Is fly fishing going to “implode” as a result of the pandemic?



By Kirk Deeter, Editor, Angling Trade Media

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities.

 We all saw what happened.  Last March, we all wondered how the heck we might survive (literally, and in a business sense) the pandemic. Sadly, some did not. Brick-and-mortar-based shopping got hammered. Travel took it on the chin even worse. But (as AT predicted), in the absence of T-ball leagues, and malls, and movie theaters, and all that, people had fewer other recreational options to tap.  And that sent a lot of folks straight to the river (or lake, or ocean), all over the nation.  Some to fish, some to float, some to boat, some to swim and others to merely be there. How many? The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation just estimated somewhere around 17 million people.

The “ A River Runs Through It” phenomenon that transformed fly-fishing in 1992 is now small potatoes in comparison to what happened in 2020.

And for all the collective hand-wringing the fly industry has done over the past 20 years… “How do we get younger?”  “How do we get more diverse?”  “How do we keep fly fishing en vogue in an increasingly urbanizing society?” … the answer/opportunity came out of nowhere.  Granted, it took the form of a shitty plague of Biblical proportion, but there are more young families, from all walks of life, from all points of the nation, that literally got their feet wet last year than ever in our lifetimes.

And all many of them want now is to learn how to fish.

But will fly fishing benefit from the goose that laid the golden egg, or will the fly-fishing community just lay an egg itself?

Sure, some businesses sold rods, and reels, and flies, and tippet faster than they could make (or stock) them. Some guides booked more days on the water than ever before.  Some media-particularly social media—saw their audiences balloon beyond expectations.  And for some, yeah, the money poured in.

But all that all came at another price.

That squeaky, grinding, crunchy noise you hear in your brain when you aren’t listening to the cash register ring is the hole that’s being drilled in the bottom of the fly-fishing consumer bucket.

Many of the die-hard aficionado types, who have been devoted to fly fishing for years (e.g. “the base”… the highest-spending, most dedicated consumers who actually buy $900 fly rods and $700 waders) are absolutely mortified by the crowds, the pressure, and the overall degradation of the on-the-water experience we saw last season.  Read the message boards.  Look at the threads.  We’re in a spot where some lovers of this sport are ready to throw their hands up and walk away, and the newbies are also having gag-reactions to their first impressions, because of the circus atmosphere. And that pressure is unlikely to dissipate—the RBFF study also indicated over 90% of the newbies on the water want to continue that connection.  That’s wonderful on one hand… what opportunity!  It’s very, very dangerous on the other.

It breaks my heart, as a former guide, and someone who has written about, worked with and maintains so many genuine personal connections with guides and outfitters throughout the country that guides and outfitters risk being the ones who are tarred and feathered.

Guides, outfitters, and shops have been, and in my mind will be, the gatekeepers, the shepherds, the stewards.  And manufacturers who see this current situation as an opportunity to sell more direct, and boost the bottom line, without also lifting and working collaboratively with those gatekeeper shops, guides and outfitters right now are not just selling out the partners who made their brands happen in the first place… they are risking selling out the sport as a whole.

On the other hand, some outfitters are hosing the fly community by being short-sighted.  For example, it’s maybe not the best idea to run a multi-boat armada to accommodate a bachelor party on a public stretch on one of the most popular floats in Colorado, on a weekend, in the middle of summer. I saw this happen as I rowed my 22-year-old aspiring-attorney niece, and 17-year-old fishing-obsessed nephew—exactly the types we need to engage for the long-term health of the sport—only to have their experience on one of the most sacred, pristine rivers in the world end up being a day of watching a bunch of drunk, foul-mouthed googans reefing on fish and peeing off the backs of dories.

And some wonder why the fingers get pointed at guides and outfitters, and why there are movements in places like the Madison, or the Colorado, or the Delaware to “control” this stuff.

I still believe fly fishing is more than a market; it’s a community, even a family. Which is to say, we’re all in this together. Always have been, and hopefully always will be.

So, let’s work together to think about solutions on how to manage the influx, the crowding concern, and keep things pointed in what might unquestionably be a huge upward path for fly fishing.

As a habit, I never raise a concern without also raising some possible solutions/things to consider.  So let me offer a handful here, and if you think I’m full of beans, tell me.  I’m a big boy, and I can take the criticism.  I just want to find a path forward. Outfitters:

    1. Raise your prices for guide trips.   Add a hundred bucks per trip, and share that with your guides. Pay guides better, and pay yourself better.  The dabblers won’t notice the difference, and if they do, fine.  Better to do 100 trips at $700 a day than 125 trips at $500 a day.
    2. Talk to each other. Even though you’re competitors… spread it out.  Fine, your permit says you’re entitled to A.B.C… trust that that will come in the long haul.  “I’m going to be here with X, you go there with X, so we’re not tripping all over each other” is a very enlightened approach.
    3. Limit the hours that guides are on the water. Sure, chase the hatches and so forth, but the average non-angler client doesn’t begin to understand that stuff.  Yield a window to those who do.  Give them a shot.
    4. Focus on “coaching” and “teaching” and make a new generation of do-it-yourself anglers. The people who just want boat rides and pulling on fish are not long-term prospects… in fact, they are obstacles to those who really are legitimate anglers, or might want to be.
    5. Catch fewer, better fish, as the benchmark for success. Instill that on your sports. We share the resource, and we need to share the fish.  A 30-fish day might have been the gold standard on your river five years ago, but bobber fishing just to feel the tug, without any real thought, isn’t really the essence.  Catch a few on nymphs, then endeavor to catch a few on dries, or streamers, whatever.  Make anglers… not just photo-ops.
    6. Work together and make a plan, together, for when the DNR (or whatever it’s called in your state) comes calling. Believe me… they are going to come calling.
    7. Lastly, double down on conservation and public access.  Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, American Rivers, CCA… whatever.  These groups make the sport possible in the first place, and it is unconscionable to be in the business of selling fishing, these days, if you don’t also demonstrate a conscience.

This can literally be the greatest, most positively-transformative “moment” in the history of fly fishing.  Or it can be the demise of the sport and your business.  This should be a priority concern for the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, and all its members. It is the number-one concern of Angling Trade.

Let’s seize the moment.  Let’s work together.  Let’s figure this out.



  1. greg lowell on

    Great column. I saw the effect of pandemic fishing this summer. Saw anglers where I hadn’t run into them in years. Also saw some crappy behavior. It’s kind of like the uptick in golf this year where new golfers on the course had not a clue about etiquette, slow play, divot repairs, etc. We need to be bold enough to address bad angler behavior when we see it – in a nice way. It will make it better for all of us.

    • Great Article Kirk, One thing that might to happen eventually are limits on amount of people fishing a particular river.( Day tickets) As in Europe. I don’t think the watersheds will be able to handle that much pressure in the future.Add to that the increase of water temperatures are also putting strains on the fish population .One idea that is working for me is actually to fish more lakes. A lot of the fish are stocked but they are challenging and it can be very enjoyable. The guides could offer more of those trips in addition to river floats. I think the fish must be very stressed from all the traffic in addition to all of us anglers being stressed from all the pressure.Sincerely, Keith Scott

      • Isaac Walt on

        Once again the narrative is if you nymph with clients your not teaching. Completely false false false. I challenge any Guide to simply hand a client a nymph rig and say with this you won’t need my instruction!

        • Walter Adcox on

          Funny how you “only fly” guys are upset that people are crowding you out when you are the ones limiting access more and more every chance you get. Here in costal Washington all anglers fishing for steelhead are now confined to bank fishing only in habitat that only offers a few places to fish off the bank. Weird how when you limit other opportunities how the only few left get overwhelmed. And how about experimenting with ways to convey the conservation and ethics of fishing to those new and to no fault of their own ignorant anglers on how we can keep access open instead of demeaning and targeting certain user groups for exclusion. You fly aficionados would do more good and progress for fishing period if y’all would get off that high horse and level with people instead of insisting they are the only problem because they don’t fit your personal standard. Let people fish and enjoy the waters we all have the right to and help to direct them to better practices instead of condemning and excluding them.

          • anthony criscola on

            Too many fly fishers want 30 fish days. On catch and release waters, how many of these fish survive. Also ,I think it’s boring.
            Catch a few and try something else.

  2. I see the double edged sword but beggars can’t be choosers. If you want the popularity of the sport to improve you have to accept the net that is cast to allow that also increases the types of people in that net. Loud rowdy music playing foul mouthed 20 somethings included. I think it’s on the guides to control the behavior of the people on their boat. I see nothing wrong with pleasure floats including some fishing. I think most guides take beginners that are often on vacation and will not likely fly fish again. Most people who take guided trips want NUMBERS of fish. They don’t even know what a quality fish would be. 30 stocked cookie cutter rainbows are waaayyy more fun for a novice than getting a nice brown trout to sip a dry or slam a streamer. Most guides don’t want to even attempt teaching a novice to cast a streamer. You can still instill many of the important values of fishing and conservation on everyone in your boat (clean cold water, don’t litter, handle fish with care, avoiding spawning fish) as well as the finer unwritten rules around giving anglers space/hole hopping. I like point number 4 but don’t agree that one and done anglers are an obstacle to future lifers. I think the more people exposed the more potential lifers you create and you don’t know who is who until that person gets exposed. Will rivers get crowded and weed out or frustrate people, yes but the communication piece is key. Many people just don’t know what is appropriate behavior and need to be educated, both verbally and by example. Some of the worst offenders I have witnessed came from guides on the river. (I am not a guide but have taken quite a few guided trips all over the u.s and some internationally in both fresh and salt water). I think guides need to set the example as they are the most knowledgeable and should call out others in the industry who are not being good stewards of the sport. At the same time, they are in a service industry and if they don’t provide the service a client wants (lots of fish/action/grip and grins) the clients will find someone who will. Good trout streams are a limited resource and as they get crowded more communication and education is needed but the one and doners have just as much right to be included as professionals and those who have been fishing their local river for decades.
    Enjoyed your post. Very thought provoking as you can see from my rambling.

  3. Purly supply and demand. When fish counts decline and you go elbow to elbow with other anglers people will find something else to do. So how do you break the chain. Fish farthdr up the trail where others wont go.

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself. One of my favorite streams is located in SW WI, and due to its proximity to both Madison and Chicago gets a lot of pressure. The trout are super spooky and most anglers fish the same stretches and complain that you can’t catch fish on this stream and it sucks. Hike a half mile into the woods and work through the “jungle” and you’re catching very large brook and brown trout-you’d think you’re on trophy water. 10-20 fish in a few hours is not uncommon. But you’d never know it if you simply fish right off the road where everyone else does.

  4. Super column, I live in Montana and have seen the pressure on the streams I fish. Have picked up trash , needles, beer cans etc., and it makes me frustrated, mad, and disgusted that these so called sportsmen are nothing but ignorant assholes. So this year I will pick up what ever is out of place and start writing down license plates, and take them to the proper authorities, it’s my final decision. I love my streams , and all that the Dear Lord gave Us to enjoy. People are good, it’s just that I don’t give a shit attitude that’s killing Us.

  5. Jim Taylor on

    You hit the nail on the head! In my 20+ years fishing Eastern Idaho and SW Montana, never before have I seen so many people on the rivers. I used to look forward to winter as it was a time when no one was on the river; however, on a recent trip up to the Madison there were people all over and fishing was slow. I am not one to care about “how many” but instead just looking for a little peace on the water. I am afraid for spring and summer as I fear the overcrowding and lack of true passion is lost. Might be time to hang up my 590!

  6. Well written and well said. As a 40 year veteran of fly fishing I chose the same antidote to over crowding as I always have : hike a little farther , pack a bigger lunch and catch 6 inch cuts in a small stream.

  7. you’re what’s wrong with the sport. you don’t create artificial barriers to entry by raising prices or catering to the people that can afford $700 waders. if you really cate about the future of the sport (and fisheries), look for the sportsmen and sportswomen who ate willing to brave the crowds and walk the extra mile because they have a passion for it. those are the types that will respect the traditions and pass it along, not the entitled few who can’t deal with a crowded parking lot for a year or two.

    • Leon Moore on

      Great article…I agree with 95% of what you expressed. I too am experiencing the same issue close to home here in south Wisconsin…my favorite near by river has become over run with kayaks and “Tubers”. I use to run there to test new gear or for a quick fish. Even my very favorite spot farther out looked like opening day at the local river…but was a week after the opening of the early catch and release, and I always had the stream to myself… fortunately I can still find some quiet remote rivers WAY up north… but forget the Brule…it belongs to kayaks now.
      Anyway the part that I take issue with is raising prices…I’ve been a dedicated fly guy since my late teens… I’m well into my fifties now, and only recently could I afford Hardy reels and Orvis Bamboo rods after many years of raising children. My first rod was a cheap telescoping rod from the local hardware…but what I didn’t have in equipment I made up for with the passion to fly fish…I still wouldn’t pay $700 for waders though . My point is this… Let’s regulate some of the finer streams and rivers for fly fishing…. but never let us price out the young passionate new fly folk…the sport is plenty pricey already.

  8. The relentless angling pressure is having a negative effect on trout behaviors. Less surface feeding, spookier fish, shifting locations, not to mention mangled jaws and higher mortality in wild trout populations. This is unsustainable without changing regulations that provide pressure relief.

  9. Austin Holm-McRae on

    I feel this is typical whiny behavior if the over privileged, entitled, psuedo-intellectual. I’d rather those people pay the already underfunded departments of fish and wildlife so they can better manage our natural resources. This kind of attitude is reprehensible if you ask me. The more the merrier. It is all a communal resource to experience, and all our land to enjoy unless it’s private. Buy the land, or stop complaining

    • Angling Trade on


      Feel free to leave your opinion, but please no name calling. To us or anyone else on this thread. In regards to your last sentence. We do own the land. All of us. It’s public.

    • I’m grateful for your comment Austin. In a forum where we are trying to address a legitimate concern, you start with insults. Then you contend that a communal resource is to be enjoyed as you see fit. The real point is that because we are all stakeholders, we need to think of ways to be considerate of each other and the resource itself. Your logic amounts to arguing for your right to fart in a crowded elevator.

      • William E Jones on


        Please write a follow-up article on stream side ethics and challenge fly shops and guides to pass it on.

        Teach the new folks the right way to do things and we all benefit.



  10. Kirk, nice job. This is truly an issue and you break it down nicely. But I think you missed a huge opportunity there in your “lastly” bullet item there. Sure – please do support conservation, by all means – but it is also quite possible to DO conservation as well. Here in New England we have numerous organizations taking dams down to create more and better habitat. Sure, it may take a decade or longer, but there are many forms of ‘helping out’ that can help move this along. As citizen scientists, we are doing multiple forms of research to inform citizens who then have science-based data that supports their conversations with town administrators and others. It is hard, time demanding work, but re-creating a spawning trout population where it hasn’t been — for hundreds of years — is highly rewarding. Plus it is a great way to be on the river while seriously helping the fish for the next generations.

  11. Full disclosure – I am a small outfitter on the upper Madison. This topic has been a hot debate locally for a few years now, culminating with what I believe was the wrong path forward for management. FWP recently placed 100% of regulations on outfitters who make up less than 15% of annual use, while burying our head in the sand for the remaining and exponentially growing 85% of private floaters/anglers. It’s not that I disagree with regulating my industry. I just believe the way it was structured is going to be ineffective and lead to some unintended consequences. The regulations capping commercial use on outfitters in the long run are not going to solve congestion issues. It’s not specific enough. I felt very strongly that instead of an annual cap on days, we should have capped outfitters at number of launches per outfitter per day per site. This is where we contribute the most to congestion, multi boat parties of clients for example. I no longer allow this in my own operation. But others might. An annual cap monetizes days and creates a monopoly of large outfitters on the upper Madison (which I definitely am not one of), which will immediately present a significant barrier to entry for new young outfitters who want to start a business and eventually weed out the small outfitter. MT FWP took the easy road and got a quick PR victory by regulating (again) guides and outfitters, while ignoring the dominant source of recreational use. The only thing worse than no management, is misguided or inequitable management.

    What’s glaring at us in the face is the total lack of monitoring and research on how this increasing pressure affects our fishery and resource. We need studies on hooking mortality. Not just guesses. We need temperature monitoring at a larger scale, not just one or two gauges for a whole river. We need better education on handling fish. How resilient are the fish? We as guides and outfitters should be partners in this monitoring effort. We could be used to gather data. We’re on the water every day! Use us! I’ll be the first in line to volunteer. It could be an educational experience for the client as well. Possible donors in every boat. I want to conserve our fishery and do my part, which is why I’m currently discussing with groups ways to start monitoring programs on the upper Madison where guides and outfitters help gather data. It’s good business and syncs with my conservation oriented mindset. State agencies also need to be more open to novel ideas like this, and not be so afraid of losing control of data by sharing responsibilities with citizens and non profit groups willing to fund monitoring efforts. Without monitoring, our management goals are lost at sea. We’re merely guessing at the right things to do, without understanding management efficacy.

    Deeter is right that each industry needs to choose if and how it addresses it’s unique relationship with the resource it pertains to. But we’re also subjected to state regulations which are often politically charged with unstructured rule making processes (I’m having nightmares of what we went through with the Madison and the infamous “negotiated rule making” process that failed miserably). This can be frustrating. I agree that the 2020 surge is concerning and his suggestions for the guiding industry are worth considering. There are many ways that we as guides and outfitters can and do promote and demonstrate stewardship. Leading by example. In fact, most of us already do and are very conscious of the health of our resource. After all, without a resilient fishery, our careers suffer. It’s an often rare confluence of business and conservation motivation. There are and will always be bad apples, and I do worry about what I call the transient guide, who may only guide for a summer or two, then moves on. They are not as invested in the resource and stewardship and are often the same ones who give our industry a bad rap. It only takes one to make us all look like jerks. Again, we have to lead by example. I wish we had better communication within the outfitting industry. We all seem to have our own plan and do our own thing, but more communication about what’s responsible within each local system would be a major move in the right direction. I have also made a point in my own business to focus less on numbers and more on teaching. Teaching about the resource, conservation, techniques, etc. I want my clients to have fun, but also learn something about the beautiful place I call home. It makes my job more interesting, and people enjoy learning if you make it a point. My two degrees in conservation and background working for state and federal agencies has given me a solid foundation for that.

    Where things get tricky is when Deeter mentions supporting groups like TU etc. These are the very groups that sought to bring down the outfitting industry in the Madison Valley. Rather than reaching out and working together, they chose to demonize outfitters. George Grant Trout Unlimited. Madison River Foundation. Anaconda Sportstmen. Rather than listening to what we had to say as an outfitting group locally, hearing our suggestions as willing partners, these out of area groups petitioned FWP to enact significant rules on us, in the process labeling us as “greedy.” After these groups’ vicious campaigns, we fishing outfitters are commonly viewed in the public eye negatively. As a result, bridges were burned and trust broken. This places more emphasis on working amongst ourselves locally in each system to do what’s right for the resource.

    I think 2020 was a shock to the system, and may well serve to re-orient our priorities. At least I hope so. Sorry for the rant!

  12. Alan Yuodsnukis on

    I’m probably going to take some heat for this, and mean no disrespect whatsoever, but I think some balance is on order. I get what the author is saying, and he scores some valid points, especially on encouraging conservation and reasonable etiquette, but I always find pieces about the downsides of too many “other people” on the river a bit cringe worthy. Every angler, whether they started 7 days ago or 70 years ago puts pressure on the resource. Neither the river nor the fish know or care how long you’ve been at it. Want to take some pressure off? Stop fishing. That rests the fish and creates even more space on the water than fishing with dries. If a guy wants to catch lots of fish on a nymph and a bobber and it’s legal, your beef shouldn’t be with the angler, but with the regulations. And is that guy really the biggest threat to the resource? There are better windmills to tilt at. Further, who am I to tell the nympher that it’s a more “pure” form of the sport to catch fewer fish on dries and streamers? That would strike more than a few folks as thinly veiled elitism. (Am I contributing to illiteracy, the erosion of culture, and maybe the implosion of western society if I read comic books instead of Shakespeare?) It also seems to me something that typically comes later in an angling career. Try to force it, and you may turn off the budding angler altogther. I remember a day on a world class tailwater when I was still more than a little wet behind the ears. I was using a nymph and indicator rig. Stopped to chat with a much older gent who was throwing delicate little dries. We had a pleasant conversation. Each of us spoke of what we liked most about our particular methods. One thing I liked was catching lots of fish. One thing he liked was catching the hardest fish. We both liked catching big fish. He was disarmingly kind and respectful, so I couldn’t help but appreciate and respect what he had to say. However, I would have walked away if he’d tried to convert me or put on any kind of airs about the higher qualities of the dry fly experience. I didn’t have time for that crap at 21. Do you really try to sell a kid on his first visit to a candy store with a pocket full of money on the notion that buying and eating just a handful off M & M’s one at a time is the best way to enjoy the experience? Good luck with that. If I’m that kid, I’m liable to buy even bigger chocolate bars and wolf them down just to spite you. And then tell all my friends. As it was, our chat turned into a shared lunch, and then he watched me hook and land a fish, and he cheered. I did the same for him a while later. We both had a great time. Had we clashed instead, even politely, on the merits of nymphs vs dries or many fish vs a few quality fish, it would have spoiled the day at least a little. And probably for both of us.

    I find the idea of drunken hordes pi$$ing into the river as revolting and upsetting as anyone, but what’s a shop supposed to do? Administer some kind of character test before booking clients? “Oh, you’re an aspiring lawyer and your uncle works in the industry? OK cool, but you there with the flat brim baseball hat who’s getting married Saturday? Take yer buddies and leave. We don’t serve your kind.” Rivers are a public resource. So, yes, we should (and must) do what we can to conserve them and educate others about reasonable behavior where and when we can do so appropriately. But we must also recognize that the public has a variety of ideas about the best and highest uses of that resource. Like it or not, our dedication to fly fishing (or dry flies) doesn’t give us license to impose our own rather narrow set of ideas and tell the inner tubers or (gasp) nymph huckers to take it somewhere else.

    • Had a good chuckle reading your reply, Alan. Because that’s exactly the regulation on the upper Madison right now, effectively. Here we are trying to address this congestion issue on the upper Madison, but we’re unwilling to open up 20% of the upper Madison to float fishing because wade fishermen and women “deserve” a place to fish without boats. That’s it. Literally 19 miles of water is unavailable to float fishing because we’re preserving water for wade anglers, as if they (myself included) already don’t have access to 100% of the rest of the river. What about dry fly anglers? Streamer anglers. Hell, (gasp) spin anglers! Why don’t they “deserve” their own beat? It’s like, well some days I like to cast dries only, and how dare you run through that water I was going to fish with a sex dungeon! Maybe we ought to designate this beat on Saturdays dries only. Or maybe that stretch on Wednesdays float fishing only. I’m of the opinion that if the water is navigable, let them float. Spread use. Last I checked we’re all anglers, no matter if we use a boat or boots, dries or nymphs. The more we segregate recreation, the more conflict we’ll see.

      Interestingly, it has a congestive effect itself. Guy walks into a local shop asks where he can wade fish, where do you think they send him? To the walk wade water of course, with the dozens of others sent there too. They proceed to drive past 35 miles of perfectly wadeable, publicly accessible water to go bottleneck themselves right into the “walk wade section.” Blows my mind.

  13. I believe bobber fishing is not fly fishing. Its like a loop hole so spin fisherman turned fly fisherman can fish fly fishing only waters. If you want to fish with a bobber, a spinning rod is going to do the job a whole lot better, whether you choose to float flies or lures or worms or whatever. I hate how the thingamabobber has taken over.

  14. I was dismayed by the reaction of the new fly anglers to the concept of catch and restock. Newbies trolled FB groups and jumped on anyone criticizing fish handling photos, killing and eating trophy trout, or conservation. A person I’d never met called me an ASS when I suggested that characterizing an urban stream as a sewer was counter productive to our on going efforts to create recreational urban fisheries. These new anglers were not picking up the ethic or the knowledge that correctly releasing fish helps your own fish count. Denver Trout Unlimited has photographic evidence that the same fish was caught and release 4 times in less than a month in our urban home waters. The new anglers that think it is their right and privilege of a license to kill and take home large fish are cutting our fish per mile by a factor of 4 to 8. I am afraid we are in for some lean years until they lose interest. It would be great for TU and the angling trade to make a concerted effort to teach the new anglers that it is not stocking but releasing caught fish that gets the fish count over 500 per mile.

  15. Great piece, Kirk. I especially appreciate and share you position that as an industry, we need to encourage more folks to get involved in conservation. To this end, outfitters, guides, and shop owners are in a unique position to educate and direct folks to conservation organizations. Sure, lots of good people in the industry are doing a good job in this area already and have been for years. But I’ve always maintained that relative to size of the gene pool, the industry could be doing a lot more to encourage sports to get involved in conservation. And I find this especially lacking specifically in the guiding and outfitting sector.

    If you’re a guide and you’re not presently soft selling clients on joining and participating in, say, a Trout Unlimited chapter, consider doing so this season. And before that, if you’re a guide and you’re not a member of Trout Unlimited or a local conservation organization that protects your local resources, please consider lending a hand. Keep in mind, your local resource is literally responsible for helping you make your truck payments.

  16. Thomas John Schenk on

    Sort of good column but I would like to ask why your attorney aspiring niece is add fishing obsessed nephew are good for the future of the sport and others aren’t? Is the construction worker not good enough to be on the trout streams in your presence? As far as the bachelor party groups go those will dissipate faster than a stack of dollar bills on sniffers row at a strip club once they are allowed to be open. Do you really think that would have been their first choice of things to do? Your comments of mentioning guides raising their prices and aspiring attorneys being welcome on the whole others are not are clear indicators of your elitist views of fly fishing and whom shots be able to participate.

    • anthony criscola on

      Why do we need more fly fishers? I mean if you’re interested fine.But why push people into it?

  17. Jeffrey Kunkleman on

    If you thought we had problems with access and crowding, wait till the new administration starts pushing more clean energy (hydro projects/dams)!

  18. Kerry Gubits on

    Glad you are writing about this. I started fly fishing in 1984, and I stopped fishing Cheesman Canyon after it became overrun, driving hours from my Denver home to make the Arkansas my new “home” waters. My sole serious objection to your essay is the suggestion to raise guide trip costs to $700 per day. As a guy who’s been priced out of access to many fisheries, especially saltwater, your idea will only make things worse for those of us who are not reaping the rewards of the trickle-up economy. I know there is a market for $50 nippers and $300 coolers and $150 nets, but none of those things are requirements. Raising the price of guide trips will only make that option possible for people who truly live in rarified society.

  19. As an aging long term fly angler it is possible my best days on the river are now just memories. Having fished the Madison River for nearly 40 years, the numbers on the water this summer were appalling and frightening. I have never seen so many anglers on both sides of the river above Lyons Bridge. There is no solution to the overuse of a resource which is acceptable to all. So what to do?

    Wait until the evening when the crowds leave the water. Grab your bear spray and find a small tributary that hasn’t made the social media yet. Crawl through the brambles to a quiet rill to bow and arrow cast for a ten inch brookie. Go to the beach and fish the surf. Decide what motivates your angling, find your place, and don’t post its location on every platform. Better yet work to improve your skills and knowledge.

  20. charlotte Cleveland on

    I participated on the last Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks committee to try to come to grips with the crowding on the Madison River and establish some rules to cut back on the traffic and to let Montanans have some space on the river. While I personally know guides that are “stewards of the river” by far the vast majority of guides on the committee and in attendance at the meetings, and those making written comments wanted more time on the river, more allocated trips than they had had previously, and to be able to fish from a boat on the special Walk/Wade sections of the Madison, something that was not previously allowed.

    Both my husband and I believe that the fishing we saw in 2103 will never return, and we are forced to get up at 4 AM to be on the river before the crowds arrive. The Madison needs to be protected from over use, by guides and outfitters who only look to their pocket book and not the value of keeping the Madison safe from over exploitation.

    • Charlotte, respectfully, I am one of those outfitters that was at every one of those meetings and when you suggest that we “wanted more time on the water” or “more allocated trips than they had previously” you’re just plain wrong or grossly misunderstanding what was going on. Ultimately, that’s why the NRC was disbanded. It was a complete failure. People who clearly didn’t understand the mechanics of regulations and commercial use were left to make decisions by consensus, and it was a massive failure that was difficult to observe at times. You do recognize that guides and outfitters on the Upper Madison represent a mere 11% of overall annual use don’t you? It’s baffling to me the vitriol some people have for outfitters when the truth is so spectacularly opposite to the claim that outfitters are “overrunning” the river. And, again, respectfully, you don’t need to get up at 4 AM to find water to fish before “the crowds” show up. Enough already. It’s not the Kenai during peak King season, Charlotte. Exaggeration and hyperbole are not helpful here. And lastly, when nearly 20% of the river is set aside for walk wade only, of course there are going to be those, guides and non-guides, who would like to see the entire navigable river open to all users. I would even argue that keeping the designation “walk wade” in place only adds congestion of wading anglers in those reaches because of the false impression that those areas are the only areas wading anglers can or are allowed to go. Walk into any fly shop around here and if you’re a wading angler asking for places to go fish, that’s the first place they’ll send you and everyone else that walks through the door. But in fact, the upper Madison has a tremendous amount of public access available. So, yeah, I think the designation of walk wade water on the upper Madison is a bad idea. It’s also the only river in the state with such a designation originally instituted at the pressure of surrounding landowners in those reaches…

  21. Dick Greene on

    Right on Kirk. Couldn’t have said it better. We bought Bud Lilly’s three years after River runs through it and sold Bud Lilly’s Three years before Covid-19. Guess we weren’t in sinc with the curve. 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 we’re good and those that followed us are in great shape.

  22. You can’t have it both ways. In Texas it’s been nothing short of great for fly fishing. We work on teaching new people and while I’ve seen people fly fishing where I’ve never seen anyone before (used to be just me), the rivers are cleaner. Fly fishing seems to go with cleaning up the river. I’m happy the shops I love are here to stay and stronger for it, and I’m ecstatic to share my sport with more people. Make a friend, and teach that friend etiquette along the way.

  23. Pete Pynenburg on

    Jake from Texas commented that the rivers are cleaner. Maybe where he lives. Where I live, I spent the walk back to the car most days picking up trash along the riverbank. Then there are the people who don’t have clue one about stream etiquette or proper catch and release techniques. Fortunately for me, I have a couple of places where I can get away from these clowns. May the economy come roaring back so these people all get jobs and have no time to fish 🙂

  24. Kirk, thanks for sharing your perspective on this. I’m someone who has both done a bit of hand-wringing (albeit humorously and, as a partner in a small guide service and in several other previous guide roles, has introduced thousands of new anglers to the sport, I appreciate your appeal for a balanced approach of both growing the industry and carefully planning that growth. This is and will continue to be a challenge. However, it’s also the only viable path I see. We’re not an industry with unlimited growth potential. We depend on a finite and somewhat fragile resource, which is and should be a limiting factor to growth. In planning and sometimes controlling growth, within the real confines of our resources, we have to be careful. This care we must take cannot and must not be interpreted as discriminatory in any sense. This is a fine line. For this reason, I do not agree with all of your suggestions. I would, for example, challenge point #1. Guide days on any one particular river or stream should be limited by something other than outfitter-driven price fixes. High fees could discriminate and discourage and I believe all pricing should be based on the market conditions, within the bounds of limited and reasonable regulations. Some of your other suggestions, like point #6 may suffice to limit crowding. I don’t have a crystal ball either, but if I did I would suspect that it would show us that before too long we’ll see ourselves wringing hands again. If you look at Google Trends data on searches for “fly fishing” from 2004 to present ( you’ll see that what we experienced over the last year is a small blip in a long-declining trend. I think we should continue to actively share and expand our sport in its entirety, meaning tactics, tools, and conservation ethics, as actively as ever.

  25. I really appreciate this article/discussion. In full disclosure, I throw garbage on the river all the time – crap presentations that is… anyway, this is my question: who puts more pressure on the rivers /streams – guy/girl going 3 or 4 times a year catching 1 fish for every 10 they miss? Or the “real anglers” going 40+ times a year slaying it with “40-fish days”? Just Look in the mirror perhaps.

    Possible solution?: fish less you addicts!!!

    Especially in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming this August if you wouldn’t mind. Thanks!

  26. Well written article. I am one who will spend top dollar for gear because I am passionate about fly fishing and have done it for years. I went to Eastern Idaho last summer and the crowds and drift boats were so bad that I will not go back until I hear things have mellowed out. I’m fishing more stillwater and small mouth bass streams. I would rather fish for carp and bass than stand shoulder to shoulder on a trout stream. I would also be open to day limits on certain waters like Silver Creek, the Owyhee, or the Henrys. I see a lot of RV guys parking in the campgrounds and staying on iconic trout streams for days/weeks at a time. To be honest last year I gave up on the “Blue Ribbon” streams. Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Highway movie and the pandemic they are covered with people. I got frustrated about it last year, but just decided everyone is free to fish where they want, but I’m fishing somewhere else. I know the industry has tried to get anglers to target other species, but it doesn’t seem to be working. There is literally hundreds of river miles of awesome small mouth bass fishing in Idaho and hardly any fly anglers even try it. I have never seen another fly angler while fly fishing for bass or carp, but I did see hundreds of people on the trout streams last year. Somehow the industry, and the greater fly fishing family, needs to get anglers just as excited to catch other species as they are to catch trout. This would allow the industry to grow, but also slow the pressure on the Blue Ribbon waters.

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