CFFA came together in 1967 when a small group of fly fishermen living in the greater Hartford area decided that they wanted to emulate the good things being done by Manhattan's Theodore Gordon Flyfishers. A few of us were already members of the TGF but knew that we were too far removed to help New York conservation activities. We also knew that there was a vacuum of sorts up here, and we set about putting a club together.
Some of the early group included: Karl van Valkenburgh, Chris Percy, Vin Ringrose, Dr. Bill "Skip" Ellis, Ed Ruestow, and Ted Barbieri. Chris suggested that some of his luncheon group, the Sportsmen's Club, would be happy to become members, and thus was born CFFA. We were the Connecticut Fly Fishermen' Association then, later changed to Connecticut Fly Fishers to move into the modern world.
One of the Sportsmen's Club members, Blair Crawford, became our first attorney. He drew up our first by-laws and got us organized legally with the Secretary of State and the I.R.S. Ted Barbieri became our first President, and the rest of us assumed other duties on the Board of Directors. Things began to happen: We developed our slogan, our logo, and started to have meetings.
Our first public meetings were held in the basement of a sporting goods store in Windsor Locks, owned by a good friend of Ted Barbieri, who was himself a Windsor Locks businessman. Joe D'Addario, soon to be a President of CFFA, joined us at the very first meeting. As our membership grew we moved into various meeting sites, all in the town of Windsor. These were arranged by Jim May, who early on volunteered to be our Activities Chairman, a post he held for decades.
Our slogan says that we not only promote flyfishing, but that we protect game-fish waters. We did our best to do both from the very beginning. We wanted to establish the idea of more flyfishing areas, and particularly catch-and-release concepts. Cole Wilde, himself a flyfisher, was Chief of Fisheries in the '70s but wanted to go slowly with the catch-and-release idea. We persuaded him to allow CFFA, with the help of UCONN Professor of Fisheries Walter Whitworth, to study a section of the Jeremy River in Hebron as a voluntary optional catch-and-release area for CFFA members only. All other fishermen would fish the way they always had on the stream. We posted special signs to that effect, then went to work. We spent long hours building habitat enhancement structures and augmented the State stocking with trout which we raised in a cooperative project with Fisheries. We stocked with hand-built floating baskets, spreading the fish evenly through the study zone. Each autumn we helped Professor Whitworth electroshock the experimental stretch to monitor the surviving fish.
A few years later, when the Willimantic River was ready to be restocked after a hiatus of nearly a decade, the climate for a flyfishing-catch-and-release area had changed. Thus was created the first such area in Connecticut, later to be named after Cole Wilde, who passed much too young from cancer. The Willi has become CFFA's "own" over the years. It was finally restocked in 1976 only after passage of the Clean Air and Water Act of 1970, enabling the town of Stafford to pay for the modernization of their primitive sewage facilities on the upper river. I almost hate to mention this, but perhaps the greatest environmental legislation ever enacted occurred during the Administration of Richard M. Nixon.
In 1971 CFFA's greatest conservation triumph occurred. In 1970 we had approached Ted Bampton, head of Fish and Game, asking him what we could do for HIM rather than constantly asking what he could do for US. Ted said that he very much wanted minimum stream flow legislation to protect the resident fish, but the Department's annual bill had been shot down repeatedly by the water companies and the State Department of Health. Mark Levy, who had replaced Blair Crawford as our attorney felt that legislation could be crafted which declared that taxpayer-funded trout should have enough water to stay alive and well until those same taxpayers and their children had a chance to catch them. Mark drew up a bill and we got bi-partisan sponsorship from both the House and Senate. Over strong protest from the MDC and the Commissioner of Health, the bill was passed, the first such legislation in all of the U.S.A. Not forgetting the bass fishermen, a year later we introduced successful legislation (with the same opposition) allowing water companies to permit special-license fishing on their back-up reservoirs.
CFFA started strong and we continue our momentum, determined not to back off anything we feel detrimental to fishing or its environments, all the time remembering that though we might favor flyfishing and its many delights, ALL fishing is great, great fun!
Written by Vinny Ringrose via Gary Bogli 4-3-14