The new spirit of fly fishing.

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. 

Mary Orvis Marbury and others were integral to the development of fly fishing.

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.





3 responses to “The new spirit of fly fishing.”

  1. veloxseeker Avatar

    Somebody ALWAYS wants to make money off of a problem. Altruism is as rare as common sense these days. Great post and I agree with you 100%.

  2. Steve Vaughn Avatar

    I don’t disagree with your premise, however, change in modern (since the 80s) fly fishing has, to a large degree, been driven by marketing. Too many folks have come to the sport by wanting to look as cool as the folks in the ads. Or maybe like Robert Redford in “the movie”.

  3. Sheri Maines Avatar

    I’m fairly new to fly fishing (introduced by my partner) and have learned a great deal about “Fly Rod” Crosby, Carrie Stevens, as well as many other great contributors to the sport as we know it today… it’s all very fascinating and fun to learn about.

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