What Needs to Change in Fly Fishing … Now

Let's move away from this ...
Let’s move away from this. The author in the early 2000s looks for praise from a fake fish.

Fly fishing is our beloved endeavor. It’s cool. It’s fun. It’s meaningful. But still in our infancy as a culture and industry, some things need to change … now.

Hero shots

These photos have been taken for many years. It’s been done. Let’s move on. Not only are hero shots played out, but seasoned anglers all know them for what they are. Look like more of a hero who’s done it before and #keepemwet.


What’s with the hate? The way anglers feud about what is “true fly fishing” — from Pacific steelheaders to Great Lakes steelheaders arguing about the meaning of the word “steelhead” to the legitimacy of nymphing versus swinging, et cetera — we have reached the point of ridiculousness. Personally, I think swinging is cooler than nymphing for steelhead. But when someone told me recently that “nymphing isn’t fly fishing,” and there is no difference between nymphing and conventional bobber fishing, I wanted to pull my hair out. Ever try to get a good drift on a big steelhead river with 60 feet of line out? There is technique. And let’s not put down the preferred methods of other anglers.

In July, I was on a river in Idaho and was told fishing had been tough. I saw a lot of bugs on the water and fish weren’t moving. When I threw a double nymph rig for an hour before leaving, someone in the parking lot told me to “Go back to California” for nymphing. Elsewhere, in states like Colorado where all but three rivers are dammed, winter nymphing near dams on tailwaters is a worthwhile endeavor. Is one only pure if they are tossing a parachute adams?!

Stop hating. It’s fly fishing. We’re a community. And we’re all pretty much on the same page.

Additional thoughts from Gink & Gasoline here.

Hardcore heroes

The best angler in the world is probably someone we’ve never heard of that spends nearly every day fly fishing the spring creeks of Western Pennsylvania. There is nothing valuable in pursuing being a “beast.” Be one or don’t be one. But you can’t be the former while trying to be. And the thing is, the true beasts of the sport are unbelievably skilled and accomplished. If you are a poser before getting to that caliber, you are a poser.

The same image keeps repeating itself: People taking pictures of themselves and pumping their chest for doing something that is otherwise a base standard in the outdoors (ie camping a few nights or hiking) then regarding it as hard core. Wearing a Buff on a flats boat is not hard core. It is very cool to do these things, but let’s be real about what is truly “beast mode.”

In any other venue, from rock climbing to academia, street credit is earned when you do something new. A first ascent, a new theory, and so on. This should be the standard in fly fishing as well. And if fly fishing is about connecting to nature, let’s all try to disconnect from ego.

Exploitation of people and the environment

It’s time we get real. Where are our flies coming from? Where is our technical clothing coming from? If we act like we are doing something pure while labor exploitation, human suffering, and pollution are part of the manufacturing process, we are lying to ourselves about what we are really doing. We cannot truly connect to nature if getting there involved disrespecting the dignity of human persons and ecosystems.

Fake fish

From hatchery steelhead and salmon to pellet-fed trout, there is often something horrifically unnatural about what we are doing. Let’s fix this. It’s a violation of the natural order that ought to be part of fly fishing. In the photo above, the trout came to the bank to eat when the truck rolled up to the pond. Seriously.

Inaction on ecological issues

Joining Trout Unlimited is great. Joining the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust is great. Watching DamNation and wanting to take down dead beat dams is great. Leaving it at that is not great. Our resources are too fragile and vulnerable to not do more. And if we collectively continue to do the bare minimum, we are unquestionably taking more than we give.

Devotion to material excess

Much of the fly fishing world is materialistic. We regard rods and reels as obsolete before they have even been on the market for five years. Gear is cool. But considering the cost, the resources, and all that goes into manufacturing, we are taking it too far. We even all wear matching clothing! Let’s move toward simplicity and authenticity.


Male anglers: Stop being weird perverts. If you can’t see a picture of a woman fly fishing without thinking, commenting, or saying something sexual, you might need to check yourself. You are disrespecting the sport when you reduce an accomplished woman angler into a sexual object.

Photographers and companies: See above. Also, with so many accomplished woman anglers, stop seeking out women who can’t fish but look good doing it for your marketing materials. This is setting back women in the sport.

Good-looking women who have only dabbled in fly fishing and see a window for angling fame (of sorts): Don’t. You are disrespecting accomplished women anglers who might ultimately get less credit for their accomplishments because of looks.

in the industry

There are too many copy cats. We see it with blogs all the time. Certainly there will be similarities in every segment of the industry, but don’t rip off the work of other people. Be original. Make an innovative and outstanding cooler. But don’t make it look nearly identical to a YETI while ripping off their product. If you dye the peacock hurl on a pheasant tail, you didn’t just create a new pattern. To add, let’s treat writers and photographers as professionals. The more we rip off their work or devalue it, the more incentive we give them to work in other industries.


Remember tying?! I rarely tie, but I recognize more of us (including me) need to. Fly shops are dying and depend on $800 rod sales to pay the water bill. When you look at other outdoor sports industries, money makers are not in big margins on high-end gear. Conventional fishing stores aren’t selling expensive rods. Surf shops aren’t making a killing on boards. They often in fact make good money in selling cheaper products like t-shirts. A rebirth of fly tying might be our key to a healthy future.


Ever wonder what we look like in the eyes of accomplished conventional anglers?! Let’s chill. It’s fishing. Did it make you uncomfortable that I did not write “fly” before “fishing” in that last sentence? If you have a $100 rod that you fish and love, embrace it. Don’t look at it as a lesser rod because we overvalue the newest, most expensive gear nowadays. And just because something new comes out, doesn’t mean we all need to flock to it as the new gold standard that we all must have.

People acting like they are doing something for the first time

You are either doing something for the first time or you aren’t. Could you imagine if people climbed Yvon Chouinard’s routes in Yosemite then acted like they were the first to do it?! For some reason, fly anglers are unapologetic about doing this all the time. Going somewhere way off-the-grid is awesome. But if it’s been done, don’t pretend like you are the Sir Edmund Hillary of that spot. Let’s respect our pioneers.

Pro staffs

I remember the first time I was on a pro staff. I was honored. Interestingly, my shop sales of that brand went through the roof shortly after. I was not an extraordinary angler. However, the sales rep knew I’d sell more product and sport their gear in the shop if I was on their pro staff. When I left the shop, I was canned from the pro staff immediately. There are legit pro staffs – actual professional staffs of expert anglers that serve the brand in more ways than advancing their marketing and sales needs. What we have now is a mockery of the concept.

Fake ultimate experts

One great thing about fly fishing is that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. And any honest angler ought to recognize that she/he could spend his/her life devoted to learning and still not know it all. So who are all of these new experts in their 20s/early 30s that know everything?!

A good angler recognizes that there is always a lot to learn. Case in point: April Vokey, who is perhaps one of the most famous fly anglers in the world.

From 60 Minutes:

April Vokey: “I’m not a great caster. I am not a great fly tyer. I am not a great writer. I’m not the best at any of those things.”

Bill Whitaker: “So what makes you so good at this?”

April Vokey: “I love it more than anyone I know.”

We need more of this honesty. Those who know it all are pretending. And if a young angler somehow does know it all, that’s a shame. April Vokey has enough respect and love for the sport to recognize that despite the fact that she is an outstanding angler, there will always be people that we all should look up to for their talents. In any field, experts know that there is always a great deal to learn.

Soul surfers recognize that ego and the pursuit of praise are destructive to the spirit of the sport. Some say that the best surfer in a session is the one having the most fun. Perhaps we could embrace soul fly fishing as a value.

– TH

51 thoughts

  1. You forgot racism, I absolutely love hearing “you don’t look like a fly angler” when I go to buy tying materials or the dropped jaws when people try to speak tying or techniques and I reply with more knowledge then they have about the subject. Yes I’m a fly angler and have been for ever, no I’m not white and I don’t dress in the stereotypical river fly fishing clothing, yes I’m covered in tattoos. Shut up, stop being close minded and ignorant and let’s wet a freaking line already

    1. Me too bro. I definitely have experienced that as well. I don’t dress like a typical fly fisherman but when I’m on the river it’s all business. Lol

  2. WOW! Am I missing something here? What happened to just going fishing? What is all the rest of this about? I must be a lost species or something. Hero shots? Fly fishing as a value? I don’t get it. I started fishing when I was six, with an old Pfleuger spinning reel and a beat-up fiberglass rod, chasing panfish and grass pickerel in a little rill I could reach on my bike. I caught my first trout on a worm with that same outfit, and grew up dunking worms. I still do. Along the way, I was fortunate enough to have someone teach me how to use the 9′ South Bend fiberglass poker I called a fly rod and take me under his wing. His Orvis split bamboo Flea was way out of my reach, and I don’t have anything comparable to it to this day. Until I lost the tip section two years ago, I was using an Orvison Madison River 5 weight I bought in 1986, for every kind of fly fishing – poppers for panfish and bass, any kind of trout fishing, even light salt water fish like albies and reds. And I fish however I want for trout – what’s with the purist stuff? I thought the idea behind fishing was to enjoy one’s self and catch fish. Do you really need eight different rods to do that? And a vest full of all kinds of bullshit you don’t even use? And 1,000 flies (probably all dry) tied by a top quality professional tier?And if all you do is fly fish – or even better, fish only dries – well, you keep on doing just that, because there’s a whole big world of fishing out there, and all you’re doing is keeping the stock pure for me. I fish for native, wild trout when I can, but let’s face it – stocked trout are necessary because so many people fish nowadays. There’s no shame in catching stocked trout. There’s no shame in how you do it, either – whether on dries, nymphs, streamers…isn’t there a challenge in figuring out what they’re feeding on that isn’t seen? And all that worm fishing I did just made me that much better of a nympher. But, there’s no shame in catching a trout on a spinner, or bass fishing with a casting rod, or using almost any kind of tackle of any kind of fishing. It’s fishing. It’s not rocket science.

    This article astounds me. In fact, this whole premise is so foreign to me I’m having a hard time understanding it. All this egoism! It sounds to me like a lot of people who fly fish are very insecure about simply doing something and enjoying it. Thanks for opening my eyes, though. This is all really fascinating. Do what you want, say what you want, get lost in your own head and live there. I’m going fishing.

      1. Tom, all love here. But I’m not sure what your point is. The article doesn’t talk about not using old pfleuger it says to do just that. Article never said about trout fisherman claiming to be the only purist. Or needing eight rods, it said to love your $100 rod and not look down on it because of new rod technology. Never spoke down on these things or anything about people just fishing because they love it ( I kind of felt the (probably all dry flies) and talk about a vest of useless stuff was condescending.
        I am 29 years old and part of the new generation of fishing. I couldn’t agree more with this article. I see friends boasting hero shots but don’t tell the whole story of the fish. All my friends have new expensive gear. I personally have rods that are older than me and grew up in Pennsylvania on the small spring creeks and understand the tradition, but most of the newer generation started fly fishing because it’s “cool”. You say about drowning worms (in context I assumed you’re talking about conventional fishi)… The article even tried to catch the reader feeling uncomfortable about not hearing “fly” In front of fishing. Im glad t to voice your opinion, but I feel like you mis interpreted the article.

  3. Interesting! I actually spend every available day fishing the spring creeks through out Pennsylvania usually 150-200 days annually since 2000. Fly fished and tyed flys since the age of 9. Throw in quite a few weeks out eest as well.
    I could not pass up commenting on your article since it is missing the obvious.
    You and many of those mentioned in your article need to do just one simple thing when it comes to all aspects of fly fishing.- always enjoy! It is the name of the game! It also works when not fishing! 🙂

  4. I find it slightly ironic that the first is “HERO SHOTS” followed immediately by “DIVISIONS”… We shouldn’t divide ourselves unless said person takes hero shots. ha ha.

  5. I agree with many of the points you make above. Particularly with those around hero shots, consumerism, sexism (and racism as pointed out by the gentleman above). I feel like you preach a bit though when it comes to the ideas of elitism and pride that goes hand in hand with fishing and those that pursue the art. I say go out and thump your chest as much as you want when you catch even the smallest of fish. if you get up at 5 am to throw on your old waders and feel like Indiana Jones when your exploring your local river then go ahead and capture it on your GoPro and tell everyone how badass you are. Not everyone gets to be the first or the baddest but taking pride in finding your own little adventure on your local creek is really awesome and more than most people around us will ever do. Your an angler and an adventurer. People like that are the one that fund local fly shops with their dreams and pocket books. Same thing the anonymous web donors to the many environmental causes out there. It’s better to participate but I am guessing that TU would just as soon enjoy your funds. Keep giving and do what you can. We all appreciate it. Last thought goes out to the copy caters (sp ?). Remember that those guys help keep folks like yeti honest and if there marketing teams want to lure in consumers and fly shop owners with team accolades, certifications and pro staff titles then whos it hurt? The integrity of the pto staff? Their an invention of the same exact marketing engine.

  6. Amongst all the other good points I’m always amazed that I can walk into any fly shop and there are four people working there with me as the only customer. It doesn’t seem like they are worried about the water bill.

  7. Hero shots are a wonderful part of fishing memory and there is seldom harm in it for the fish when done correctly. Yes, keep them wet. More often than not those pictures make it to an easel at someones funeral or an album for family and friends to share. Many of the local fly boards have been on this rant for sometime and it is nothing new in our culture. When I am taking my kids fishing and the decision is a hero shot or one of a million fish laying in a the water or a net..you know what shot I am taking. The picture on my desk is of my 8 and 12 year olds with a nice fish, held high, wet and respected for a great photo that captures so much more than had it not been inclusive of everything. Respect the resource.

  8. I agree you with on most points, but as fly anglers often do, you are overthinking things and just plain nitpicking. Its articles like this that get people away from the simple parts of fly fishing. I’m sorry, but most people live pretty damn busy lives and are not thinking about all this crap in the few hours they may or may not get to fish each week. On hero shots, this can be thrown into you’re question “why all the hate?”. Is it so terrible for someone who spends months planning a trip, days searching for a nice fish, finally lands one, and God forbid wants to have his/her photo taken with it? Are we all that jealous that the first reaction we have to someone else holding a nice fish is “what a dbag!”? I understand getting the fish back ASAP and honestly if I can’t take a picture of a fish within the first 20 seconds of it being landed I’ll just release it. But holy hell who is the real asshole, the guy who took a quick photo with a fish he worked hard for and is proud of, or the guy who sees the photo and turns his nose up at it? I dunno man, I think we all just need to chill out a bit grab a box and a rod and head for the river.

  9. You forgot: people writing articles telling other people how to enjoy their hobby. The irony in this article makes me laugh.

  10. There are a couple of things I agree with in this article, but lots of things that I feel like you are being a bit of an “Elitist”. For example, I agree with the conservation part, but disagree with the hatchery raised section. Some of us live in environments that can only support trout for 6-8 months a year, and in order to fish for trout, they need to be stocked, this doesnt make my trout any less a trout than a non hatchery one. Also, why do you care that I spend MY money on a new rod or waders? If anything, I would be helping the industry by pouring money into it. Lastly, hero shots can easily be done without hurting the fish, and I think that if you want a picture holding that slab you just fished the pool for 2 hours for, by all means do it.

    At the end of the day I could care less about what anybody has to say/think about my fishing, or my gear, or the people I follow on Instagram/FB that may or may not be busty/attractive women that may or may not actually know how to fish. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and you shared yours, now I shared mine. The world goes on, you’ll continue to do what you do, and I’ll continue to do what I do.

  11. The classic hero shots straight on quick pic are fine by me.Today the “new” flat bill hero shots are to me the most annoying part of fly fishing looking up to the heavens,sticking your tongue looking down on a fish like you conquered Rome is plain stupid!

    You hit on the pro staff thing and thats my next rant there are way too many people that are on pro staffs that should not be! Just because your a blogger,a fly tier,a once a month guide or your a pretty girl thats holding a fish does not give you a automatic right to get products at a special discount! You wonder why fly shops are going down all over North America this is a big reason among others!

    I know how to fly fish been doing it a long time but I am never going to say I am better than anyone else I don’t need to be a hero in anyones eyes! Whatever happened to going out fishing and enjoying nature and not having to worry about posting to social media?

  12. I have fly fished for about 25 years, never used leader or tippet, just seven feet of mono. I often spray attractant on my flies. I often eat the fish I catch, following my local laws. If it’s windy, I switch to spinning tackle. Whatever. It’s fishing…not a Star Trek fan club.

  13. This 66 year old lifetime woman angler, (primarily fly fishing), agrees with most of this BUT there are places in our waterways for hatchery raised fish. For many young anglers and some of us that can’t get around so well to reach less impacted waters the hatchery trout may be the ones we are able to reach and they can provide fun too. AND they can provide an opportunity to hook a kid on fishing while teaching stream-side courtesy, ecological responsibility and the basics of being a true angler whatever methods you prefer! Putting fish in waters where they can’t impact native fisheries requires some study but most of it has been done and a balance CAN be achieved! Yes, I am a catch and release fisherman but I never release a fish that is too tired to survive or has been bloodied, some responsible take is not a bad thing either. Respect is the key to most of what you discuss.

  14. How about if you are having fun and catching fish who the F#$# cares about everything else. If you don’t like my “hero shots” than don’t look at them, if you are mad because someone caught a “dumb fish” than that’s your issue.
    What a stupid written article. And of course we are all wearing the same thing, waders and a fly pack!

  15. The one area not addressed, is the influx of “Bloggers” in the Fly-Fishing arena. How many of these “experts” are going to sweet talk the manufacturers into putting them on Staff because they tell the company they reach thousands of people with their blog, and therefore the company should put them on staff for the publicity the company will gain from mentions in the blog. That is crap that should not stand and it dilutes the good writing and blogging that does exist.

  16. The author sounds as though he has some deep seated guilt he needs to get rid himself of? If this helps him in his therapy I’m all for it. Just so the author knows, I read every word of it and I want to let him know he and fly-fishing are going to be alright,not to worry. Could fly-fisherman including myself be less judgmental? Heck ya! But the author first needs to look at the man in the mirror.

  17. Being in the fly fishing world for most of my life I notice growing more into it through the years their seems to be a growing resentment,anger,and even hatred between fly angers in the industry. Passive aggressive people like our author here are really no better. They just like to be the person standing up on their podium trying to let everyone know that they said it first and they they can afford to spend a lot of time writing about something that has a .0000001% impact in the outdoor world.

    I applaud you for investing your time and creating more of a division in the fly fishing community 🙂

    Don’t have too much fun out there. And please stop taking pictures. Preserving memories and letting fish go free is overrated.

  18. You know what is even more elitist than being a snobby elitist? Criticizing in great detail everything the elitists do wrong. Just fish and focus on yourself.

  19. These comments are unreal. The author argues that people should be more virtuous, less ego driven, not sexist or materialistic, etc. He also uses himself and his own face an example of failure. He also says we should stop hating people who nymph, use cheap gear, etc.

    What’s with all the haters?!

  20. This article captures the essence of the desired ethic of fly-fishing, namely enjoy it for what it offers- a connection to nature, the potential to hook up to a wondrous creature in its own element, a lifetime of learning, joy and humility in pretty much equal measure. It doesn’t have to be “better” than another type of fishing, and one type of fly-fishing is neither better or worse than any other type. Always resist the urge to take yourself too seriously.

  21. That’s one hell of a lot of ideas about what all the rest of us should be doing and how we should be doing it. While a small amount of what you said rings true, the way you say it does nothing but make you look cynical. “Hey, look at me…I used to do this stuff but now I’ve seen the light and changed my ways. You guys should all follow suit.”
    You sound like you’d be a total joy to spend the day in a driftboat with…just saying.

  22. Wow, I really can’t believe the backlash against what this guy is saying. Sure, he sounds snarky and contradicts himself. But he also raises a number of important points that should not be overlooked. Particularly about sexism, inaction on environmental issues, materialism, and acceptance of your fellow angler.

    Treat women with respect. Advocate for your local watershed. Reduce your use of resources. Stop to consider the environmental and social impacts of gear production. Don’t hate your fellow angler.

    If you can wade through the confrontational snark, these are the take away messages from this post.

    1. Agreed Ryan. But he comes off as some sort of prison inmate that has suddenly found Christ.Almost as if he has some deep seated guilt that he needs therapy for.

  23. The article is what it is… simply an opinion that can be ignored or addressed. The bigger picture is that this behavior is not exclusive to the fly fishing industry… its human behavior, unfortunately. So why do we have the need to always comment and voice our opinion (the one thats always right aka ego)? Better yet, why do we even have these crazy thoughts going through our mind continuously without our participation (over 60,000 of them in a 24 hr period)? Hummm… sounds like we need to address ourselves first to stop the “insanity of humanity”. Lets stop being victims of our brains for once. Then we can start “truly” living.
    Afterward go check out my website http://www.jpflyfishing.tv and lets fly fish and live! JP

  24. The author is not complaining.
    And encouraging respect for fish and people does not make the author an elitist.
    Also, when the author argues that those who nymphs for steelhead shouldn’t be criticized and cheap gear should be embraced, he is showing that he is not an elitist.

  25. A double-nymph rig in the middle of summer on a river in Idaho is, technically, considered sacrilegious. Just throw a dry dropper or even swing a streamer next time and us Spuds will be nicer to you, maybe even offer you a beer.

    1. Don’t care. Not out fishing looking for nice people.As a matter of fact please don’t come anywhere near me when I am fishing! Don’t want your beer because it probably is Bud or Miller. So Bye.

  26. Fully agree. Started fly fishing, bamboo & silk, in 1952 at 4 years old. Have tried other forms but was too hyper to stand still, for bait, and preferred the “finesse” of the fly casting over spin fishing. In my intro of my book I stated that, “There are those that try to make fly fishing sound much more complicated than it actually is so they can appear to have much more expertise than they actually have.”. I also tighten lots of jaws, when doing my presentation “Tips & Tricks to Stillwater Fishing” when I flip up the last page, with the following quote, after saying if you really want to catch a lot of fish while fly fishing remember this: “Fly fishing is nothing more than clean finger bait fishing with a different delivery method!”.

    If you want a written copy of the Tips & Tricks you can respond here and I’ll send a copy of the file. It’s free.

  27. While I agree with much of what was written, I believe that hero shots have a place in the same way people take photos of memorable events or achievements. When handled properly fish are not harmed from a quick picture. I honestly think that educating people about how to handle fish properly is a better way to approach this issue rather than saying all hero shots are bad. You lost me with the Pro Staff comments. I am not officially on any pro staff, but I do receive industry pro and guide discounts on items I buy from some companies, and just like you mentioned they do this to boost sales by getting the people that sell the stuff stoked. I guess I don’t understand the problem. Pro Staff and Pro Team are different than giving a discount to people that sell your stuff. To be on “the pro staff” you have to be endorsed and claimed by said company, I could be wrong but I don’t think that was the set up you had with the company when you worked in that shop.

  28. Hero shots bother me to no end! Guys just look at the camera and smile it’s simple! This crap of looking up in the air or your stupid flat bill hat blocking your face as your looking down or last of all my pet peeve of sticking your tongue out like a panting dog! Keep it simple and make it quick get the fish back in the water!

  29. I’ll continue to hound maps and use the many resources afforded to me by modern technology to establish my hunches, then I’ll go and check on them. It’s likely I’ll have a fly rod with me, but more likely that I’ll be too busy getting bent on my jigging rig to hold it much. I love it when I’m catching on the fly though.

    Exploration and learning are my passions when in pursuit of my fishy friends. While exploring, I simply choose to seek out the big fish in obscure places. It’s good to have a target and even better to hit it!

    Many of the points stated in this article are similar to my own opinions, but others seemed like more of a jab at others, all while condemning such.

    “Hero Shots”? I call them memories when I care to hand the camera to someone else for a meaningful capture, and yes, I smile for them. It’s because I’m happy. They’re not taken for you or you or you, they’re taken for me. I’ll share them with others to encourage them to appreciate a remarkable fish as well.

    “Keep’em wet”? It’s a catchy hashtag, but more appropriate to (hopefully) describe the hands of the angler, should they choose to release the meat tube they’re holding.

    Fish are still wet when elevated from the water for a quick snap of a shutter. I wish this trendy phrase would die. Yeah, I get it. It’s not meant to be taken literally, but I’m literate and words have meaning.

    “Fake Fish”? Come on. Unless we’re talking about replica mounts, they’re real fish. Again with the literacy. Granted, the appeal of catching pellet-fed pets escapes me, but others enjoy it and that’s fine.

    Stocked fish are needed in today’s fishing world. When stocked as fingerling, they’re basically wild and, without them, I’d have no trout to catch out here in the west.

    I’ll admit that the true wild populations offer something very special though.

    We all have our opinions. There’s mine.

    Much love, fish on!

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