When Anthony Naranja, the former captain of the US Fly Fishing Team, announced in 2013 that he was starting a new professional league for fly fishermen, the fishing world perked up its ears. At the time, Naranja promised big payouts and an elite, international level of competition. At a little bit over two years later however, members of the league now accuse Naranja of disappearing along with their expensive entry fees.
“He just basically disappeared. Wouldn’t answer emails, Facebook posts, calls. He still owes me about $19,000,” Cody Burgdorff told ABC 7.
Burgdorff was one of the most active members of the Pro Fly Angling Tour and had already invested $12,000 total in what he called a three-year “contract” with the league. Last year Burgdorff won the Pro Fly Angling Tour Championship in September, netting him a promised payout of $20,000. However, the angler said Naranja stopped sending him checks just two months later.
“This tournament was supposed to share with the world our passion of fly fishing,” Burgdorff wrote on Facebook. “Sadly it has turned into the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars by its participants and people associated with the tour.”
Including Burgdorff, at least 24 anglers were involved in the league before Naranja’s mysterious disappearance. In addition, a number of anglers also joined earlier this year, such as Jay Verhelst, who were not even officially inducted into the league before Naranja left.
“Not even the rookie camp we were promised beforehand to get us into the league and teach us the rules. He disappeared before that,” Verhelst said.
The Pro Fly Angling Tour’s website is still live, although it does not seem to have been updated since March. The league’s social media accounts have also been deactivated and are no longer available. Attempts to reach Naranja by reporters have been unsuccessful and according to ABC 7, the listed physical address for the Pro Fly Angling Tour is now occupied by a different business. Some participants suspect Naranja may have absconded with at least $100,000 in total.
Those involved with the tour said it is almost unthinkable for Naranja, who spent 10 years with the US Fly Fishing Team and is a dentist in Colorado, to throw away his reputation like this. At one time Naranja was seen as the most competitive fly fisherman in the country.
“To get paid for what you love to do while inspiring others to get outdoors and take care of the environment is fly. It’s cool. It’s fun. It’s awesome!” he said about the Pro Fly Angling Tour in 2013. “And if I can convince one teenager to get off their electronic device for a hour because they want to go outside and practice fly fishing in the hopes of one day making a living being a PFA Tour member, then I’ve made a difference. And in that accomplishment, I would proudly say, I am fly.”
Naranja has yet to respond publicly to the accusations. You can watch an interview with anglers below:
Image from Facebook