Since 1973, The Arkansas Fly Fishers' legacy of planting the wild brown trout fishery in the Little Red River almost three decades ago is something to be proud of, but the AFF has never wavered in its continuing commitment to the Conservation, Restoration, and Education of our Arkansas' fisheries.
AFF has joined with other conservation groups and fly fishing clubs to ensure Arkansas remains a world-class fly fishing destination for future generations. As a key stakeholder, our leadership and members work closely with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission among others to understand the conditions of our fisheries and how fly fishers can support and advocate for our sport. For almost 50 years, AFF has consistently promoted an enlightened approach to the management of our fisheries and we want to do our part in keeping Arkansas a beautiful and natural state.
AFF believes in fly fishers’ ability to restore our environment. We are involved in and support numerous projects to ensure Arkansas waterways are healthy. AFF also uses fly fishing as a way to help restore the human spirit. Our sponsorship of two Project Healing Waters projects. AFF also supports The Mayfly Project, which uses fly fishing to mentor foster children, and Casting for Recovery which uses fly fishing as a therapeutic outlet for women with breast cancer. These are just a few examples of the many efforts underlying AFF’s commitment.
The AFF was one of the first fly-fishing clubs in America to teach Boy Scouts about their new fly-fishing merit badge. The AFF has three FFF Certified Casting Instructors who help with casting lessons for both members and the general public at various venues each year where fly-tying instructions are always available. We each two classes per year at Ft. Roots VA Clinic for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing that ends with the veteran’s tying and casting lessons while on a guided trip down the Little Red River. Additionally, we have a yearly retreat for Casting for Recovery, and support The Mayfly Project all-throughout the year. Whether at club events, meetings, or at public gatherings; the AFF provides a plethora of fly-tying opportunities each year including a monthly social-tying night at Flyway Brewery in North Little Rock on the first Monday of each month.
Although not an official part of the AFF motto, “fun and fellowship through fly-fishing” has been the credo of the club since its founding. Three annual club events, the AFF One-Fly Tournament, the AFF Fish Fry, and the AFF Banquet, are the highlights of each year's calendar of club activities. The annual AFF Fish Fry is open to the public and along with the fried catfish and a raffle, there are casting games. The AFF offers a schedule of ten informative and entertaining monthly meetings annually, and also has club outings throughout the calendar year.
Back in the mid to late 1960s, a fly fisherman casting his line on an Arkansas tailwater would be an odd sight to the bait and lure anglers drifting by in their johnboats. There just weren't that many fly fishers around in those days. So when one fly fisherman came upon another of his kind on the banks of the White, Norfork, or Little Red rivers it was not unusual for them to strike up a conversation and make an effort to get to know one another. These serendipitous encounters would establish a common ground for the future formation of fly fishing clubs in Arkansas, including the first Federation of Fly Fishers-affiliated club formed in the state--the AFF.
One such onstream encounter back in 1969 between Frank Brown of Little Rock and Dave Whitlock of Midway (today, the renowned fly fisher, tyer, artist, writer, conservationist) would lead to a friendship and a mutual commitment to improving the fisheries in Arkansas and to the promotion of fly-fishing in the state. Both Brown and Whitlock were long-time members of the Federation of Fly Fishers, and it is Brown who credits Dave Whitlock with coming up with the idea of forming an FFF club for the Little Rock/Central Arkansas area.
So it was that in 1973 Frank Brown, Dave Whitlock, and Jim Wingfield founded the Arkansas Fly Fishers. Within a short time, between 10-12 fly fishermen who wanted to better themselves, as well as assist others, in the sport of fly-fishing were attending monthly AFF meetings at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Little Rock. The club's constitution was written by Rusty Russell, a charter member and Frank Brown's best friend, and was modeled after the FFF constitution, including its motto, “To Conserve, Restore, & Educate through Fly Fishing”. Jim Wingfield of Prescott was elected the first AFF president.
ORIGINS OF THE MOUNTAIN HOME FFF SOUTHERN COUNCIL CONCLAVE: That same chance encounter between Dave Whitlock and Frank Brown back in '69 would eventually result in Mountain Home, Arkansas being chosen as the location of the regional FFF Conclave, or “gathering”, each year since the early 1970s. The friendship formed between these two men extended to a handful of other fly fishers from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Tennesee. These men began a tradition of meeting in the fall each year in Mountain Home to fish, enjoy each other's company, and concern themselves with the conservation of the fisheries they all loved.
For three years in a row Brown, Whitlock, and the rest of those Arkansas fly fishing pioneers gathered in Mountain Home at the Holiday Inn for what were called "Big Ones";. Big One I, II, and III would be the precursors of Conclave in Mountain Home.
What would have been Big One IV became the first FFF regional (then Midwest Council) conclave held in Mountain Home on November 30th and December 1st and 2nd, 1973. The conclave was co-sponsored by the AFF, Green Country Fly Fishers, and the Ozark Fly Fishers, and attracted more than 100 visitors. Lefty Kreh was the featured presenter.
Today, the Southern Council's Mountain Home Conclave is considered to be one of the biggest and best FFF conclaves in the nation. The Arkansas Fly Fishers were there in the beginning and have been big supporters of the region's annual autumn fly fishers' pilgrimage ever since.