By Kirk Deeter
Fly fishing is basically about problem solving. Adapting to the environment around us. Anticipating what might happen next. That’s what we do. We revel in challenges.
While some in this industry are still certainly reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, others are keeping their heads above water, and some are even making money hand over fist. For example, David Leinweber, owner of Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs was recently on Fox News where he explained how his business (like many fly shops) went from bust to boom over the course of the summer.
That’s great, but David raises an interesting point when he wonders what next year might look like, and how many newbie anglers will actually stick around.
I also hear from many in this industry whether we want so many people to “stick around,” at least in some places.
There is no denying that fly fishing is experiencing a MOMENT. More people have found the water this summer (in the absence of youth sports leagues, and crowded malls, movie theaters, etc.) than ever before. And if you listen to public health experts, it’s going to take many months—even after the development of a safe and effective vaccine—for things to look anything like pre-pandemic “normal.” There’s every reason to assume next summer will look a lot like this one, at least on rivers and lakes.
In some regards, like families embracing the sport, the infusion of youth and diversity, people appreciating public lands and waters more than ever… that’s nothing short of wonderful.
In other regards, like the crowded boat ramps and daily raft and dory armadas choking certain rivers… the silly piles of rocks popping up in pristine trout streams (big time kudos to Fly Lords for literally putting the boot to “cairns”)… and the shortages of some products that retailers would sell like hotcakes if only they could get their hands on them… well, those are things we probably ought to talk about.
With that in mind, I’m going to throw out four topics that I think will factor strongly in the next several months, and invite you all to chime in as well.
Quality engagement. For years, “grow the sport” has been the mantra. If more people take a sip of fly fishing, more people will invest themselves in the sport, and become steady customers and stewards of resources. Well… that’s sorta true. If we actually take the time to teach fly fishing, we’ll end up with happier, more dedicated consumers. If we fail to do that, and just take them for boat rides, and/or send them out the door with a new rig but no clue how to actually use it, that might ring the cash register short term, but we risk creating a hole in the bucket of already dedicated anglers who get turned off by over-pressured waters. And also we risk the newbie getting bored, frustrated, and ultimately doing little else for fly fishing than taking up space. Teaching is the key. Fly shops and guides are key gatekeepers in this regard. If you’re looking for a reason how the dealer stays relevant in an era when manufacturers also sell direct you just found it.
Ethics. I’ve been low-holed more times this summer than I have in the past decade. I’ve seen more people leave a raft or drift boat in the middle of a busy boat ramp for a half hour or more, more often this year than any other. I’ve seen a lot of hook-scarred and floating trout. I haven’t seen many shouting matches, but I have heard from others who have. You can’t be upset with some of these people, because many of them simply do not know any better. They’re new. They’re enthusiastic. They’ve found God’s country, and like everyone else, they’re a little “off their game” to begin with because of all the weirdness in the world. Manufacturers and retailers need to work together to politely, gently instill the ethic as part of the teaching process. Lead by example.
Fly tying. One of the things I’ve noticed is that many of the people who “discovered” fly fishing this summer didn’t really discover it for the first time, rather, they reconnected to the sport they knew a bit about, but were too busy to engage in… until now. It was “teed up” perfectly to engage young families in fly fishing… right up until those families had to figure out how and where their kids would be educated this year. This is a bit of an aside, I admit, but I think fly tying is going to experience this winter what fly fishing did this summer, meaning people who used to do it are going to come back to it. I’d be stocking up on fly-tying materials, and figuring out e-commerce channels and ways to teach would-be tiers like my business depended on it in the near future, because for some of you, it will.
Public access and conservation. With so many people getting out to fish, hunt, hike, camp, and such in recent months, it’s become obvious that we need more and better public land and water access than ever before. In the very least, the current situation should put a temporary halt to the dopey assertion that the federal government should divest of public lands and waters. If there are going to be more anglers, we need more fish. Not more stocked fish. More fish that run naturally in the seas, rivers, and lakes. We need cleaner water, and more miles and acre-feet of it. And we need it starting now. You can’t play golf if nobody cuts the fairways and rolls the greens. Same for fly fishing; if there’s no place to play, we risk shrinking under the weight of our own enthusiasm.
With strategic thinking and collaboration, I think we can take this “moment,” make the good things stick, and eventually put the bad in the past. There’s no better community of professional problem solvers to be found anywhere in the world.
Stay safe, stay smart, stay healthy… Angling Trade is here to help and we appreciate your collaboration and input. Always.