Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Unfriendly Sport of Fly Fishing?

A recent post over at The Trout Underground has got me thinking. I know, I know, go run and hide.

The post posed some questions about fly fishermen, the industry, and their feelings about newbies in the sport, and has prompted quite a bit of attention.

I had an idea, which lead to a comment, which lead to more thinking, and here I am.

The Questions posed in the TU article were:
1) Is fly fishing too expensive to recruit newbies?
2) Is the industry newbie-unfriendly?
3) Are fly fishermen newbie unfriendly?

4) Is the sport’s focus on high-end gear and exotic places throttling the sport?
5) Recruitment during a recession is never easy (even as millions suddenly find themselves with spare time), but what will get newbies into the sport?
6) Do we want newbies in the sport? (This last for you cranky readers.)

The questions that got me thinking were 2, 3 and 6. First I thought about my possible answers to these questions. Then I thought about the sport in general, and the stereotypes about how fly fishermen generally are snobbish and self aggrandizing.

While I was pondering these feeling of the sport, I realized that the questions alone are almost answer themselves when you think about the reason anyone would even think to ask in the first place.

All Stereotypes, in my opinion, all have a little truth hidden somewhere in them.

So where is it hidden in the “good” people who fly fish? Is it even that hidden? It is there at all? Are the few assholes you meet while fly fishing the cause for most of it? No, because there are assholes everywhere, in all sports, but it seems that of all angling, fly fishing has the worst reputation for being a sport of the pompous.

Is this an old stereotype from the tweed days? I don’t know, but I can still feel it. Maybe I am one of them…. One of the self-important types, I mean, I do write a blog, which is a trait of the “Show Off” fly fisherman, from my Do You Know These People series. (There is only one so far, but I am currently working on a part 2) Crap, I did it again, plugging myself. Oh shit, it’s getting worse. Am I part of the problem?

Am I reading too much into this? Over analyzing it all? Does it even matter? Is there a secret army of anti-newbie fly fishermen lurking in the shadows, pulling the strings, turning the screws? Are we them, and they us? All of us lying to ourselves about being good nice people, when in reality we are just greedy, competitive animals that have developed a conscience and don’t speak what we really feel for fear of being found out. Everyone is a hater of something. Us and them. No matter what you say.

My friend of mine who does not fly fish, in mocking jest at the sport said while pretending to cast, “Check this out you pussies. Have you ever seen a more graceful, yet utilitarian cast such as this? The brightly colored line even helps you appreciate it from a greater distance.”

Is this how he truly feels? Or just a joke brought on by our recent conversation about stereotypes? Am I rambling? Will anyone really read all the way down to the end of this post?

I guess, in conclusion I am saying that it is the way it is, and we are who we are, and most likely we are not as good, or as important, or as smart as we think. But we do fly fish, so at least we got that part right.

-Alex who says he doesn’t care what you think, but secretly does.


  1. if u didn't care, u wouldn't hav comments enabled on ur blog. now would u? lol

    i recently moved out here to the desert from the ozarks. hillbilly culture still forms the foundation of ozarks society and traditions...especially outdoor recreation subculture. so there is not much in the way of a caste system (double entendre intended) that isn't based on one's capabilities: to perform and to play well with others - in that order.

    but i immediately ran into a severe case of snobbery laced with a heavy dose of racism when we joined the fly club here. and all i had to do to get hammered and drummed out of the club within days of joining was ASK about the following: fishing public waters in our local area, fishing for bass and pan fish, and teaching programs in the public schools/universities. i was quickly informed that the club existed so that the members didn't have to mix with the "trash" that dominates the borderlands region. and that they don't fish "public" without driving or flying to white Republican country. and that nobody from a PUBLIC school in this region would be interested in fly fishing, nor would any of the club's members be willing to rub elbows with PUBLIC school kids.

    and my wife and i couldn't get the hell outta there fast enough. so don't kid urself about it not existing in spades. i hav for years because i lived in a part of the country where it is the very rare exception rather than the rule. we fish public, teach public, recruit public, etc. and wouldn't imagine doing it any other way back in the ozarks. but these folks ran us off for even daring to ASK if they did it.

    but the bigger question about the industry and the media of fly fishing focusing on the high end stuff of fly fishing creating a daunting image to newcomers is a different matter. and i don't think that is a real problem as long as we do some "newbie" education pieces along the way. if you compare other outdoor sports media images to fly fishing imagery, the actual cost of entry to fly fishing seems the same or lower. i've pointed this out every time this comes up for the past few years. do the math. priced bass boat rigs lately? a "quality" baitcasting or spinning rod/reel combo? what about all the electronics? priced an african hunting safari lately? how about enough shotgun shells to become a decent wingshooter with that $1300 shotgun? price out setting yourself up to go duck hunting!

  2. Selfishly I really don't want to see any more competition for space on the streams I fish. However, in the long run, I believe it is in our best interest as fly fisherman to bring more people to the sport. The fish we target and even our sport itself see many diverse challenges from many directions every year. The more people care about the future of our fisheries and are committed to preserving them, the better it is for everyone that enjoys fishing...

  3. Anonymous8:05 PM

    Hell, I read it all. In all fairness to the fly fishing universe, the last question (Do we want newbies) was intended as a slightly over-the-top joke more than as a serious question, though anyone who's ever seen another fly fisherman walking towards the spot they were going to fish next might wonder at the humor of it all.

  4. i think u make a good point, david. but for me, i'm not so much concerned with bringing MORE people as i am with bringing YOUNG people and a more DIVERSE demographic. when u look @ the demographics of fly angling, it's pretty bleak. we're a bunch of old, white guys pushing 60 (median age). and that median age has been trending upwards at an alarming rate. statistically, n a couple more decades, we'll b dead. lol get the point?

    2 pass the sport and art of fly fishing on 2 future generations, we hav 2 get serious about recruiting people under the age of 30 n2 fly fishing. and all the studies show the best way 2 do that is by "hooking" them when they're still n school.

    currently, we're not even holding our own due 2 the "aging" factor. and i'd at least like 2 c us on a long-term trend 2 replace ourselves.

  5. Does anyone actually know what the sport is doing currently in regards to numbers?

    I read that in a Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association's survey, the number of people who fly fish in the US dropped almost 50% from 1987 to 2002, from 11 million to 6 million. Which was more than any other type of angling.

    That was the most recent data I could find, and the SGMA wanted me to pay $140 for the 2008 report. If this still the case?

    If it is, I think it's less a matter of making the sport grow, and more a matter of slowing its decline.

  6. that's probably about right. w/most stats, there r some peaks and valleys w/in the trend. but the big issue is the death of the ww2 generation and the fact that they haven't been replaced at anything even close 2 the rate at which they hav died off. some would say this is "normal." but it isn't. when u compare it 2 other types of fishing, we're sucking hind tit by a wide margin. fly fishing is generally perceived of as an irrelevant "old fogie's" pasttime.

  7. I perceive the current problems with flyfishing as the result of increased corporitization of what has always been kind of an obscure, bohemian sport. It is trying too hard to be mainstream and one-size-fits-all in its approach. Too topheavy with fewer and fewer big players calling the shots. Of course, they are little players compared to big business, but in the flyfishing world they have too much influence, and it is hurting us.
    I blame the manufacturers, magazines, awful tv shows - glorified infomercial, really - and advertizing and, general greed for what is happening. Defining flyfishing "lifestyes" and what is cool will be the downfall of what we love about flyfishing. You can't be cool unless you are wearing the right waders, sporting the right togs, casting a highdollar rod&reel. I call bullshit on that stuff.
    The industry loves newbies; they are the bread & butter of business, so flyshops and catalogues will be nice to them.
    Other anglers, I don't know: some tend to resent more and more folks on the water, can be generous but selective in sharing information. I find most flyfishers to be pretty generous and not "clubby."
    Problems begin when nice guys start hanging around trout clubs and such - they become more competitive, constantly rating their friends and other anglers. Assholes, pretty much.
    Thank god for the internet, it may be the thing to save us, just like it did in politics in this country, when nobody was telling anything approaching the truth except on the internet. A few crazies, to be sure, but we need something to shake up this moribund friggin sport.
    And I think the Fat Guys may be just the ones to do it, by Gum.

  8. Any fly fisherman who gets all stuffy with me will be told to GTF away from me.


What sayeth you?