The following is an interview with Ken Morrow, founder of the Adaptive Fly Fishing Institute (AFFI). The AFFI trains adaptive fly fishing instructors. According to Ken's website an instructor "has the Adaptive Fly Fishing Institute's full faith and confidence after a rigorous and intimate training and testing program in which they became highly skilled in the fine art of teaching all aspects of fly fishing to people with disabilities."
Gene: Ken Tell us about the AFFI. What is the objective of the institute? Who and what do you teach?
Ken: The core of what we teach, Gene, is a holistic therapeutic approach to fly fishing instruction and adaptive sports coaching that is totally unlike any other organized training program in the world today. It is designed by professional angling instructors, educators, and healthcare providers primarily for professionals who work in therapeutic and clinical environments. Our methodologies and principles are based on decades of hands-on experience in adaptive and therapeutic outdoor recreation (most specifically fly fishing, of course) which have been honed by a variety of professional credentials and formal education in the fields of physical therapy, pastoral counseling, education, biology, public health administration, leadership development, and behavioral sciences. And we bring that all together to form a certification program whereby consumers can be assured that our certified instructors can equip them or their organizations to deliver highly effective adaptive and/or therapeutic fly fishing-based programs.
Gene: What gave you the idea to start the AFFI?
Ken: I was doing a lot of volunteer work with VA hospitals delivering fly-fishing based therapy programs for their patients when some administrators from a prominent VA hospital and a Navy Morale, Welfare, and Recreation office Director pulled me aside and told me that they had seen such positive results in their patients who participated in our program that they wanted to invest in it to make sure it became permanent. They urged me to figure out how to turn my volunteers into contract workers and transition away from grassroots fundraising based support to grant and contract funding. They were concerned about volunteer burnout and the good will of the public drying up over time. They've been down that road many, many times.
Researching the "how to" of this sort of transition, I soon realized that there was a lot of work to do in terms of professionalization and certifications and such. So I began to search for existing programs that could fill these needs, and they just didn't exist. There was only one organization offering a fly casting certification program, and I was a member of that body. But their program really wasn't compatible with adaptive instructor certification and I met with considerable resistance from a significant portion of the leadership whenever I tried to broach the subject. So I sat down with several of my fly fishing mentors, some experts in the healthcare profession whom I respect, a couple of education experts, and even a lawyer or two (something I try hard to avoid as a general rule). I talked to them about the concept of AFFI and what they thought something like that should look like. Every one of them thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to move forward with it. And I incorporated major aspects of the advice I got from almost all of them. In fact, I formed an advisory board that consists of a few of them plus some additional people with some specialized expertise that helped me draft the certification guidelines and tests.
Gene: I see from your website that only about five or six people have been certified so far. Is that correct?
Yes, that is correct. The institute was only founded in August of this year. And certification as an AFFI is not something to be taken lightly. It requires dedication, experience, and a pretty significant command of a pretty wide array of both knowledge and skills.
Gene: And you do not charge a fee for the instructing/certification?
Well, the institute doesn't charge a fee for training or certifying instructors, that is true. But let me clarify a couple of fine points on this subject. First, our certified instructors are free to charge for their services if they choose to do so. They can't charge to administer the AFFI certification exam, but they could charge someone to train them for it if they wanted to and someone wanted to pay them. But the institute isn't a party to that transaction and neither encourages nor discourages it. But this is partly why an instructor cannot participate in the testing of their own students. Some will charge for training, and many won't. Some will charge at times, but won't charge at others. It is a highly personal choice. The other matter I would like to sharpen to a finer point is this: AFFI does charge a $25 annual fee to certified instructors once they become certified. But there is no charge for taking the test. And that $25 is completely eaten up by administrative costs just to maintain the referral database and internal newsletter for instructors.
Gene; How long does the training last?
This is an interesting question. We have two methods of training AFFI's. The first method is through organic mentorship. There is no set time limit for that, neither minimum nor maximum. The certified instructor decides when his/her student is ready to test. It's that simple. Nobody can test without an AFFI's nomination. And it's important to note here that if an AFFI nominates 3 candidates in a period of 2 years or 3 candidates in a row who fail the exam, a panel of AFFI's will review his/her certification and decide whether or not he/she gets to keep it. So we are a self-regulating body when it comes to the quality of instruction people are getting, too.
The other modality in which we can deliver certification training is for institutional applications. It is seminar based. If the candidates meet a pretty significant set of prerequisites, we can come in for a few days with a small team of AFFI's and teach a compressed course followed by oral and performance exams. This is a great way to get a hospital, camp, or rehab center staff trained and qualified to deliver a clinically effective fly fishing program very efficiently.
Gene: I assume you also instruct disabled people not to instruct, but to fish. Is that done one on one or in groups?
Of course we do. I don't think any of us would want to teach only teachers and stop teaching people with special needs to fly fish! That would be the fastest way for me to lose our instructors. Seriously, it is where all of our passion, energy, and opportunities for personal development come from. It is how we engage in research and development of new techniques and adaptive equipment. Most of our AFFI's are significantly if not totally disabled ourselves. And there is an ethics clause all AFFI's must adhere to that prohibits us from refusing to teach any disabled person to fly fish.
The institute itself hosts some fly fishing events and trips each year for special needs individuals, and our individual AFFI's are almost constantly engaged in teaching fly fishing to both disabled anglers and those who we deem less fortunate (meaning the perfectly healthy).
Gene; Can any disabled person be trained to fly fish?
That's almost a trick question. The politically correct answer would be "yes," but I live in the real world and don't pull punches. If someone has no use of either arm, they aren't going to be able to fly fish. But that doesn't mean they still can't enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle! And I encourage everyone to do that. In fact, I would still be glad to take someone in that situation along with me fishing just so they could get out and enjoy some beautiful nature. Joan Wulff (a famous fly fishing woman) says, "Trout don't live in ugly places."
And another aspect of what we teach is the crafts of of fly fishing: fly tying and rod-building. There are people who have a very difficult time fishing who really enjoy tying flies and/or building fly rods. And we teach all of that.
Gene: Is it very expensive? What kind of costs are we looking at?
"Expensive" is a relative term. I can get someone started fly tying for $50. I can get someone started fly fishing for about $300 without skimping in any significant way. And I can set someone up to fly fish anywhere, anytime, independently, for any species, like a pro, with their own boat and everything for under $7,000. If you compare that to bass fishing, golf, a kid playing high school football or playing in the school band, or many other things that people do; fly fishing isn't expensive at all. And if someone is a disabled veteran, we can even help them get grants to pay for it all.
Gene: If someone is interested in getting more information about adaptive fly fishing, how can they go about it?
We have a few good sources of information out there. And there are several organizations I'll mention quickly who are doing good charity work and we support them. Most of our board members do volunteer work with these charities.
Our website address is www.adaptiveflyfishing.com and we also have a Facebook fan page for the Adaptive Fly Fishing Institute. Both are good sources of information about both what we are doing and what is going on in the field of therapeutic and adaptive fly fishing. The charities we have been and are involved with are Casting for Recovery, Warriors and Quiet Waters, Rivers of Recovery, Reel Recovery, Global Opportunities Unlimited, and Project Healing Waters. Anyone can type these names into a search engine to get to their websites or read tons of news stories about the organizations. CFR focuses on women with breast cancer. Reel Recovery is a men's cancer therapy group. GO Unlimited is a mobility-impaired hunting, fishing, and horseback adventure charity. The rest are wounded warrior and disabled veteran fly fishing programs.
Finally, there is a wealth of information scattered throughout the archives of my fly fishing blog, UPSTREAM.