort of line of development in angling that he too regrets as synthetic. He was eloquent as to where he had come from as an angler and to where he is headed as in a “forced march.”

The speakers seemed to bracket the entire world-experience—the one of uncertainty amid chaos, the other of a melancholy holding to a known system—the system itself being a construct of a carefully observed consciousness.

For half an hour, there was this sadness in the pan of the evening, but in the end, I am happy to report, the gaiety of the occasion prevailed.

This is hardly the kind of stuff that the younger, more “extreme” angling community is interested in, but it’s great that these discussions are taking place in public. The formality and pageantry of the Flyfishers’ Club certainly ain’t for everyone, but it’s part of a continuing history dating back to 1884 (just eight years prior to the construction of the Brown Palace).

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