Angling Trade Commentary: Ambassadorship Gone Awry

Many of you are likely familiar with American Angler magazine’s Jan./Feb. cover. The shot by Colorado-based photographer Matt Shaw was your standard big brown grip-and-grin. But the story behind that unfortunate image has since morphed into something else.
Following its publication, Shaw and his subject—career guide, artist and brand ambassador Patrick Duke—were accused of coaxing the sexed-up trout off an active spawning redd. Then it got more tangled. An article from earlier this month, in SweetwaterNOW, details an ordeal that went beyond the ethics of targeting spawners, and reveals a series of game-and-fish violations perpetrated by the party.
In short, their group got ticketed for fishing a closed section of river and for not carrying life jackets in their raft. Duke also paid a fine for fishing without a valid Wyoming license.
Duke and Shaw have since been skewered on social media—across the same platforms that helped make them commodities. And we’re not encouraging any further feeding on the carcasses of their reputations. People screw up. We get that. But we also believe this is a good opportunity to hit pause and to ask ourselves some tough questions:
As an industry, are we inadvertently supporting a new breed of conduct that favors instant hype over individual character? And when we reward these antics with endorsement deals and the covers of leading magazines are we equally to blame?
Duke didn’t blood-dope his way onto a podium. He didn’t poach your private information and sell it to shady Russians. He didn’t even pay a porn star hush-money to keep his name out of the tabloids. He is a flyfisher accused of posing with a spawning trout, after not purchasing a fishing license. Is he the reincarnate of Stalin? Probably not. Are there lessons to be gleaned here? The answer is certainly yes, and we’ll be exploring them in the upcoming summer issue of Angling Trade.
In the meantime, let us know your thoughts.


  1. Mike Sepelak on

    LOTS of angles in this story that deserve exploration, from social media’s influences to fishing ethics to whistleblowing protocol to character assassination (or suicide) on the worldwide web. I look forward with great interest to the upcoming issue. A discussion both timely and worthwhile.

  2. CHet Troutman on

    Knowingly breaking the law (fishing without a license) should be warning enough for the ethics of this guy….

  3. Probably worth pointing out that the trout in question was a brown trout, which is actually an invasive species where it was caught. We have a weird thing about ethics involving trout in particular in this sport. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but what if this fish had been a spawning carp? Or even a spawning native fish like a muskie or a black bass? Or, and this probably touches a lot closer to home for many Western anglers, what if it had been a Pacific salmon, all of which are caught on their spawning run?

    That article looked like a hatchet job written by a dude with a pre-existing beef. The trout in question was released unharmed and almost certainly went back to spawning. Does the angler get a demerit for targeting a vulnerable fish? Sure, I’ll take some points off the trophy value. Did he deserve to get crucified by self-righteous keyboard warriors? C’mon.

    I don’t know either party, but I think there are equally valid questions to be raised here about rounding up an internet posse to get back at someone for unknown prior beefs.

  4. Brower Moffitt on

    It all about being a responsible and ethical angler
    I look forward to reading your upcoming article.
    I’m sure there will be many points of view.

  5. Fishing redds is unethical to most anglers. Not having the proper type or quantity of pfd’s in your boat, who hasn’t been guilty of that at least once? However, fishing without a license on closed water is illegal, period. That was simply poor decision making and should be punished.

  6. I think the real issue is pushing the legal and ethical limits for photos/videos which causes more regulations and this is just one of countless examples. When you are scuba diving under a dam in a restricted area (toilet bowl) or fishing redds at night on the Taylor it does not take a genius to figure out this behavior might lead to loss of access and closures down the road. The Fly Fishing Industry is small and I hate to see anyone get roasted like this but it makes me think am I partially to blame as a manufacturers rep? We (the industry) are not setting the standards for our ambassadors and pros ethical behavior? Should we make ambassadors and pros sign contracts listing ethical behavior standards. Is this the “me too” movement for sexually active trout?? I just want to make sure that future generations have the same access to quality fishing As I enjoyed and follow the traditions of fly fishing ethics so I can sell them all more gear and grow our awesome sport. So let’s all debarb our hooks, keep the fish wet, not rape spawners, purchase fishing licenses, obey the laws, and don’t troll your fellow fly fisherman on public forum. Oh and Matt is correct. “carp lives matter”.

  7. You’re right. Forgetting your license in the car or something similar is “screwing up”. NOT HAVING a license, targeting spawning fish, etc., etc., etc, is a totally different story.

  8. When I first saw that cover I was happy for Duke, but knew immediately there was going to be controversy over the fact that was an obviously spawnining fish. I’ve known Duke for a long time and he is one of the best anglers you may come across. I can assure you that he brings fish in quickly and handles them with care. Did he screw up? Hell yes, and he knows it. And he paid his fines and didn’t argue the point because he knew he did. Was that fish on the redd or off? Was it done spawning? We can’t tell and the ethical part of this issue is up for debate. There are many studies that show that if a fish is handled properly and brought in quickly, they will go right back to spawning unharmed. Walking on redds is another major issue. I stopped fishing another river in WY years ago because it’s reputation was all about chasing fish on redds and there were as many anglers standing on the redds as fish.

    Zach makes another great point here. Who doesn’t want a photo of a nice lit up brown? And other fish? Some fish are highly targeted in the spawn; all salmon, bass, peacock bass, many ocean going fish, etc. Ever see a photo of a colored up brookie (native fish) or char or dolly? If you read articles in bass magazines they have ones on targeting the fish pre, during, and post spawn. Perhaps the issue on spawning fish is not to hide the fact, but actually discuss the proper ways to go about it if you so choose to. Did American Angler screw up by running that photo or did they choose it knowing that they would get a ton of press about this? Is that ethical? This isn’t an issue of ambassadors, but all anglers and behavior and how to handle and treat the fish we love. I sat in a boat with Duke once as we watched another guide fighting a beautiful, and quite large rainbow. One that was a fish of a life for most people. Eventually, Duke had to jump out and go net the fish and hand it to the guide because the fish was literally dying at the end of his line. It was laying in the current, no longer moving its tail and he had about enough pressure on it to troll the fish like it was on 9X tippet. Dead fish. I see tons of people squeeze and kill fish. Handling of the fish is a much more critical issue.

    Should ambassadors live up to a higher level? Hell yes. Should guides? Hell yes. Guides are teaching behavior. Ambassadors are to be leading the way. Jake is very right that there should be contracts. Almost every other sport has contracts for ambassadors and pros and they are required to live up to certain standards and not only represent the companies, but do more than just be cool for free gear. Is this the anglers fault or the manufacturer? (Don’t feel guilty, Jake, it’s not your deal to write the contract!)

    This story is about several topics and can each be discussed seperately:
    1) Breaking the law, it shouldn’t be done. It happens on purpose and by accident, we pay and are wrong either way. It should not be promoted.
    2) Ethical behavior in treatment of fish and is debatable until we have evidence. (Be careful here or we get rules like some countries where you have to kill the fish because you have already harmed them the moment the hook penetrates them and we all kill fish unintentionally or on purpose)
    3) Are guides, ambassadors, and pros to be held to a higher standard.

    I think the last two could make for some great articles. Perhaps fighting a fish and fish handling are the most lacking skills of most anglers. Andy Mill didn’t win so many tarpon tournaments (are they ethical?) by just pulling on fish and hoping for the best. That guy tests all his rigs and knows how hard he can pull and simply kicks the fish’s ass faster than most can.

    I would also like to see this much press on more important issues of conservation. For example, I just returned from a float trip in the Gunnison Gorge. We have been doing much to restore rainbow trout populations. 10,000 finglerling were stocked last fall. The flows were at 1,200 cfs all winter and then the Bureau of Reclamation dropped to 330 cfs last week. Nearly all the rainbow redds were abandoned if not dry. How does this help any of us? Stock fish and kill the ones reproducing?? (Jake, some of your guys should be flooding them with letters/emails) Education and conservation go beyond individual anglers, but if we all know more, we can all do more together.

  9. Jon Warbinger on

    Paying a pornstar money for confidentiality is not a crime so not sure what your point here is…Other than you are once again pushing away half your readers…

  10. While there can be a good deal to say, in the interest of keeping to the original issues…… Rules that were in effect were broken. There are penalties for that and it seems that they were paid. The ethics? I was not there, so , while there may be questions I cannot speak to this instance.
    Guides SHOULD be the first to follow and teach ethics with clients….

  11. The companies who sponsor these folks need to be aware of their “ambassadors behavior. Are they promoting fishing without a license to spawners in a closed section? I’m sure he is a great angler no doubt, but as a guide you should be held to a higher standard, especially when it comes to knowing the laws etc and setting a good example. Are these questionable behaviors acceptable to these brands? Is the push for these “hero/insta shots” worth it. My answer is no. Maybe the industry needs to put more pressure on the brands promoting these folks. They are the ones making it worthwhile for people to go out and push the limits looking for the next great shots-in the name of likes/thumbs ups/ mag covers etc.

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