The sport of fly fishing is too old and too male and too white, and Outside magazine is coming to the rescue, highlighting three seasoned anglers as spokespeople for greater diversity and inclusion in the sport.
It’s a noble cause, one I think all anglers should get behind. My hangup isn’t the anglers or the message. My hangup is this isn’t new. Emily Whitlock, Joan Wulff, Megan Boyd, Carrie Stevens, Mary Orvis Marbury- women have been making enormous contributions to the sport of fly fishing for centuries. It’s true there’s a problem when we struggle rattling off the names of more than a dozen. It’s also true women have played an outsized role in the development of the sport.
Folks have been fly fishing across the globe for centuries. Tenkara was being practiced in Japan 400 years ago, Seminoles were catching bass on flies 250 years ago, Ojibwe were guiding sports from Detroit and Chicago on northern streams and lakes 150 years ago. Fly fishing was exported by Britain and The Continent; today there’s fly fishing clubs dotted across the planet, headed by anglers from all backgrounds.
If you read an article about the new phenomena of women in tennis, or people of color in baseball, you’d rightly recognize the author is fundamentally ignorant of the topic. Fly fishing has a diversity problem, but female participation in the sport isn’t new. Diversity in fly fishing is uncommon- but it’s always been there. By constructing a strawman, Outside can claim this is the new spirit of fly fishing.
What is new is the exploitation of diversity for the sake of marketing. Each of the individuals in the Outside piece come off as genuine- authentic, passionate, and they can probably fish circles around me. But the piece isn’t a vehicle for addressing a lack of diversity in fly fishing. It’s a vehicle for selling trucks. Featuring women and people of color in your Chevrolet commercial does not a diversity initiative make.
If diversity in the sport is a problem worth addressing, it’s a problem worth taking seriously. If we want to develop a fly fishing culture which respects people of different backgrounds, we shouldn’t exploit people of different backgrounds for the sake of selling shit.