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.
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.
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.
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.
Stealing 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.
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.