A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

In 1966, the year I graduated from high school, the Academy Award for best musical score went to a farcical musical film named: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Staring Zero Mostel and among others, Buster Keaton, the film was an adaptation of the successful Broadway play by the same name. It is a classic tale of a Roman slave seeking his freedom by helping a young noble woo a young Roman maiden. Funny as hell but having nothing to do with fly fishing. Much like Buster Keaton’s character—Erronius (A befuddled old man who is partially blind and always confused). A bit of trivia, this was Keaton’s last film in an acting career that spanned 49 years from 1917-1966. But the title did spur some thought about forums, particularly forums related to fly fishing.

In lay terms, a forum can be described as: a gathering place of great social significance, and often the scene of diverse activities, including political discussions and debates, rendezvous, meetings, markets, etc. Forums supplemented the function of a conciliabulum. That would be a great name for a trout fly if you could just figure out what it looked like. Angler to fly shop clerk, “I need a dozen #12 Olive Conciliabulums.”

But in all seriousness, one can think of a forum as a place for conversation, discussion, buying and selling, socializing etc. In the world of fly fishing, well over a century ago, fly fishing forums took the form of social clubs, often very cliquish, where anglers met on a regular basis, usually in venues with plenty of alcohol to talk about fly fishing, fly tying and the issues of the day. Clubs played a big role in the early development of the sport by helping document and codify terms, validate the efficacy of different flies, new fishing gear and provide social focus to conservation issues. Many of the early clubs from the 19th century into the mid-20th century in England and the U.S. were breeding grounds for the top fly anglers of the time.

The Houghton Club on the River Test hosted an elite group of English anglers in the late 19th century and hosted many great discussions on “Dry Fly” development by Frederic Halford and George Marryat. The Fly Fishers Club, founded in 1894 in London is famous for the great Halford (dry fly) – Skues (nymph) debates of the 1930s. The Anglers’ Club of New York, founded in 1906, still functioning today was the home of many of fly angling’s greatest writers—Hewitt, Schweibert, LaBranche, Sparse Grey Hackle to name a few. There were probably 100s of local fly-fishing clubs throughout the U.S. in the mid-20th century and many of us older folks probably learned some of our skills from the old timers that made those clubs tick. My favorite club—a fictional one—was the Lower Forty Shooting, Angling and Inside Straight Club which met each month at an entirely imaginary rendezvous named Uncle Perk’s Store in the mythical town of Hardscrabble. You can read about this club, its members and their adventures in You Can Always Tell A Fisherman, But You Can’t Tell Him Much, Corey Ford (1953).

Clubs still exist and function today, albeit probably not to the extent they did before the advent of the internet. Starting the 1980s electronic bulletin boards (BBS) spawned what was to become a social media revolution. By the late 1990s, digital conciliabulums were sprouting up everywhere and angling communities were no exception. From BBS, to Internet Chat Rooms (IRC), web logs (blogs) and such, the internet forum or discussion board was formed. Internet fly fishing related forums, I think, saw their heyday in the first decade this century. There were dozens, if not 100s of active forums, some global, many national and tons of regional forums on the net. Today, those numbers are way down and many that still exist do not get the traffic they used to. I think you can blame that on a variety of factors, the most obvious being the rise of venues like Facebook, Instagram, etc. But other factors also contributed to their decline, mainly economics. It takes $$ to maintain a website and it takes people to manage a website, and in the case of an internet forum, it takes people willing to participate in the conversations on a regular basis. Over the last few months I looked at some of the most successful internet fly fishing forums and a few that aren’t doing well to see what’s makes them tick or not.

The forums that do well are supported by advertisers and operated by dedicated moderators. Lack of advertising revenue eventually forces forum operators to severely economize on their forum upkeep or shut down completely. If the site doesn’t work smoothly, members get frustrated and stop participating. As membership participation declines, advertisers bail. It is a vicious circle. Moderators play a significant role in the health of forum discussions. They maintain discipline, solve issues quickly and keep the members and advertisers happy. A well-run forum hosts lots of relevant information and discussions, but tolerates a moderate level of naivety, bragging, cajoling and horsing around by its members. Participation in a busy, well run forum is fun and informative. One of the inevitable by products of a successful, busy forum is that they attract spammers flogging just about everything. It takes a good moderator to ensure spam does not overtake the forum. I visited one fly fishing forum a few weeks back and discovered that 9 out of 10 posts were spam. Things like: Blue pills that will improve your double haul $10 and Secret nutritional supplement that makes #22 midges looks like #10s on cloudy days. Needless to say, the efficacy of the entire forum was useless because real discussions were obscured by spam posts.

My favorite forums are one that run well and have enough traffic to make looking through it daily productive. They are:

Washington Fly Fishing Forum: Lots of participation from all parts of the US, great fly tyers, effective search and private discussions. Probably the best U.S. fly-fishing forum out there.

Fly Tying Forum: A great site for pattern, materials and tying technique references. Fly swaps are a great way to see others work and test your skills.

North American Fly-Fishing Forum : An all-around forum that covers just about everything related to fly fishing in the U.S.

Whether you actively participate in the forum discussions, membership has its advantages. Membership usually gives you a bit more access to some of the sub-forums that a non-member might not get. Of course, membership allows you to share your wisdom, ideas and such freely amongst all the other conciliabulum participants as well as with individual members through private messages. Here are some tips for forum participation that I’ve garnered over the years.

  1. If you have a question or idea, search the forum thoroughly before posting as the topic has probably already been discussed ad infinitum. If it has been covered reference previous information. If not, go for it.
  2. If you are having a problem with a tying technique, fishing technique, gear choice, gear setup, etc., ask the forum. You’ll get so many solutions your head will spin.
  3. Be careful about “hot spotting”- a post that gives way too much information about a good fishing location. Paranoia will prevail as many will fear the thousands of folks that visit forums every day are going to show up at their secret spot next week.
  4. You may be the expert on a specific topic, but don’t be alarmed if other experts on the topic don’t agree with you.
  5. Be civil, don’t get wound up over incivility (moderators handle that), and avoid delving into areas of great controversy. If you have something sensitive (scorn or personal) to share with another member do it via the private message avenue.
  6. Above all, share your wisdom and experience; but at the same time benefit from the vast amount of information contained in long standing, active forums.

2 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

  1. Michael Vorhis

    Mike,

    I too like forums; there’s much tribal knowledge and alternate viewpoints that can be acquired, from snap-T spey casting strategies to sink tip lore to write-ups that thorough minds have put together on everything from fluoro strength comparisons to taper modification to guide placement in rod-building. (One must only be careful not to tempt out the ubiquitous individual who responds to every inquiry with “well you need to turn over rocks in the stream to get educated.” Yes, yes, well aware, thank you.)

    – Mike

    PS. The conciliabulum are one bin over from the comparaduns. Glad to help.

    Reply
  2. Joe Dellaria

    Hi Mike,
    I have mostly avoided following any forums as I didn’t have a clue which ones would be worthwhile to follow. Thanks for giving me a place to start.

    Reply

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