Has Fly Fishing Forever Changed as We Knew It?


By Kirk Deeter, Editor of Angling Trade

Ironically, 2020 is “The Year of the Rat.” Given how 2020 has unfolded so far, I actually consider that to be an insult to rats.

But we are seeing some lifting of the pandemic fog where I live in Colorado and in many other places around the country—and fishing definitely stands to be affected… for better or worse.

On the “better” front, while we are in the throes of runoff in my area and river fishing is at least a few weeks away from normal “game on” in many places out West, every time I pass a local pond or lake, I cannot help but be flabbergasted by the number of folks I see fishing. And not just individual anglers … families. Moms and dads with kids of all ages—socially distanced in little familial pods on patches of green grass or docks along the water. Some are casting Snoopy rods, and some are even fly fishing. And catching! Bass… trout… pike… I’ve seen more lit up small faces in the last two weeks of hiking by water than I have in the past several years.

I thought about that for a bit, and it all makes sense. After all, there are no T-ball or soccer leagues here. No concerts, no rodeos. Nobody’s going to the movie theater, and the possibility of heading off to summer camp is still very much up in the air. Healthy outdoor family activities (and outdoor is an operative word, as science is learning that the risks of virus transmission are substantially lower outdoors than they are indoors) boil down to things like hiking, and biking, maybe frying a few ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass… and fishing! I don’t know about you, but when I was 11, given the choice between a march through the wildflowers or fishing, I chose fishing. Or frying ants.

Surely, there must be a way to tap into this, both short term and over the long haul. I don’t know if any of you are selling Snoopy rods… are you? I assume some of you are selling flies. And tippet. Maybe even guide trips?

Which leads me to the “worse” discussion. I know, I’ve heard, I bleed, and I understand that guide trips are way down, and in most places, people are only starting to catch up. And it might be a “way low” season or even a lost season for friends of mine in the Keys or elsewhere.

I do not know, in the age of COVID-19, whether things will ever return to the “norm.” Particularly not in terms of boat trips, in the age of social distancing, and what-not. We’re (meaning AT) not going to drop our CDC-based counsel on six-foot distancing until the CDC drops the six-foot guidance. That spells hard times for drift boat guides, and skiff guides. Where your states allow flexibility, we support that.

Wear a darn mask. It’s not for you. It’s for your sports. And it’s for the sport as a whole, so fishing doesn’t get shut down on a rebound of COVID-19 traced to someone taking a chartered fishing trip.

Another obvious “worse” observation is that the boat ramps—at least in Colorado—are now absolutely flooded with do-it-yourselfers, and day-trippers on stand-up paddleboards, flamingo inflatables and a circus of day trippers who do not give a rip about fishing, but just want to get away.

How do we possibly endeavor to get loose from that phenomenon? While we might bitch about the impact this might have on fishing… how do we find some moral high ground to move beyond the circus?

I come at all of this from a conservation and “make fishing better” context (via TU), as well as a “keep the industry afloat” context. I’m all about conservation, and healthy water. I’m also all about fly fishing as a vehicle to keep many of my friends and colleagues prosperous, and at least in business.

I want to hear from you. If we agree, we agree. If we disagree, we’re family, and we’ll talk. How do we turn the “what is” situation into something that benefits our beloved sport for the long haul?

What’s happening now will indeed change the course fly fishing is on… I think for the better.

But we must be smart. All those things we’ve talked about for the past month or so matter more now than ever. Fish hyper-local. Keep a rod length apart. Wear masks—not for you—rather, for the people you fish with. Masks aren’t about you, they’re for the people you care about. This isn’t over.

The greatest service all of us in the fly-fishing world can deliver upon right now is to be respectful and protective of the people who so desperately want to get out on the water and fish. And find ways to let them do exactly that. But responsibly.

Don’t, for a minute, discount the front-line healthcare workers, and all the stuff they are going through now. Vow to take some of those people fishing, free of charge, whenever they can. They’re still fighting a massive battle, and we’d seem like insensitive jerks if we merely fished through this pandemic without at least paying a little homage and respect to the people who really made a difference. That’s just common courtesy.



  1. Hank Rolfs on

    Good read. Healthy perspective.

    Wish I had some wise words to contribute. No answers here though. Just tears for my beer as I am forced to cancel one trip after another due to covid related travel restrictions.

    I am going into withdrawals…like a heroine addict. I never realized how much I depended on my fishing trips for mental health purposes. What a strange phenomenon we find ourselves experiencing. Sure hope a vaccine shows up soon…

    Stay safe,

  2. Your opinions are killing us after years of supporting you. Can we discuss a different tone? We are operating in Idaho. We are responding to high demand. There is a way to do this while reducing the risk. We all take risks everyday. Let’s fish! If you are not comfortable taking a guided trip, we respect that. However, there are LOTS of people that understand there is a risk and are willing to take reasonable precautions to enjoy a day in a drift boat with a guide.

  3. Good read Kirk. I really appreciate that you brought up the fact that science is really showing that in the outdoors, the risk of getting COVID-19 is greatly reduced. I think our industry, and other outdoor industries, have taking a big hit that was not needed (especially on the guide front). Some places that should be in peak season are really taking the brunt of this. But others can hopefully recover. I’m also in CO and many of the waters are fishing great, but last year we had a big runoff and waters didn’t recede until July. I’ve talked with a number of businesses that are about even, some up, and some are down. We always face issues on the business side, such as high water, fires, closures, economy, etc. The big difference here is we are facing a global issue.
    We will survive and we will get back out there. And, like you observed, I think more will get out there. I too have seen more families and especially more folk in their 20’s and 30’s getting out. Many of these folks have been too busy or doing other things that are now limited, so picking up the sport and finding they love it. We have had less pressure on spring spawning fish, and there might even be at least one permit out there that’s less nervous! 🙂 I can’t wait to make a cast to it!
    We at the Fly Fishing Show are planning ahead and working hard to support all of the businesses that work with us. We have to remain confident things will recover. Will they be “normal”? I don’t know, because I don’t really know what “normal” is. I assume we are constantly changing no matter what the situation. Maybe some trout streams where 6X was the norm can now be fished with 4X since the fish got a break? We feel for those that are struggling, but we will recover. Plan ahead and make sure to stay on top of things. Informing your customers and making sure to market what you have and when is going to be critical. I, for one, can’t wait to get out there!

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