Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stop whispering, start shouting

H: November 28, 2012: I'm on the train home, chilling after a long day, listening to music on my iPod. It's on shuffle and Radiohead's Stop Whispering comes on... Well, Thom Yorke's lyrics struck a cord and inspired me to write this post—to start shouting the only way I know how, through this blog—even if few will hear, or worse, care.

Just after Thanksgiving, on my birthday in fact, my friend Craig unloaded on me (heck, that's what friends are for ;). He told me about some recent disturbing events that had transpired at the International Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF). It's Board of Directors (BoD) had wrongfully dismissed and stripped the credentials of Denise Maxwell and Dan McCrimmon, two long-standing and well-respected members of the Casting Board of Governors (CBoG), for launching a website that they claimed created a conflict of interest.

I wasn't sure what to make of it at the time or what to say to Craig that could possibly help. As a master certified instructor (MCI) and actively involved member of the FFF, he'd obviously been struggling with this for some time. It wasn't until the following morning that the plain injustice of it bothered me, even without having all the facts. So, I asked him for more info. He emailed me several links: to the Association of Certified International Casting Instructors (ACICI), to the Sexyloops forum, and to the Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructors (AAPGAI). I first checked out ACICI to see what all the fuss was about, then I started reading the thread on Sexyloops. Now, I definitely can't let it go.

My initial response was to send an email to Denise Maxwell to express my support. I suggested an interview to at least give recognition to her numerous contributions to the sport of fly fishing (she's the first lady of steelhead, being the first female steelhead guide in British Columbia, plus a champion fly caster) and her years of dedicated service to the FFF as editor of the Loop and an international ambassador. But now that I think about it, Ms. Maxwell probably has so much to deal with, possible legal action to prepare for, that an interview with a stranger can't be very high on her list.

I will try my best to summarize the events as they've unfolded, but I strongly recommend reading the actual correspondence sent between parties involved and following the thread at Sexyloops. WARNING: your eyes will definitely glaze over, you'll get a massive headache, and I suggest having a large decanter of your favorite poison nearby. However, you'll be rewarded with lively and thought-provoking discourse on a topic I fear not enough people are aware of, and hopefully you'll be bothered enough to start shouting.

July 7, 2012: Denise Maxwell and Dan McCrimmon, members of the FFF CBoG launch the ACICI website, a forum open to all certified casting instructors worldwide as a means of sharing knowledge and information. July 25, 2012: Chairman of the FFF BoD, Philip Greenlee, emails the CBoG and BoD, stating that the ACICI site creates a conflict of interest and potential for copyright infringement of FFF materials. He refers the matter to FFF legal counsel, James Schramm. July 25, 2012: Dan and Denise respond to these allegations by clearly stating that the ACICI is not a competitive certifying body and that they have no intention of using any FFF copyright materials on their site. They invite all members of the FFF to view the site and judge for themselves. July 29, 2012: Dan and Denise are contacted by James Schramm, who once again repeat the accusations but this time in legalese. He concludes his letter by suggesting their resignation from the CBoG was a way to resolve the matter. It goes on and on... (Again, I recommend you read the actual history of communications).

Well unfortunately, none of their responses were satisfactory to misters Greenlee, Schramm or Diaz (Chair of the CBoG), and rather than have the Ethics committee investigate these allegations further, Greenlee summarily terminated their membership in the FFF, the CBoG, and stripped them of all their casting certifications. Denise and Dan were accused, convicted, and sentenced without a proper hearing. Needless to say, this injustice created an uproar which eventually resulted in the BoD modifying their initial judgment, giving Dan and Denise the option of retaining their FFF membership and certifications on a probationary and highly conditional basis. Basically, they can't do anything without direct supervision by a member of the CBoG (coerced confession comes to mind).

The only good thing to come out of this mess is that it's raised some critical questions about the structure and future of the FFF: should the Casting Instructor Certification Program (CICP) become a separate and independent entity? My vote (if I had one ;) would be "yes" because clearly the CBoG cannot effectively lead if it's at the mercy of the BoD and a professional certifying body is bound to eventually have real conflicts of interest with a nonprofit conservation group.

This incident has raised awareness for the need for organizational reform: The need for better transparency at the decision-making level (make documents, meeting minutes, and correspondence more accessible to members); Need for accountability (should the CBoG be elected by its membership: MCIs and CIs?); Need for checks and balances to prevent future abuses of authority; and most importantly, the need to give their membership a voice. My ultimate hope is that this will bring about some positive change.

The most disappointing part in all of this for me, was the lack of communication and hence the seeming lack of leadership from the CBoG throughout this whole debacle. Where have they been this whole time? I'm not even going to address the letters written by the Chair, Mr. Diaz. Hands down, that man wins the prize, for using the most (vague and convoluted) words to say absolutely nothing of significance. I'm speculating here, but my guess (and hope) is that there has been heated debate and maneuvering going on behind the scenes at the CBoG and it's due to their protests that Dan and Denise have been offered this mitigated sentence. But none of it has been publicized (if a tree falls in a forest...). Dear CBoG: Thom Yorke is singing to YOU. Stop whispering behind closed doors, start communicating with your membership.

I recently joined the FFF when I attended a spey workshop given by two members of its CBoG, Al Buhr and Jim Valle (see The Tao of Spey), two gentlemen I have much respect for. Since then, I've seriously considered getting certified as an instructor, not necessarily to make a vocation out of it, but as a way to learn, improve my skills, teach family and friends, and who knows where it might eventually lead... But my primary motivation was to join a community of like-minded people who are passionate about fly fishing and casting and about sharing their knowledge and experiences with others (people like Denise Maxwell and Dan McCrimmon).

As of right now, I can't in good conscience support or condone this organization unless questions are answered and changes are made. If you have any interest in or ties to the FFF, I urge you to read the correspondence and the posts in the Sexyloops thread, do some digging of your own, then judge for yourself. If any of this disturbs you as it did me—start shouting! Write to the FFF CBoG. Show your support for Denise and Dan, your dissatisfaction with how affairs have been handled, and express the need for change.
Stop Whispering (Radiohead)
And the wise men say "I don't want to hear your voice"
And the thin men say "I don't want to hear your voice"
And they're cursing me
And they won't let me be
There's nothing to say
And there's nothing to do
Stop whispering, start shouting

And my mother says "We spit on your son some more"
And the buildings say "Let me spit on your face some more"
And the feeling is
That there's something wrong
'Cause I can't find the words
And I can't find the songs

Stop whispering, start shouting
Stop whispering, start shouting

Dear Sir, "I have a complaint"
Dear Sir, "I have a complaint"
Can't remember what it is
Doesn't matter anyway
Stop whispering,
Stop whispering,
Stop whispering,
Stop whispering, 
Start shouting


  1. Politics ---- ack! As always, I admire your passion and commitment to the fun of fly fishing, Hyun.

  2. H: I know, what's a fun-loving flygirl doing writing about ff politics... I just felt I had to say something.

    Yesterday, I received an email from the FFF North Eastern Council about their upcoming annual meeting and regional elections at the Somerset Fly Fishing show. This will be my first and I have no idea what the format is, whether they take questions and comments from the floor. I guess I'll find out. Hope to see you there.