Is the Fly Fishing Industry Making Us Soft?

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Paul Puckett

I don’t even know if that is the right word or right way to describe what I mean.

Being in this industry for just over 20 years, I have seen a lot of changes. Changes in the people who fish, the way they fish and what they fish with. You don’t have to work hard anymore to do something amazing.

It seems like all the good spots are so exposed, and anglers feel entitled to so much, because they spent $1200 on a blue fly rod, a silver reel with floating tapered fly line. Don’t get me wrong, I am a gear junkie, just like 90% of people who fly fish. But has it gotten out of hand? Has the industry forgotten that fly fishing is about simplicity?

Every high end rod that has come out, in the past ten years, casts great. At least good enough to call it a “good” fly rod. My 5 and 6 weights are still Sage RPL’s from 1995 and I don’t plan on changing anytime soon. I remember when Ross made two reels, the Cimmaron and the Gunnison. That’s all we needed, because they were awesome. Now we have aero this, polymer that, composite those. Remember when Simms had one wader, and it was indestructible? I just retired my Simms guide waders from 1998 this year. That’s 15 years and a lot of fishing, sitting, hiking and seam sealing.

I am not saying we have to go back to the “turntable” record players of fly fishing, but I wish more people would appreciate the foundations of the sport. Cast a fiberglass rod or even bamboo. Hold on to good equipment, keep fishing it. It was good then. How is it not anymore?

I just wish that manufacturers would make 3 great products and not 7 decent ones. It confuses me and the people that come into the store everyday and creates the “I gotta have it” customer which I guess is good for business but not the legacy of this great sport. If something comes along that truly changes how you cast or fish, buy it, but it’s not the gear that makes an angler.

The fly fishing experience is different for everyone. A tarpon guide doesn’t really care about someone posting a 30 pound fish on Facebook. The shop dude can lose interest in someone’s story about a 17 inch brown. But today, with access to fishing being so easy, some have lost, or never even knew, that half of the joy of fishing is the adventure. Finding spots for yourself, working hard for it and knowing that when you find it, it’s yours.

I remember a customer telling me, a few years back, “You know, I don’t see a reason to even go to Montana or Wyoming, because I can catch a 24-inch rainbow trout right here in Georgia.” That customer was fishing the Soque River in North Georgia. A river which has pellet-fed fish, that do get huge and are fun to catch, but it is nothing like the pure and amazing feeling that you get hiking into a small mountain stream and catching an 11-inch wild Brown. I hope that he may someday see that, and if he doesn’t, more spots are waiting for me.

Paul Puckett
Gink & Gasoline
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45 thoughts on “Is the Fly Fishing Industry Making Us Soft?

  1. Good to see you on G&G Paul! You’re right about the gear man. I still see all the gear nuts at that same fly shop walking in with wads of cash and leaving with the latest and greatest rods and reels. These are for the most part the entitled weekend warriors though. They just have to have the newest and best stuff that’s available, and if that’s their thing, then that’s cool. I guess it feeds the ego. I can’t talk too much smack though. I appreciate the new things. I’m just a little more budget-minded. I would rather spend all that moolah on a road trip to a new piece of water, or chasing a new species. As for the guy that doesn’t need to go to Montana, I would say that I feel sorry for him, but I’m feeling a little more selfish about it. He’s obviously just a trophy hunter and not in it for the same reasons as many of us are. If only he knew what he was missing.

  2. While I agree with a lot of what you say, especially about working hard to find wild trout in a stream off the beaten path, however for a lot of people It’s just about being able to fish, maybe even reconnect with their son or daughter. or they just have enough time to run up to the Soque and slam a few big bows, that’s their adventure. Not every angler has the time to get out there. What kills me is the guy’s who look down on the guy who has the nice gear like they’re doing something wrong by spending their money on the best equipment they can afford. I know guys that buy 2 of every rod they have, and 90% of their fishing is for bluegill. And all his stuff is the best stuff going now. I know other guys who have 3 rods and they’re older but it’s what they like and can rip lips on any water they fish. What I’m trying to say is it’s about people having fun, and sometimes I think some people do forget about that. No matter if it’s with a Leonard grass rod made in 1940 or an H2 built last week.

  3. There’s alot of good cheap equipment out there that’s easy to find. I don’t look down on anyone that wants the latest and greatest, and i think it’s good for the sport. Anything that creates interest and excitement is a positive thing. I do agree with you that some people forget its about the journey not the destination.

  4. Being an old fart these articles always amuse me, the major reason being you can read them going back every five years all the way to the turn of the century (the twentieth). I love vintage more than the next guy but make no mistake my love is aesthetic not performance. The older you get the more you appreciate those tenth of ounces shaved off. I agree on the volume of new products though, really how many niches can a niche market have? I really don’t know how the fly industry survives. It really is cannibalistic ( at the Tie One On A Thon a friend and I looked out at the crowd of over a hundred people and he said I bet there’s not one person here that doesn’t have a pro deal)and how can you sustain that? The only way that is going to change is by destroying the reason we love it so much. That’s why you’re seeing the shift towards competitive events, and I’m not talking about events like the Carp Cup or Hardly, Strictly Musky. For the industry to survive requires more consumers which equates to crowded water and forces us old guys into the headwaters to recapture the solitude the sport once brought us.

  5. Well said Paul. I have to admit I love the those pellet hogs on the Soque…but my finest fishing moments have been in the small streams working hard for the bite. I always tell people I don’t fish to catch fish.

  6. Whilst having the latest and greatest may not be everything, the R&D pays off in unforeseen ways. Over a decade ago, when my Dad and I could both wade easily a raft and frame and a good 10′ 7wt seemed to be all one needed to explore the Potomac.Now two years after he suffered a series of strokes, I am glad that someone pushed the technology beyond wood and glass to develop a polymer drift boat. Though he can walk again, he can’t wade and a spin rod has replaced his fly rod, rowing (and skidding, bouncing and sliding on rocks) a HDPE driftboat on the North Branch Potomac means that he can still fish. I still enjoy hopping out and casting a streamer but true fishing pleasure is rowing Dad and netting his catch. If the innovators had not invented slippery plastics and figured out how to adapt the material into “traditional” boat design, fishing would have lost its pleasure for me.So keep up the progress , we never know what or when it will benefit our own individual needs

  7. I’ve not been in the industry as long, but I often think that too many anglers/industry participants place their priority on the industry. The R&D is beneficial (I LOVE my Circa) and I’m all for having lots of jobs in our beloved field, but lets not forget why we’re here.

  8. Not overly concerned about the consumerism driven part of the sport. The point of the sport is to have an outlet from everyday life and create lasting memories. Everyone does it in their own way. No one way is the right way or wrong way. Poll 10 anglers about their favorite stream, fish and method and you will get diverse responses. Over the past 43 years I have by choice limited myself to owning 3 rods and 4 reels. My motto is find a “tool” that works and take care of it. My best friends endlessly search for new rods, reels, etc. Completely different approaches to equipment, but same love of the experience of being on the water. We come from different backgrounds, professions, political views, but put us on the river fishing for lake-run Browns and Steelhead we are same. The Love of fishing (fly fishing) is the common thread. The manufacturers, shop personnel, guides and everyday anglers all share the same love, they just express it differently. I say appreciate the differences/diversity, because this is what will make the sport attractive for others. Or, do we want to be GOLF!

  9. If you’re getting to fish enough you’re probably not putting in the hours at work to get you the disposable income to buy the latest, greatest stuff out there. The converse is, of course, if you’re working enough to afford the latest, greatest stuff, you’re not getting to fish enough so gear fills the void. We all strive for that happy medium when you get to fish enough with good enough gear to make it an optimal experience but I suspect not all of us will make it.

  10. Paul, Jeff from OR here:

    From my perspective, and I been around a while, our sport of fly fishing has largely turned into an industry, the capitalist model in its highest form.

    To re-enforce what you stated, I also have fly rods, reels & other gear that are any where from a few years old to more than 10 years old. They perform well, are in well maintained condition and are probably more durable than much of new stuff on the market today. I have no urgent need to replace any of it. But I am constantly bombarded by ads to replace it !!

    However, the only way those who manufacture fishing equipment can maintain and grow profit levels and keep the stockholders happy is to sell more stuff to people who have stuff that isn’t worn out yet. They generate interest in fishing by sponsoring people and events to help create “demand” in the eye of the public. Then they have to sell more stuff to justify the marketing budget for these activities and it has turned into a vicious circle.

    As to some of the other issue addressed, the folks work so hard and can afford the newest stuff, hey power to them. But those are likely the ones with little time left and want to go to the closest water, have a guide point to the spot to fish, land a nice fish, do a grip & grin and be back to town in time to take the kids to Chuckie Cheese for pizza. Like someone above stated, they miss a big part of the experience.

    Then there are a lot of states have jumped into the fray and there are paved roads and campgrounds in places I used to have to hike to. I keep getting farther back into the woods to find some solitude. THEN, once this summer after hiking a long ways to get away from the crowd to fish, I had been on the water maybe an hour and I heard noises in the distance. In a few minutes a group of guys showed up on 4, yes 4 ATV’s all belching fumes, breaking limbs, kicking up rocks, etc. THEN one of these yahoos rides his ATV across the stream within 20 feet of my fly. Well, need I say more. Where does it end and what happened to “getting back in tune with nature” and enjoying the experience???

  11. Heck, more power to those rich yuppies who fish a $1k fly rod once, and then post it on Craigslist so they can buy the next one…. I like those kinds of hand-me-downs…

  12. Love the write-up! I hope that a few can read it and take the point to heart. my favorite waters are indeed the ones that have to be worked for and the fish that have to be stalked with pain staking patience. In 28 years of slinging bugs I have had the pleasure of owning two pairs of waders (both of which are still in use today) and countless rods from old to new, but my favorite and most used gear is far from my most expensive (that being said I have never spent over $200 on a rod or reel) there is nothing I enjoy more than hooking into a small stream cutty on the 8’6″ 5wt fiberglass shakespear that my father bought me when I was 6-7 years old!
    Fly Fishing for me has always been about the adventure and not the fish caught. My hope is that at the very least i can pass this mentality on to my son and hopefully onto the other folks that I have had the pleasure of introducing to the sport.

  13. Nice work Paul. I learned my lesson many years ago when, my wife and I arrived in Cancun without our bags, holding all my gear. They never showed. I ended fishing Xcalak with a twenty year old borrowed fly rod, some no name junker reel, a floating line that didn’t float and a fisherman was nice enough to give me a handful of mono that became my leader. Borrowed/stole/found six flies and I was good to go. Caught lots of fish, had a great time and wondered why on earth I needed the rods, reels and hundreds of flies I always travel with. Fond memory indeed.

    • That’s awesome. I can definitely see where that would change someone’s perspective on what is truly necessary. It’s nice to have what you think you need. If for no other reason, because it gives you peace of mind. I carry hundreds of flies with me when I go trout fishing, and only end up fishing a few of them throughout the day on most occasions. Sometimes, whatever the circumstances may be, we’re forced to do what we can with what’s on hand, channel our inner MacGyver, and get it done. Sometimes you gotta be flexible and creative, and not rely so much on today’s gadgets and gear.

  14. in a nutshell. “It´s not the kill, it is the thrill of the chase” .. Nice Article, enjoyed reading it and fully appreciate what you say, I have a 15ft Double handed Orvis Salmon Rod which I purchased in 1995. I wouldn´t change it for the world.

  15. It’s not the industry making ‘us’ soft, it’s the way society is heading. Everyone is ‘me first’ and feels like they are entitled to everything (like a 20-inch fish) without doing the work. Most softies don’t catch big fish anyway though…

    • Eddie:

      I think you have hit on maybe the biggest part of the equation here. A big part of our society has become EXTREMELY self centered and self indulgent and demands instant gratification in EVERYTHING, even things that are supposed to be for pleasure. NO, they do not want to have to take the time and effort to gain any experience or “pay any dues” to get proficient, they just want to pay somebody to make it happen. And as so many of us have said, they have really missed the true experience. It is sad to watch.

  16. I understand this perspective but I can’t necessarily agree with everything said in the article. There are a lot of good things that have come from advances in our equipment and technology. In general, better equipment makes it easier for people to enjoy the sport and should (in theory) lead them into exploring deeper. Anyone with a true passion for fly fishing still works hard and learns from the sport every day. If you think that isn’t true you must not fish very much. There will always be wannabes and people who think expensive equipment or hiring a guide entitles them to the best fishing. Those people are not the core of the sport and never will be, but they pay your bills and make it possible for blogs like this to exist so… there’s your paradox. A handful of those people will most likely grow to love the sport and add something to it, the rest will fade away. Fly fishing is more alive right now than it ever has been. It is just the sheer number of anglers now that can sometimes make it hard to differentiate the posers from the passionate practitioners.

  17. Enjoyed the blog, Paul. You apparently hit some nerves and got unprecedented feedback in such a short time frame.

    I love every opportunity for fly fishing, fresh and salt, and I have some gear I have used for more than 20 years and some that is relatively new. Some innovations like gripping, safer wading boots are not luxury items when you are past 6-1/2 decades and still get out in iffy wading conditions like me. Most of the rods I use now have been gifts from friends and colleagues. They have meaning to me beyond their brand. As for contributing to effectiveness in almost all routine fly fishing circumstances, the price of the rod is so far below the knowledge and skill of the person holding it as to be a non-factor in my opinion.

    If you get back to N. Georgia, give me a call. You can borrow my canoe again and fish from my place to Jay’s and see my new dog.

  18. I grew up with hand me down bamboo then was given a glass Wright & McGill. That was a huge technology jump! Modern rods absolutely rock! Reels on the other hand are way over thought and priced. Reels I inherited and thought were weak and old are really practical and insanely cheep on line. 15 bucks for my favorite Bronson Multiroyal.

  19. I know what you mean. I have a hard time getting good gear and am sick of the guys at the local fly shop giving me crap about my cheap rods. The gems of my arsenal are an intermediate 8 weight from redington and a shakespeare wonderod from the 50s, still haven’t had an issue with either one. Yet I still find myself looking at the new custom rods and reels created to stop bullets. For a 15 year old angler this market is hard.

  20. Thanks for the post Paul.
    I am not a proud gear junkie, nor am I a season’s old gear sale watcher. Fly fishing was learned, as hunting was, for me. I grew up with it, I didn’t buy my way into it. Personally, I prefer to build my own rods, tie my own flys, and fish from my own boats.
    If you can afford it, go ahead and buy in and fall in love. All of our rivers need advocates. All fish need support and proponents who strongly believe in free and wild rivers.
    However, gear and “the sport” are what they are and if shopping is what you’re about then please be cognisant of manufacturers who support our larger cause.

  21. Great article. But in the end, it’s just how everybody enjoys their sport. If they feel the expensive rods gives them an edge, just let them (and me) do so.

  22. Great — I’m always looking for reasons to divide fly fishermen into “right” and “wrong”. It helps my internal balance to know that I’m better than some other guy.

  23. I was happy to see all the feedback and everyone’s views. I don’t think there is really a wrong side or a right side to all this. I love the advancement of technology in the sport, like I said im a gear head too. I think what I wish would happen more would be focusing more what the companies do best instead of spread so thin. Thanks everyone.

  24. What I love about fly fishing is the passion exhibited by so many good folks about the sport, the diversity of methods and tools, and the freedom to do it your own way (within the law). We can politely and safely agree or disagree on topics like this one and then go about fishing exactly like we want to.

  25. Pingback: 6 Cool Things To Read | SPG Fishing

  26. I love fishing my old school gear. When I first started fly fishing it was a graphite rod (sigh) and a new martin reel. Since then I’ve seen the light of “vintage” gear. Now I’m a fiberglass junkie I carry 2 rods in the truck at all times both old glass with 3 different tuna can martin reels nothing more than line holders. Both rod and reel have made me have to be a much better angler . From casting in the pocket water, laurel thicket streams to fighting browns in big water rivers. it ,I think, has made me a better angler in the long run.

  27. Paul,
    I cannot agree with you more. I have sold off all my new stuff and busted out the 1960’s era Fenwicks of my youth. I even like the old blue collar reels my dad has handed down. I get a lot of funny looks though. smile and wave .

  28. Good read. I’m a gear junky too but I hate how our society is becoming a “disposable” society, the new Iphone comes out and the old one is obsolete? The new Sage top of the line rod comes out and the last is trash? Dont get me wrong I fish some Sage rods, but I also have a 30$ Eagleclaw 5wt that’s my go-to bass rod, wouldn’t trash it for an Iphone 6!

    • Another note: Reels are ridiculous these days! Who needs a 4wt reel (trout reel) with enough drag to stop a car! Shoot, the only time I have ever used a reel for anything other than HOLDING my line was for Redfish here in SC… anything less than 6wt could suffice with a tin can, and they charge $600 for a reel?!?

  29. While we type from our computers, why don’t people peck their typewrites any longer? How come Phil doesn’t swing his persimmons anymore? Why are we no longer pressing our t-shirt designs with hot irons?

    Grow Up Grandpa.

  30. Well written article but I beg to differ with some of the assumptions made there and in many comments.

    We sit here behind our computers and judge our fellow fishermen by their fishing style, by the gear in their hand; how old is it, how expensive is it? And we take that judgment and directly correlate it to their “appreciation” of fishing?? How is that remotely fair, just, or accurate.

    This judgmental behavior is actually part of the problem in my opinion. So a fishermen has a 1k sage and finatic in his hand, backed with ultra thin hatch backing, tossing beads with and indie, whilst wearing futuristic Simms waders… and what does that same about him/her as a fishermen…??

    Absolutely nothing.

    Who are we to say that they don’t appreciate and enjoy fishing on the same level as the 70yo man throwing dries with a bamboo rod that’s been in the family since 600BC?
    What have we done to earn the right to make assumptions and judgments about another human being because they use fancier more expensive newer gear? Or because they have MORE gear than we do? Or because they hire a guide? Or because they are NOT casting size 40 dry flies? Or because they seem to be unskilled at what they are doing?

    When I run into other fishermen I try my best not to judge based on any of these things. I try to base all my judgments on who they are as a person. Are they ethical, polite, and legal? Do they seem to be having fun? I don’t care where you’re from, how you’re fishing or what you’re fishing with or how old you are.

    Sure I’ve met plenty of asshats with 50k in fishing gear. But I’ve met just as many douchenozzles who think that clearly I am an inferior fishermen that doesn’t appreciate the sport because I’m throwing impossibly huge junk with an expensive switch and a reel that could stop an F18 on a carrier launch. I work like a rented mule and make good money and I’ll spend it on whatever I damn well please. F-U, you judgmental pricks if it doesn’t conform to your definition of what fly fishing is.

    • You contradicted your argument in the final paragraph of your rant. In a way though, I agree with most of it. A lot of folks who read this article seem to focus on how the equipment shapes our experience and completely miss the point. There is no excuse to judge another person based on their rod, reel, outfit or technique of choice. There are plenty of folks who spend lots of money on the “latest and greatest” and are enthusiastic fly fishermen, conservationists etc. There are also plenty of folks fishing bamboo and glass who don’t care about anything but themselves and have given nothing back to the sport. What I said in my previous post I will echo here; the people who truly love the sport will always do so, and new equipment and fancy marketing have little effect on the attitude they carry with them on the water. What we should be judging is the manner in which WE conduct ourselves (especially those of us who are industry people) as well as the effects our actions have on others who are in, or entering the sport. Unfortunately there are folks out there whose prime motivation is the almighty dollar. They are only interested in generating the next fad or finding the next rockstar species to exploit so that they can slap a brand on it and open up the money tap. There are also folks who are especially susceptible to these marketing tactics, who will follow the latest fads and spend big money to go to exotic places for a picture with the new fish that everyone has to catch. It is wrong to judge these people for being this way, but it is hard to argue that someone who fishes for 6 days out of the year and pays guides to show them where to cast is putting the same amount into the sport as a career guide on a river in BC who is on the water 200 days a year and sits on the board of directors for their conservation group. Our goal as anglers should be to approach both our fisheries and fellow fishermen with depth and understanding. If you prefer a certain method of fishing or type of tackle than by all means share it with others, but don’t look down your nose at them for being different. The competitive, “us versus them” mentality on the river is reflected in the fly fishing industry, and it isn’t making us soft, it is turning us into assholes!

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