By Matt Dickerson
I really wanted the door prize: an engraved Wheatley fly box. Wheatley makes really nice fly boxes. Sleek, shiny, thin, anodized aluminum — like the sort of electronic gadgets some people covet.
I don’t usually covet electronic gadgets, but I do sometimes covet fishing gear. I coveted that fly box.
Moreover, this particular fly box was full of flies tied by Peter Burton. Peter ties really nice flies. They are beautiful to look it. Trout look at them too, and think they are real insects. I coveted the flies in the fly box, too.
I don’t have any nice fly boxes. I keep my flies in plastic fly boxes, some of which aren’t even fly boxes but lure boxes with compartments large enough for big bass lures. They are bulky and don’t fit in my fishing vest. If I put them in my pocket, I can’t close the pocket. If I bend over while I’m fishing — say to land a fish — the boxes fall out. Then I lose both the box and the flies in the river. This makes me sad.
My ugly plastic fly boxes are also hard to keep organized, because the compartments are so big. These are the practical considerations. Then there is the aesthetics. My ugly plastic bulky fly boxes are ugly and plastic. They are so inelegant and ugly I am embarrassed to be seen with them. And I’m not talking about being seen by other anglers, I’m talking about the fish. Sometimes, I worry that any trout seeing a fly come out of my plastic Plano lure box would refuse to hit the fly on principle.
I also was close to coveting the beautiful Greys Fly reel made in England by Hardy Greys. This wasn’t a door prize, but one of the items being auctioned. David Crowne was the highest bidder. He purchased the reel for his oldest son, Thomas. It is an heirloom-quality reel. I probably would have coveted it too, but to be honest it is almost as nice to think about that reel in the hands of Thomas, who really loves to fish, as it is to think of it in the hands of myself, who also really likes to fish. So instead of coveting it, I just admired it.
The event at which I was admiring these and many other items was the annual New Haven River Anglers Association fund-raising banquet held this past Sunday at the Lodge at Otter Creek. It was the 27th year of the banquet, which means it has been going on for seven years longer than I have lived in Bristol near the banks of the New Haven River. So it is easy for me to take the NHRAA for granted. But recently I have been coming to appreciate just what a special community of people form that organization, and just how much that community does for the broader community of Addison County, as well as for the river that gives them their name.
Over the past two years, I have been working on a new book on Appalachian trout and ecology, and this work has brought me to several rivers up and down the east coast. I’ll be traveling up and down the Appalachians visiting various rivers, some of which have amazing populations of trophy brown trout, and others that host small native strains of southern Appalachian brooks. And I’ll find trash strewn all up and down the banks of these rivers, and evidence of a general lack of concern for the water, its life, and the land through which it flows. This happens even in rivers far more remote than the New Haven.
And then I’ll reflect on the fact that I just don’t see much of this on the New Haven River. I don’t think this is a coincidence. While I have been impressed with some of the innovative fisheries management strategies in some of the states I have visited, and especially with some efforts in the South to restore native strains of to their original habitats (efforts spearheaded by groups like Trout Unlimited) I have also come to realize just how unique the NHRAA is. It is a community-based group devoted not just to the sport of fishing, but to the health of a river, and to the life that river supports, and to educating people about all of the above. And thus directly and indirectly, it is a group committed to the entire community whose lives are impacted by the environmental quality of that river and its water.
The NHRAA and the members who form its community has been involved in — indeed has been instrumental in spearheading — efforts to carefully monitor and improve and water quality of the river, projects to enhance and restore the stream bank and canopy, and educational efforts. And, of course, they promote fishing. But not just for their own members.
It’s amazing to think about at one level: the group actually encourages new people to go and fish their favorite waters. They have family activities designed to introduce kids to fishing and the outdoors, and to get them off of computer games at least for a few hours. And a wonderful and very successful women-in-waders program designed to get women out fly-fishing, perhaps for the first time.
Not surprisingly, then, the local community is very supportive of the NHRAA and of the banquet that raises funds to support its numerous environmental projects. The various merchants who donated items to be raffled or auctioned at this year’s fund-raising banquet represent a diverse cross-section of the broader community that both supports and benefits from the work of the NHRAA. It’s a much wider group than just a handful of stores that sell fishing supplies — though it does include some of these also. The list included: Robert Compton, Addison Outfitters, Shelburne Shipyards, Stream and Brook Flyfishers, Classic Stitching, Seyon Trout Ranch, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Junction Auto, Classic Outfitters, Wood Wares, Vermont Field Sports, Martin’s Hardware, Vermont Soapworks, the Vermont Book Shop, the Alpine Shop, American Flatbread, Greg’s Meat Market, Middlebury Mountaineer, Otter Creek Bakery, the Vermont DNR, Two Brothers, Orvis, Shelburne Museum, Cadoret Sugar Works, Marble Works Pharmacy, Rosie’s, Ramunto’s Sicilian Pizza, the Lodge at Otter Creek, and Doria’s Restaurant.
I bid on a few of the donated items. I also bought several raffle tickets, which were mostly for the restaurants. But what I really wanted was the Wheatley Box. And the Peter Burton flies.
I got neither. Nor did I put in any winning bids or hold a winning raffle ticket. Yet I still walked away from the event having enjoyed good conversation with a good community of people, and feeling very satisfied at what had been accomplished.
As for the fly box, there’s always next year.