ARLINGTON – For generations, this town along the banks of the Battenkill River has been synonymous with fly fishing.
That legacy will be celebrated next weekend in many ways when Arlington Common hosts its first-ever Battenkill Fly Fishing Festival, April 29-May 1.
Organizers present what they hope will be a celebration of the sport from its many angles – far beyond fly tying and trout casting. Participants can learn about the crucial role of fly fishing in promoting conservation; its rich, largely local history; the ways fly fishing has inspired arts and culture; and its therapeutic benefits in helping people recover from illness and trauma.
Festival offerings include a keynote address by famed fly fishing instructor and author Tom Rosenbauer, a film festival, free classes, fly tying, outdoor artist paintings, music live, locally produced foods and Vermont microbreweries.
It is also the first major “Get to Know Us” event for Arlington Common, a community arts and living center located in the former St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in the center of town.
Bill Bullock, who helps organize the festival, said it offers something for everyone – from avid anglers looking for expert advice and strategies, to people who would like to get started into fly fishing but don’t know how, or people who simply appreciate the rich history of the sport.
A lifelong fly fisherman, Bullock previously worked at Orvis and was director of the American Fly Fishing Museum in Manchester. He knows the rich heritage of the sport here and the story of how conservationists and anglers worked together to bring the Battenkill trout fishery back to health.
“Hopefully we demystify and open up fly fishing,” Bullock said. “For those who want to get started, you’ll hear from the most prolific fly fishing writer of the 20th century, lots of local guides and lots of local and conservation stories. You will learn a lot about this river and the history of this valley.
Arlington Common, which is run by the nonprofit Arlington Arts Enrichment Program, was founded as an all-ages community center repurposing the church’s former campus for the arts, fitness classes and flexible space for activities and programs. The Common’s “soft opening” took place in November, but leaders were looking for an event that would introduce it to the community at large.
The timing — for Arlington Common, for anglers and for businesses in the area — was perfect, Bullock said.
“The greatest [mayfly] The trap of the year is the Hendrickson trap, which is always the last week of April,” he said.
And local businesses, including hostels and restaurants, told organizers they needed a boost in late April more than they needed another event in the summer. “It directly answers the call for economic activity,” he said.
So far, around 90 tickets have been sold. Bullock expects there will be more, as ticket buying habits have changed at a time when COVID outbreaks can suddenly alter travel plans.
“Tom Rosenbauer, without a doubt, is a big draw,” Bullock said. “But I would say the timeliness of this remarkable story of conservation in the Battenkill is equally or equally important. This is really the first opportunity for this whole incredible partnership to come together and kind of talk about what they learned in 1997, what they did to stem [the decline of the fishery] and what are the results – and anything is possible.
Bullock said the art exhibit – “Back to the River: Scenes from an Angler’s Paradise” – is also proving a major draw. The exhibit, showcasing the history of Arlington and Battenkill, will include works by acclaimed fly fishing painters including Galen Mercer, John Swan, CD Clarke, James Prosek, Adriano Manocchia and George Van Hook, among others.
Artists have pledged a percentage of sales to non-profit organizations, with some of these funds going to home improvement projects – on the Battenkill, as well as some being undertaken by chapters of Trout Unlimited , said Bullock.
Other events featured include guided habitat restoration tours, as well as angling workshops and seminars showcasing fly fishing as a family activity, and lessons on the basics of fly fishing for women, taught by women.
Dining options will include dishes prepared by area restaurants, community meals presented by local nonprofits, and a beer tent featuring Vermont breweries.
“Whether you like fly fishing or not, there’s something for everyone,” Bullock said.