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Joan Wulff Honored By The Bonefish And Tarpon Trust

By Monte Burke /  May 16, 2017 / contributing editor at Forbes

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n earlier attempt at the dinner had been thwarted by what became known as Winter Storm Stella (BTT deemed the postponement a “false cast”). There would be no weather impediments this go ‘round.

Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, presents Joan with the Curt Gowdy Memorial Conservation Award. Photograph courtesy of Rick Bannerot. Copyright 2017.

It was the sixth annual New York City event for Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, a 20-year-old organization that has an impressive record of pairing true scientific discovery with real-world application and action. Virtually nothing was known about these flats fish species—population sizes, spawning grounds, juvenile rearing—until BTT came along. The scientific knowledge, under the leadership of Aaron Adams, BTT’s Director of Science and Conservation, has been hard-won. And it’s led to results. After BTT discovered and documented bonefish spawning and rearing grounds in the Bahamas, they then led the effort to create six new National Parks to protect them. BTT’s research revealed that all tarpon—from Mexico to Africa—are one genetic population, a groundbreaking discovery that has led to better management of that species. And the organization’s advocacy for habitat for all three flats species was a key component in the passing of a bill in Florida that will help improve the health of the indispensable Everglades.

And BTT hasn’t stopped there. “We are an organization on the move,” Jim McDuffie, the organization’s president, said in remarks before the evening’s auction.

BTT is smaller than the likes of Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited, but it’s very much the little conservation engine that could. It helps to have friends in high places.

The event chairmen for the evening: Hamilton “Tony” James, the president of Blackstone; hedge-funder, Paul Tudor Jones, II; Forbes rich-lister, Bob Rich; former U.S. Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin.

Among those gathered for the dinner were the painter, C.D. Clarke, author/artist, James Prosek, and the guiding triumvirate of Paul Dixon, Brendan McCarthy and Bryan Goulart, all of whom have just begun their East End flats-fishing seasons. (Book ‘em while you can, Danno!)

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Curt Gowdy Memorial Conservation Award to Joan Wulff. Gowdy, the former sportscaster, and host of ABC’s “The American Sportsman,” was a founding member of BTT and a staunch advocate of conservation. Paul Volcker, the towering former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, handled Joan’s introduction, admitting that he’d been “too nervous” to ever fish with her because of her angling prowess.

Joan Wulff’s accomplishments are Paul Bunyan in size. For example, in 1948, noted fly fisher Charles Ritz invited Joan to the first post-war fly fishing event to re-open in Europe, and she won the competition in an impressive fashion at only 21-years-old. In 1951, she became the first woman in history to win the Fisherman’s Distance Event, casting 131-feet against all-male competition, a truly remarkable achievement. Photogarphy courtesy of Rick Bannerot. Copyright 2017.

And then Joan took the stage, her pretty smile as beguiling as ever, lighting up the room

Joan, now 90 years old, is one of the living legends of the sport of fly fishing. She was, of course, married to another legend, Lee Wulff, and they became the first couple of fly fishing. After Lee died in 1991, Joan carried on the torch and made it burn even more brightly.

Her accomplishments are her own:

She was a champion tournament fly caster for 17 years, often decimating all-male fields of competitors. She co-founded the Wulff School of Fly Fishing, which is still going strong in its 39th year. She’s the author of two fly fishing books and a member of the IGFA Hall of Fame. When Joan entered the sport back in the late 1930s, it was exclusively a man’s world. That’s not the case anymore, largely due to her.

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Monte Burke.

About Monte Burke

I am the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Saban: The Making of a Coach,” a biography of Alabama head coach, Nick Saban. I’m also the author of “4TH And Goal: One Man’s Quest to Recapture His Dream,” which won an Axiom Award, and “Sowbelly: The Obsessive Quest for the World-Record Largemouth Bass,” which was named one of the best books of the year by Sports Illustrated and Amazon, and was chosen for Barnes & Noble’s “Discover Great New Writers” program. After a 14-year stint as a reporter, staff writer and editor at Forbes, I am now a contributing editor at the magazine. I’m also a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and The Drake. You can reach me at, via Twitter @monteburke, or through


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