Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy of Joshua Duplechian

Whitney Tilt

With the New Year, Hatch Magazine recapped the 10 most read stories of 2021. Following their count-down on dry-droppers, the best flies, and the like, I was interested to learn that the two most-read stories for Hatch in 2021 dealt with more philosophical subjects.

Coming in as #2 on Hatch’s 2021 Hit Parade is Chris Madson’s “Fly Fishing’s Lost Heart.” Chris notes that fly fishing used to be practiced as a craft requiring a “personal commitment to a discipline that could never really be mastered, only studied with close attention to detail and undying enthusiasm.” Now Matson fears the craft has become an industry and lost its soul to maximizing profits, making a splash on social media, and getting a picture to document the trophy.

 Todd Tanner’s “The Great Fishing Divide” ranked #1 and examined a lot of anglers “wading off in opposing directions.”  Todd finds one group united in their search for a “quality” experience while the other group of anglers emphasizes “quantity.” As fly fishing becomes more and more mainstream, Todd is concerned about this growing divide and how “we’re losing certain core values that have long set our sport apart from other forms of angling.” But Todd does not see the trend as inevitable and offers three considerations that emphasize that it’s okay to view the sport through our own personal lenses, to do it our own way, and to have fun doing it.

As executive director of the AFFTA Fisheries Fund and as a life-long fly fisher, I can understand the underlying concerns expressed by both Chris and Todd. It’s tempting to wring one’s hands that fly fishing is in danger of losing its heart amidst the present day’s apparent emphasis on having the best/most recognized/most followed/most everything. And certainly, a philosophical divide can be conjured up between chasing “the most, the biggest, the hardest” with social media postings to follow, as opposed to the search for a “quality experience,” however it might be defined.

But with the beginning of a New Year, let some optimism ring out.

First, I take comfort that the two most read Hatch articles in 2021 dwelt, not on matters of the best fly or neatest new gadget, but on the heart and soul of flyfishing. It is a debate that will continue, and it is dialogue that has continually led to innovation and making fly fishing more and more sustainable.

Second, my experience with the fly fishing industry points out its continued, and to my mind growing, commitment to the resource—both because of the recognition that their very corporate existence depends on stewardship of the resource—and because they like to fish! The fly fishing industry is not populated with MBAs who went in search of corporate riches and landed on fly fishing as the way to make millions, but rather the industry is led by fly fishing and outdoor enthusiasts who went searching for ways to combine their passion with a livelihood.

Today’s fisheries and their habitats owe much to the past conservation efforts of anglers. Tomorrow’s fish need us even more. And the “us” our fisheries need is a diverse, committed group of fly fishers that don’t take themselves too seriously but take protecting the resource very seriously.

 

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