Annual fly fishing tournament in Farmington, New Mexico, raises money for children in need

Fly fishing in the San Juan River in Farmington, New Mexico
Anglers float fishing in hopes of landing one of the infamous trout that call the San Juan home. Photo courtesy of San Juan River Bi-Fly Tournament.

Fishing and peace go hand-in-hand — unless you lose a big fish, of course. Standing in the water with a fly rod seamlessly translates to hope and moments of introspection that many anglers file neatly into memories like colorful flies in a tackle box. Indeed, fishing and hope are nearly impossible to separate, which is why the annual San Juan Bi-Fly Fishing Tournament in Farmington, New Mexico, is so fitting for its recipients. At the receiving end of the tournament is a special group of Four Corners-area Native American children who are supported by the Four Corners Home for Children, a charity operated and overseen by Navajo Ministries.

In the Bi-Fly, both the angler in the stream and kids benefit from the quiet sport.

San Juan River Bi-Fly Fishing Tournament
Navajo Ministries President, Raymond Dunton, thanks anglers at the benefit. Photo courtesy of San Juan River Bi-Fly Tournament.

Bob Fitz, executive operations director of Navajo Ministries, gave rise to the Bi-Fly nearly 30 years ago. As its originator and also the tournament director up until last year, Fitz has been able to combine two passions close to his heart — helping children and fly fishing. Simply, the tournament provides anglers with a way to give back by supporting the Four Corners Home for Children.

“The event tells a lot about people who fish,” said Fitz. “They enjoy the fishing, but what they enjoy even more is raising money for the kids.”

Fishermen descend on the San Juan River every day. The “Juan” is as famous for its big trout as it is for the big numbers of anglers who chase them. It’s difficult to keep a world-class fishery a secret, yet for one weekend a year the large number of anglers descending on the river is a good thing. This year, on August 23 – 24, anglers from across the country will converge on the San Juan River to participate in the 26th annual San Juan Bi-Fly Tournament, the single largest fundraiser for the Four Corners Home for Children.

San Juan River Bi-Fly Tournament
Anglers float fishing in hopes of landing one of the infamous trout that call the San Juan home. Photo courtesy of San Juan River Bi-Fly Tournament.

Twenty-five teams of two anglers each will spend the weekend fishing with a guide and raising money through individuals and sponsors who have pledged a dollar amount for every inch of the largest fish landed by the sponsored angler. Anglers will walk-wade one day and float the next in the hopes of landing one of the notorious monster trout that call the San Juan home. The bigger the fish, the more money raised. The two-day event culminates with an awards banquet and silent auction where anglers and donors share camaraderie and fish stories over a meal.

The tournament is strictly catch-and-release, and all fish will be measured and recorded by the guide. Only two flies are allowed each day. Lose them both, you’re out. Upping the ante this year will be the “Catch for Cash,” where three special fish are tagged and worth a $25,000 cash prize if landed by an angler in the tournament.

Four Corners Home for Children
A game of “Apples to Apples” takes place among the children of the Four Corners Home for Children — the sole recipient of the San Juan River Bi-Fly Fishing Tournament fundraiser.Hannah Begay

Four Corners Home for Children provides a safe and love-filled home for up to 20 Native American children who have been removed from a family home for a range of reasons, from severe abuse to neglect. Since its inception in 1953, the home has helped more than 1,000 children. The children don’t just live at the home, they learn and heal. In many cases, they become an extended family for the house families that raise them.

“I have seen the value in growing up with foster siblings,” said Lisa Chaves, the current director of the Bi-Fly, whose parents were house parents from 1975 until 1992. “I have also seen over the years how the tournament has directly benefited the children. It has continually been a big part of enabling these children to have a home.”

To the bystander, it may look like the angler is netting a prized fish, but the real prize is in the money raised for these deserving children.

Over the past 26 years, the tournament raised well over $1 million, with last year alone bringing in over $100,000.

“This money goes directly toward the care and nurturing of the children,” said Fitz. “Our annual budget to run the program is approximately $1 million a year. We don’t receive any federal or state funding. All of the money comes from fundraisers, donations and grants.”

For these kids, hope hangs on every cast. With every fish landed, the tournament offers hope for kids who have come from a background of trauma, fear and abuse. It takes a lot of devotion, patience and hope to turn these lives around, something that anglers can relate to as these attributes are at the essence of angling quiet waters. Which is perhaps why this tournament is such a perfect fit to raise money for children in dire need of these facets of their lives.

brown trout, fly fishing in Farmington, New Mexico on the San Juan River
An angler displays a brown trout caught in the Bi-Fly Tournament. Photo courtesy of San Juan River Bi-Fly Tournament.

For many anglers, it’s not the moment a fish takes a fly that draws them back to the salve of these waters. It’s the hope that all is forgotten except for that which lies out in front. It’s the hope that takes anglers back to the water, and it’s the water that delivers the prospect of optimism. Fishing offers a good lesson about starting over and letting go of the past. And is the perfect accompaniment to helping the children at Four Corners Home for Children.

The San Juan River Bi-Fly Tournament will be held August 23-24. There are still slots available to participate in the tournament, with hope at the end of every cast.

Jenny Johnston is an outdoor writer, 3rd generation Durango local and mom to two wild and free children who are expert stick and rock collectors. Look for her and her brood on top of mountains and chasing fish in a stream near you.