Do We Really Want Fly Fishing to Grow?

by | May 29, 2024 | 32 comments

Everyone wants to be the last one through the gate.

“I’m in, but let’s close it now. That’s enough of us.”

Most anglers quickly realize that more fishermen means less fun. And I don’t know anyone who sets out to fish around a bunch of strangers. To paraphrase a John Gierach quote . . . When it comes to fishing, it’s you and your buddies, and then all the assholes out there.

Gierach’s shrewd sentiment is a perfect commentary on the allure of solitude paired with fly fishing. Sure, we all enjoy fishing with friends and family, but no one wants to fish with somebody else’s family either.

So why do we want our sport to grow?

The message across this industry is consistent: Bring new people into fly fishing. Growth is seen as success — as progress. That’s human nature.

Perhaps the most critical reason given for growth is the preservation of waters. The more friends a river has, the louder are the voices of opposition against pollution and encroachment. Trout need advocates. And the best friends of a river are always fishermen.

But then at some point, a river can be loved to death, strangled by anglers with lines and leaders, until the majesty that drew people to a place is lost among the loud noises of conversations and tires crunching in gravel lots. Because, gazing upstream through the lifting fog, across a wild valley between two evergreen mountains, looks a lot different with twelve anglers in the way. Everything changes with more people out there.

So I ask, do we really want our sport to grow?

I’ve personally added countless anglers into the fray. With the articles, videos and podcasts of Troutbitten over the last decade, I know the rivers are busier, in part, because of me. And I think every author, guide, educator and fly shop employee must come to terms with that reality.

My eyes were wide open to this, from the beginning of Troutbitten, in 2014. I set out to share the experience of wading wild rivers, with the deliberate intentions and hopes to inspire others who might do the same. I still feel this desire stronger than ever. Because I know what fishing in these valleys has given me. I feel the peace and the purpose that chasing trout has given to my life. And I want others to feel the same. I’ve seen that catching fish makes people happier. The world becomes a better place with more anglers catching trout and releasing them back to the same waters that provide sanctuary to the fishermen themselves. I mean that sincerely.

So I do want our sport to grow.

READ: Troutbitten | How to Stay in the Fly Fishing Game for a Lifetime

Perhaps the better question is how do we want fly fishing to grow.

Think of all the things that frustrate you about other anglers and companies in this industry. What bothers you? Here’s a short list: elitism about tactics and fishing styles, egos about trout size and numbers, hatchery abuse and stocking over wild trout, spot burning, bragging, front ending, guide worship, hyper-specialization, useless gear and Disneyland-style trips from outfitters.

What did I miss?

I say whatever bothers you the most, push against it. Fly fishing for trout is a small niche in the big realm of fishing. Its course, the trends, the practices and expectations are driven by a handful of companies and personalities. Influence is easy. With loud voices pushing in the right direction, we can all grow the sport in a direction that satisfies.

Do we really want fly fishing to grow?

Yes. We want more anglers who appreciate the best things about fishing. We want anglers who fish hard for the experience, who reject the fake fish of clubs and hatcheries, who boast not about the numbers of trout caught but are proud of the miles of water they’ve explored and appreciate what they’ve been through to get there. We want wild trout advocates and woodsmen. We need knowledgeable teachers to inspire young people by revealing the complex mysteries of chasing river trout.

Yes, we need more anglers. We need good ones. And if fly fishing grows with these people, in this direction, we’ll all have something that we’re proud to be part of.

Fish hard, friends.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Conservation

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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32 Comments

  1. Hi Dom,
    For me, it’s not so much as wanting the sport of fly fishing, in and of itself to grow, (which I certainly do for the sake of my grandsons) but rather, wanting the respect for what it stands for to expand and become ubiquitous among all anglers. As anglers, we are commissioned by Mother Nature to be the stewards and protectors of the land and the waters we share with her. The only trace we should leave behind is a footprint in the sand destined to be gently eroded by wind or rain or politely washed away by the ever changing pulse of the river. It is unfortunate that many anglers will never be able to experience the reverence, purity and solitude of fishing a run that has never been fished
    by another human. My father instilled in me a profound love of nature. He was an avid fisherman and hunter, and oozed respect for nature. I was deeply infected with that at a very young age, and am grateful it is still with me at 72. I am all about sharing the water with others, but, God forbid…., if I see you casting aside a candy wrapper or bait cup on MY waters, be prepared for a dressing down that would make your mother blush. So, my point is…., respect the water, respect one another, and please…, protect our waters.
    Thank you for your depth of respect for what is a gift.

    Reply
  2. Dom,

    Another great article my friend. I also want fly fishing to grow and for all the reasons you stated. I think there aren’t enough ‘troutbitten’ anglers out there. We have too many people that have never really learned/invested in getting to become versatile and skilled on the water.

    For me, I don’t see too many people out on my waters when I am fishing as most of them seem to fish on weekends and when weather is perfect. I love fly fishing all year round, but, I am already starting to dream of those winter days when I know I will be the only person out on the water. I will remember, until the day I die, that day in December with you in the snow.

    Reply
    • When we remove the ‘more fly fisherman, the more conservation voices’ out of the conversation, our dreams may become our nightmare. The pandemic driving the public beyond the cities, resulting in countless complaints and articles on the recent demise and abuse of our sacred spots, has already revealed the future. Similar to when towns grow, crime follows. We will always be able to hand down our sport and its rewards to our children, grandchildren, and others we know without magnifying the sport–it’s been done for decades. With knowing that many of us have to hike further to achieve the same experience we felt even 5 years ago, don’t pray too hard–we may get what we want–our fishing experience will eventually be only a hike. Last thought…if we removed the conflict of interest of some…guides, outfitters, fly shops…would our opinion change? Would we still want or encourage all of those ‘strangers’ standing next to us? One wonders while we want to ‘respect the spot’ why aren’t we respecting our sport? I’m not closing the ‘gate’ here – have fly fished for half a century, and have watched the decline of quality as we promote quantity. We complained about the effects of Redford’s movie in 1992, but we continue to sell the dream. If we’re right-all ends well. But if we’re wrong, it will be non-reversible and we’ll have made our proverbial bed. What will we say then…and will anyone be listening to us?

      Reply
      • I think your first sentence sums this up well. If every fly angler learned great respect for the rivers, with a convservationit’s mindset, everything would be fine.

        Respect the sport is a good way to put it. I feel like I’ve been pushing for that in many ways for a long time.

        I think it always comes down to education. We want new anglers to feel connected to the woods and the water, not just catch a few fish. That’s where the respect for the whole thing begins, I think.

        Reply
  3. I have never met Dom, but feel very connected to him as I have read every post on this blog; great points here Dom and great comments gents; I feel I have an obligation to instill a love and respect for the natural world, especially as it pertains to flyfishing in my own family (8 grandchildren) as well as the many Scouts I have mentored in my years as a leader. Other forms of fishing don’t count in this discussion I believe because Flyfishing is so different and so unique. You really won’t meet too many jerks who love to fish with flies- at least in my experience.

    Reply
  4. I agree that we all want more individuals who are in tune with the environment; and fly fishing certainly can be an avenue for individuals so inclined to experience the beauty and interconnections within the natural world. But I am concerned with assuming that growing the sport will necessarily grow responsible anglers as opposed to those who pursue it simply for bragging rights and an ego boost. Yes we should all push back against the latter and I hope that the sport does grow with individuals who feel connected and are good stewards, but I fear Gierach may be right.

    Reply
    • Gierarch will always be right, because his point was tongue in cheek. He was saying that the other people actually AREN’T assholes. And the failing of thinking that is on us. Think about it. You probably wouldn’t even like your best fishing buddy if you didn’t know him and he walked a hundred yards upstream of you.

      ” I am concerned with assuming that growing the sport will necessarily grow responsible anglers as opposed to those who pursue it simply for bragging rights and an ego boost.”

      Certainly no one here is assuming that.

      Reply
  5. “The message across this industry is consistent: Bring new people into fly fishing. Growth is seen as success — as progress. That’s human nature.” I would add that it’s also increased revenue.

    Any fly fishing book you pick up seems to have a line in it that goes something like, “Our sport is growing now faster than ever.” It doesn’t matter if the book’s from the 70’s or the 2000’s.

    Part of the problem now, though, is the internet, and the way it makes everything so damned easy. You don’t have to work to find spots, you don’t have to explore. A consistent sentiment among Instagram anglers seems to be “Gatekeeping sucks!”

    I personally like a good dose of nature-provided gatekeeping: harder-to-reach areas, perhaps smaller wild fish, and even some difficult weather or wading conditions. The inroads of the insta-guys pushes me further into the woods.

    Even in the last 5 years there’s been a drastic change in some of the areas I fish. Protected, wild, C&R waterways suddenly have trees cut down to make access easier to an imagined “honey hole,” trash left on the bank, etc. Sometimes it makes me glad I’m already 52 and got to do my early exploring under different conditions.

    Thanks for the article, Dom.

    Reply
    • I feel your message is too little too late. Around the midlands where I live numerous fly fishing waters have been closed with carp and pike fishing taking their places. I used to have about a dozen lakes around an hour from where I live but now most of them have gone.
      It’s ok getting youngsters interested but if they have to rely on adults to take them miles to fish they won’t be able to fish.
      Also because of the price of fish and the maintenance of waters it is more profitable to open course, carp or pike fisheries . It’s a shame but I cannot see any great increase in interest in flyfishing in the future

      Reply
    • I chuckle at the gatekeeping complainers. Those are the people who don’t think publicly naming rivers on YouTube is spot burning.

      Reply
  6. Great article, and in response, yes we want fly fishing to grow. We do not want it to grow so fast that we lose the sportsmanship,(seems like a rare term these days) morals, ideals and an overall respect for the woods and waters. I’ll side strongly with the reply about trash along our streams, it’s a pet peeve of mine. If we could teach the new legions of fly fishers the respect of resources and reverence for the habitat that would be amazing. Most importantly if all current fly fishers and new ones committed to pick up a few pieces of trash each time we are out there it would be really great.

    Reply
  7. Growth is one thing. Exploitation is another. A perfect example of a river being ‘loved to death’, ( I would say exploited), is the Farmington River in my home state. Yes, the internet, and guides encouraging out of staters to come and partake. Heavily used, very little chance of solitude anymore, not as charming as it once was. Growth isn’t always good.

    Reply
  8. I think we all know that the movie A River Runs Through It caused a huge increase in fly fishing. I am looking for sponsors the produce a movie A Golf Course Runs Through It to see if we can move those people off of the stream. :>)

    Reply
    • Chick they can co-exist.
      We are blessed with a golf course and club that also maintains the trout stream that runs through it. We recently hosted the US Senior Open with invitations to the participants to fly fish. The professional players met George Daniel and learned a new sport. They all were thrilled with the golf and fishing. It was great exposure for fly fishing and we have players returning to fish.

      Reply
  9. If actual fly shops were to fade out, I would be OK with it. Equipment can be bought elsewhere, and I think there would be less guided pressure on limited water. Learning would still happen otherwise: via friends and books and the internet. If paid for guiding were not permitted on public water, and public water were all water not created by private entities, I’d be doubly OK. The business of fly fishing I’m afraid is hurting sportsmen as distinct from professionals.
    Very, very big of you to broach such a subject. You are quite a man, Dom.

    Reply
    • Interesting point about the fly shops. That also goes against the grain.

      Reply
      • I think it’s something you’re just not allowed to say. In a lot of places (not all), they’re now just a source of bad information and overpriced gear.

        Too harsh?

        Reply
  10. One has to wonder about the sense of highly acclaimed guides writing articles in popular magazines regarding Baskin-Robbins like take a number rivers that daily resemble amusement parks on the 4th. of July.

    Reply
  11. From Wikipedia:

    The tragedy of the commons is a metaphoric label for a concept that states, “should a number of people enjoy unfettered access to a finite, valuable resource such as a [river], they will tend to over-use it, and may end up destroying its value altogether. Even if some users exercised voluntary restraint, the other users would merely supplant them, the predictable result being a tragedy for all.

    Grow it at your own risk.

    Reply
  12. The success of this article glows brightly in the intelligent and nuanced discussion it has engendered. Of course, your readers aren’t the problem. It’s those commercials on tv with the actor fly casting who didn’t even take the time to learn his (fly) lines. Success seems to always generate a backwash of mediocrity. So, as newly minted, and uncommitted, fly fishermen may protect some of our streams, they pollute them with themselves. At any rate, there are always smaller, unknown, and difficult to access creeks that, at least for a while, withstand the onslaught.

    Reply
    • Well said

      Reply
  13. I for one only see a legit reason for growth to be to make a living off the sport.
    Friends of the river or trout as the best conservationists I disagree with. It is not hard to convince regular folk of why keeping rivers clean and the environment clean is important whether or not they have ever fished.
    I live near New York City and the vast majority of trout water is connected to reservoirs that supply water to the city. Keeping the streams clean is a government priority – keeping them trout friendly is another issue.
    In areas close to a large population more anglers even of the most caring nature is still a detriment. Catch and release has a negative impact when it hits high levels. Lost flies, boots on the stream bed etc all hit a point where the impact is negative. There are many other animals that rely on the stream and if it is constantly full of people things change.
    Now protecting wild fish? Well on the east coast browns and rainbows are not native – their consequences are irreversible at this point but have to have had an impact. While I love to catch them who am I to say their success is “important” to the eco-system?
    In the end I believe adding humans no matter how educated to a limited area/resource is bad. So conservation as a reason for growth I think will backfire.
    If we have significant growth in densely populated areas then a possible consequence is more “club water” and/or the State setting up “beat systems” as we see on the famous streams of Long Island. With a beat system you get a section and pay a fee for a time slot to fish. On Long Island with such a high population they have no choice. I do not wish that for others.
    Having said all this I don’t seek to stop growth but I don’t want it either and the only reason I can really see for wanting it is the all mighty dollar.

    Reply
    • Good thoughts. Thanks for that. I don’t want growth, necessarily. I just want others to enjoy these places in a deep way and be happier for it. And that’s why we say fishermen make the best conversationist. Because you can get people into the IDEA that the birds, the fish and clean water matter, but with a real and tangible connection to it, their commitment and understanding is much stronger.

      Reply
  14. Guides,lodges,gear manufacturers,fly shops all want more people involved so they can generate more revenue.My local fly fishing organization has become more of a ministry to attract the “non traditional” fly fisherman than a fly fishing club.I fish alone and on public waters.I will not pay to fish for penned up overfed pigs in “private” water.I feel that protecting access to public waters is considerably more important than increasing the number of people fly fishing.

    Reply
  15. I believe growth in the sport of fly fishing is good, like you eluded to, ideally it brings a sense of connection to the outdoors and inspires conservation to keep what we love going. I realize this is Troutbitten so its all about trout. But, we can also advocate to grow the sport by hinting at targeting other species of fish such as bass, pike, pan fish… and many others. This brings more people to the water but also spreads them out over a broader range of river systems while accomplishing the same goal of building the love and respect for fishing and nature.

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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