For this installment of out Organization Spotlight series, we sat down with the American Fly Fishing Museum team. We learned about all the great ways this group of people work behind the scenes to memorialize all things fly fishing. Follow along to learn about what the museum has to offer, how you can access some of their online features, and how to support it!
Flylords: Fly fishing has a long and rich history and, as with many historical topics, it also has a museum! Can you tell us a little bit about how the American Museum of Fly Fishing started?
AMFF: Our story began in 1963 when Herman Kessler was conducting research for a Field & Stream story in the storage of the original Orvis store in Manchester, VT. He stumbled upon the fly panels created by Mary Orvis Marbury to represent her father’s company at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and in that moment the idea of a Museum was born.
AMFF was officially established in 1968 as a nonprofit educational institution, and over the years we have acquired one of the most significant angling collections in the world. Through strong and steadfast dedication, we have built a collection, a destination, and a community of passionate anglers who stand behind our mission to be the steward of fly-fishing history. We wouldn’t be here today without the commitment of those involved in promoting fly fishing and conservation, and are proud to do our part in preserving the artifacts, innovations, and stories of this great sport.
Flylords: What are some of the Museum’s main activities/functions?
AMFF: First and foremost, we’re a public resource and are here to serve our community. We aim to be a place of reflection and inspiration—a cultural institution that collects, preserves, exhibits, studies, and interprets the artifacts, art, and literature of the sport and, through a variety of outreach platforms, uses these resources to engage, educate, and benefit all.
In 1974 we published the premiere issue of our quarterly publication, The American Fly Fisher, and we still continue to feature articles by the most respected fly fishing historians in the world. Nick Lyons summed it up perfectly when he said it “plays an indispensable role in keeping the vanishing past vividly, momentously alive. It is our anchor and our heart, and our memory.” As the fly fishing and museum communities evolve, so do we. We’ve dove into some unconventional projects that are really broadening our exposure and bridging the gap between past and present.
Flylords: Care to highlight any exhibits?
AMFF: Exhibits! We have some really diverse displays on view right now: Reflections: The Angler and Nature in Art allows visitors to immerse themselves in a chronological journey of sporting art. Smoke Signals: Cigarette Cards from the 19th and 20th Centuries showcases 125 fly fishing and fly tying related tobacco cards and how this early form of direct-to-consumer advertising evolved. We also have a wall dedicated to the life and legacy of our founding trustee, Leigh Perkins which features some of the most innovative equipment from his tenure with Orvis. This spring we will be opening On Turbulence & Flow: The Fly Fishing Inspired Artwork of Val Kropiwnicki, and In Reel Time: Fly Reels Past and Present. We are currently curating and designing an exhibit on Joan and Lee Wulff. There is no shortage of material, so this exhibit will be packed with photos, videos, and artifacts. We’re still making regular trips to Joan’s house to explore new pieces and stories. At 95 years young, she is still quick-witted and one of my favorite storytellers. Tied Together: The Extraordinary Lives of Joan and Lee Wulff will open on August 13th.
Flylords: While I like to collect my old flies that have produced memorable fish, the AMFF showcases a bunch of different collections–probably a little more high-profile too! Can you tell us about some of your favorites?
AMFF: Keep up the good work and maybe one day we can add your flies to an exhibit here! We have an entire room dedicated to fly tying and iconic flies that can only really be appreciated here on site at the AMFF. A particular standout for me would be the Dame Juliana Berners Collection. Dame Juliana Berners, a fifteenth-century English nun, is often credited as the author of ‘A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle’. This treatise was published in 1496, and for many years it was thought to be the earliest written work of fly-fishing instruction. Rogan of Donegal tied these flies now housed in the AMFF based off the recipes in her book to commemorate 500 years of fly fishing. It’s a particularly cool way to interpret the fly tying literature of the past and bring it into the modern.
I also have to mention the Jack Gartside Collection – the guy was just such an unsung striper legend that should really get more worldwide acknowledgement.
Flylords: In the world of fly fishing, there are so many amazing films featuring all the greats and the jaw-dropping places people love to fly fish. Tell us about the AMFF’s new screening room feature.
AMFF: The Screening Room was a long term labor of love. We had boxes and boxes of VHS and 16mm film lying around the attic here and decided it was our duty to digitize them before they were lost forever. The result is a screening room of epic proportions with over 200 original titles, showing everything from early Lefty Kreh casting instruction videos, to Jim Teeny and Lani Waller sight fishing for steelhead, Billy Pate chasing giant tarpon, early Walker’s Cay Chronicles episodes, original films from our friends at Scientific Anglers, and some 1950s gems you wouldn’t even believe. We keep adding to it as we continue to digitize further discoveries like a box of home videos from Joan Wulff. It’s amazing to see these fisheries that we all love today but as they were in ‘50s through the ‘90s, so I think there is also a great and perhaps deeper conservation element to it.
For now, we’ve kept access limited to AMFF members only as we hope to pay back some of the cost that went into this! Join now and you can access it immediately.
Flylords: We were so honored to work with y’all on Time, a film hoping to memorialize the life of Lefty Kreh. What were some of your favorite moments from the film or during production?
AMFF: This was such an incredible film and an absolute blast to spend all that time down in Florida with Flip Pallot, Bob Clouser, and Blane Chocklett and of course the Flylords team. I think we all knew pretty quickly that we were making something special. For me, once I got Flip to say a few words about AMFF and wear the AMFF logo hat, I was able to sit back a bit and really enjoy the experience which is something I’ll always be grateful for.
A lot of people probably don’t realize some pretty cool AMFF Easter eggs during the film, like the fact that Blane is tying his iconic gamechanger on Lefty’s old homemade vice that we brought down for production. Also, in the shot where Blane lifts a tilapia out of the water, the fly in its mouth is an original Lefty’s Deceiver tied by Lefty himself. Later, there’s an amazing shot of Blane casting his gamechanger so it’s all in line with the “passing the torch” message we were driving towards. These little touches made us all feel a little bit more connected to Lefty and reinforced the purpose behind the film during the shoot. I think that vibe really shines through in the final product.
Flylords: Any new projects in the works that we should keep an eye out for?
AMFF: The AMFF is making a big push into the film world. Most recently, we opened an amazing new exhibit at the Wonders of Wildlife in Missouri with an interactive film component (big shout out to The Drake’s Tom Bie and Simms’ Paul Nicoletti). We are so excited and honored to memorialize the film medium in fly fishing, which has no doubt had a massive impact on the development of the sport since the early days of ‘A River Runs Through It’ all the way up to today’s Instagram Reels. We’re also launching a new series with Meris McHaney called ‘Fishing the Collection’ where we take rods from our collection (we have over 1200) and put them into the hands of young anglers to test out on the water. The results are super visually captivating and reflect on how far we’ve come in the development of equipment while also honoring the beauty and style of the past.
In May, we are launching an exhibit here in Manchester with VK Steelworks, and then we’ve got a Joan & Lee Wulff exhibit called Tied Together: The Extraordinary Lives of Joan and Lee Wulff in tandem with our annual festival this August. The festival on August 13th will also have a film festival where we show the 20 most influential films in fly fishing, and there’s even the option for AMFF members to camp on the grounds here in Manchester. There’s so much going on here every day it’s hard to keep track of it all!
Flylords: How can anglers access some of these features or learn more about the American Museum of Fly Fishing?
AMFF: The absolute best way to do this is by becoming an AMFF member. Basic membership starts at $35 a year and helps us support and preserve the history of this great sport we all love. Plus there are some pretty sweet perks (like Screening Room access). If you join between now and June 30th, you’ll be entered to win a brand new Orvis H3! (Editor’s note: this is the best shot you’re going to get at winning a new H3!)
At a minimum, throw us a follow on Instagram @flyfishmuseum and get a daily dose of fly fishing history!