“The Embarrassing State of Modern Fly Fishing” is an embarrassing take on modern fly fishing.

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Photos by Louis Cahill

By Aaron Stiny

Recently my Facebook feed was flooded with folks sharing the aforementioned blog post, each post receiving a flood of comments.

Against my better judgement I browsed what folks had to say before reading it and saw nothing but Amen’s, Spot on’s etc so I gave it a click. I was surprised so many friends, especially industry employees, were adamantly in agreeance with it and I couldn’t help but feel like the article and the ensuing responses were hypocritical and ironic. Let’s dive in… 

The Myth that fly fishing was a “quiet man’s” sport…Foremost, thankfully fly fishing isn’t a total Man’s sport anymore. Fly fishing has never been a quiet person’s sport. I grew up working in fly shops and forever worked for Bill Kiene, who had some of the loosest lips in Nor Cal when it came to promoting fishing. Many fly shop owners were the same way. Pre-social media Bill gained notoriety by pioneering one of the original fly fishing message boards and pushed fishing reports, however dated, to increase people getting after it, and in turn business. He didn’t do this simply to look after his bottom line, in his heart he wanted people on the water. 

Lest we forget the massive consumer fly fishing shows of yesteryear which are currently experiencing a resurgence. The old ISE San Mateo show, Somerset, etc. Denver has been packed with consumers over the last few years, including many of the folks this blogger despises. Lefty Kreh, Chico Fernandez, Bob Clouser, they weren’t/aren’t exactly quiet men when it came to travelling around to shows, fly clubs etc. promoting hosted travel, selling gear, and collecting large speaking fees. Plain and simple, they were influencers before there were influencers, and it greatly benefitted their bottom line. In turn, they introduced how many generations to our sport who in turn spawned how many kids who are anglers in the social media generation. 

Are most of the premier trout rivers really loved to death? The Mo, South Fork and other premiere trout rivers are counting fish by the thousand per mile. Many rivers are seeing more conscience flows by water administrators to protect fish during vulnerable times of year and enhance angler experience due to popularity. Let’s talk about former premiere Steelhead rivers: There is a passionate army of anglers advocating for the removal of the Snake River Dams to improve and in some cases just reopen steelhead fishing in Idaho. The Skagit/Sauk saga has more folks than ever before advocating for them. Steelhead popularity in CA has exploded in (thanks Kiene) and we have the largest Dam removal project in history about to happen on the Klamath. I get it, it sucks that your favorite WY river has a few more skiffs than it used to, but the number of passionate anglers, guides, shops and businesses bettering our fisheries is far greater than this blog will admit. 

The cool factor and zero to hero guides. Where to begin, judging a guide by the cleanliness/organization of his/her rig? Some of the best guides I know stay up long hours after trips rinsing the boat, organizing gear, and putting out the best product they can for the next day’s trip. I’ve been in too many drift boats full of cigarette butts and beer cans where we wasted hours doing things that should have been prepped long before. There are certainly exceptions to every rule, but for the price of a guided trip these days (that’s well out of my blue collar price range) I’d prefer it be organized. I’m surprised at how often the blogger references guides who can’t fish, only know one stretch of water etc. In my repping days I called on every outfitter in the region big and small and 99% had high standards for their guide staff. Locally one major player requires every guide to go through there guide school at full cost to ensure they can safely navigate the stretches of water, understand the fisheries, and provide clients with a memorable experience. Another requires new guides to guide the guide staff and earn their approval before taking paid clients. This isn’t unique and is the norm throughout the Rockies. I’m unsure where the blogger gets his holier than though attitude towards other guides but I find it ironic as it part of what he’s preaching against. 

Influencers: See above, Lefty was an influencer before there was social media. This dude is an influencer for having a blog and trying to hook people from his presence to book trips, travel etc. My good buddy Jeff Currier was and influencer before social media, and he’s adapted social media into his repertoire to provide even better learning and experiential content for his followers. Sociology meets fly fishing? Sure, if you don’t think somebody’s content is worth your time, don’t give them a like or follow, but don’t paint them with a broad brush either. 

Everyone has an Iphone and posts interesting photos, and stories these days, and thankfully marketing/brand managers have evolved to barter for content from people sharing worthy stuff. Detrimental ‘Influencers’ (Mayfly Mafia anyone?) have mostly gone by the wayside and fly fishing has caught up to action sports and rewards and cultivates quality work for the most part. 

I can see the Teton River meandering from my window currently (well actually its frozen over so I can’t see it), fishing has improved on it exponentially and so has pressure. I find no greater pleasure than sitting on the bank come late June, sipping a beer awaiting PMD’s to hatch. It’s extremely technical fishing requiring long leaders, downstream drifts, and precise matching of flies. It’s fucking hard. I get no greater joy than somebody who is green to fly fishing, be it new to the valley or passing through enjoying our national parks, asking me for advice when they’ve felt the frustration we’ve all felt early in our fly fishing careers. I’m not holding hands, but I enjoy passing along a productive fly, suggesting adding a few feet of 5x to their leader and casting downstream to rising fish. I can’t help but smile when I see them blow a hookset when they finally get an eat, or hoot and holler when they hook a 16” cutt that’s the fish of a lifetime for them. I could care less if they post an identifying shot with the Teton’s glowing in the background, there’s one more ambassador for our waters and fish and one less whiny blogger. Bill Kiene used to say during the recession “We need another movie”, well I’d say in lieu of that social media has done a pretty good job of saving fly fishing rather than ruining it. 

Aaron Stiny is a reformed fly fishing industry employee, he has a boat dog, tattoos, drinks hipster beer and lives in Driggs Idaho. 

Aaron Stiny
Gink & Gasoline
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13 thoughts on ““The Embarrassing State of Modern Fly Fishing” is an embarrassing take on modern fly fishing.

  1. Aaron,

    Thank you for the thought provoking article.

    We hear two types of cell phone calls. One where a salesperson is earnestly talking to a client. The other where the caller is making sure you realize they are important, damn important, by being loud, dominating the space and making sure you are overhearing the call. Both are cell phone calls but they are miles apart. One makes us smile, the other makes us grit our teeth as we are forced to listen to the self importance show.

    I love hearing a hoot of joy on the river. I loath that same hoot when it is followed at full throat by, “I told you Joe! I knew my secret #22 cripple/emerger/dry/wet on 7X would seal the deal, I told you!” YEEEHAAAA! Shouted so all within a half mile can hear of the cunning predator’s conquest. If you fish much, you’ve heard this hoot.

    Social media is the same deal to me. It cannot be lumped together as “good” or “bad”. Some of it is great and some is cring worthy.

  2. I can see both sides. However, a lot of that article rings true for Colorado. I’ts fucked. I just bought the new Sage trout spey and i’m only fishing that for the remainder of the year on uncrowded stretches. Fuck it.

    • If you moved to Colorado in the last ten years or so, you’re part of the problem. Metro Denver is ruined. I’ve been military the last seventeen years, and can’t even move back to my home because a simple three bedroom house now costs nearly half a million dollars.

      • Actually born and raised in park hill man. All good. But you’re right, real estate tends to appreciate over 17 years 🙂

  3. I find it pretty ironic that this guy is complaining about places getting blown up while offering hosted trips. It’s hard to have the moral high ground when you are also participating in the behavior he seems to dislike.

  4. Like the way you think. I was a little nervous as social media grew. I thought attending shows and events would be replaced by seeing everything on your iPad or phone. I’m glad talking to a like minded person in a fly fishing atmosphere as the shows provide is still something to look forward to and enjoy. It sure beats sitting in your underwear in your mom’s basement sharing your negative thoughts on social media. Go fish or go to a show and talk and learn how to fish.
    Chuck Furimsky

  5. In the last few years on the local MT river, the number of guides/anglers has exploded. Every parking lot, from April to October (besides runoff) is overflowing out to the highway, and each decent bend has about 10 boats stacked up, waiting to fish. People will park on the boat ramp and form lines of cars in front of all the “no parking” signs along the road to the access. Even in early March you can witness a parade of 10 or more rafts within 10 minutes, watching as person after person flogs all the water in the run where you’re wading and trying to fish. One boat even pulled over at every point upstream and battered every hole, including parking just upstream in the same run, not worried about the two wading anglers standing there with incredulous faces.
    All the extra pressure would be okay, except etiquette decreases exponentially as the pressure increases. It’s at the point where I’m happy to see a bait fisher rather than a fly fisher, because I know it’ll be a more friendly encounter. In a perfect world, increasing the number of fly anglers should reduce the elitism and snobbery, but the opposite is happening. A stream can take an amazing amount of pressure when done properly, and there should be some kind of “fisher’s safety” course so that there is an agreed-upon standard for how to treat our streams and fellow anglers. The bright side is that I’m exploring more, looking for waters that have a lower jerk-to-fish ratio, and have found some beautiful places.

  6. I think maybe the OBP was somewhat based on caricatures.

    As a fly fishermen, I want the sport to grow, but to grow organically, that is person to person mostly.

    My fear (and I think that of the OBP author) is that fly fishing will be over run due to commercialization. When someone gets into something because of the way it looks, or the cool factor, often they do not connect themselves with the greater community that has existed outside of that cool factor.

    I only have to leave Duck Hunting as an example of this. Up until the late 1990’s duck hunting was a generational sport mostly, one that family and friends could do together. And though it has always been a sport that requires a certain level of resources, those where often passed down like season tickets at Lambeau field.

    But then came the marketing geniuses that saw an opportunity to make it into a cult for the money. Now the average family cannot afford to duck hunt, not to mention all the fools who have filled community hunting areas with Duck Dynasty look-a-likes equipped with the latest and greatest.

    Just the facts. I don’t want to see fly fishing turn into the next outdoor sport casualty like duck hunting.

  7. Nice job. Don’t know why John Clark got his nickers in a bunch so I’ll chalk that up to a bad day. But he sure used a broad brush to paint his picture of modern fly fishing. You know the guys I guide for and where I stand on the industry and conservation. Thanks for making time to offer a different point of view then Clark’s.

  8. It seems that we’ll continue to see more pressure everywhere. With a social media outlet in every ones pocket it seems impossible to escape some days.

    Heck I’ve even seen where blog articles point out exact spots using google maps. Check out how the below article –

    I will say more folk on the water is a good thing. It’s the folks on the water who will also protect the water.

    Great article! Thank

  9. $$$$$$$$ you guys sell fishing .tats and craft beer?until you guys realize that there are other fish besides trout and bonefish and pigeon hole all other anglers the circular firing squad will continue.

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