Reversing the downward trend in fly fishing

A fly fishing geek’s disjointed broad brush perspective

Rods and reels too high priced? Cantankerous farts told one too many newbies how it must be done? Or is A River Runs Through It just last century’s metaphor?

It doesn’t matter which way you cut it, interest in fly fishing has been waning…

Google Trends - fly fishing

…at least as long as perennial search engine Google has been keeping tabs on search trends. Seasonality is quite apparent, and you really couldn’t say that news coverage of the sport is the issue – while there’s a little volatility it has otherwise been fairly steady.

Around the world, South Africans, Americans, and New Zealanders top the charts in fly fishing searches, with the Irish and Brits rounding out the top five.

Fly Fishing Regions

Among cities the US pounces, and the Denver metro area definitely has fish on the brain – Boise, Salt Lake City, and Portland follow.

Fly Fishing Cities

And note, the heaviest concentrations of the search term actually occurred in Montana, followed by Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and Alaska – no surprise, but the leader doesn’t have big population centers to garner it a city spot.

Still, the trend is disturbing.  As Matt Dunn noted after working in a fly shop for a while, knowledgeable catalysts can help:

I’m spent several years here exploring local creeks, finding access, finding fish, and now I have to tell every random person that wants to know where it all is. Well, at least where some of it is. This is necessary, of course, because without places to fish, people won’t buy tackle and flies and new Fishpond chest packs. And the more people fish, the more things they will buy. And this is good because, at least from one perspective, the more they fish the more passionate about fishing they will be and the more they will protect fisheries and the better those fisheries will be.

A chain reaction kicks off, and the benefits come on the back end.

The fishing mindset has always been about the top secret hole and the fly I’m not telling you about, and that must change. I think the discussion taking place amongst blogs, combined with information/social networks such as Fish Explorer and The Fin, are a step in the right direction.

What more is needed still escapes me, but it makes sense on all levels (personal, commercial, and environmental) for those of us who love the sport to find it.

Put a smile on someone’s face – tell them where the fish are. Ok, start with a hint?


Matt Berry says:

Great article. Very informative.

Allen says:

About time someone said it G. Left unchecked, the elitists will “love” our sport to death. Who wants to begin a new passion when they get told to “figure it out on your own, and by the way, your rod and reel are junk because they didn’t cost enough”.

@Matt – Thanks!

@AT – As the guy that put me onto my first trout (after making me pick up rocks looking for insects, for days), you’re spot on. Of course, you did make fun of my first trout rod – pushing me into that 389LL – but I guess I have to thank you for that too!

I’ve been looking at the same graph on an igoogle page for almost a year, but had never bothered to check if we were seeing a decline in total fly fishing related searches, or simply a reduction in the search for “fly fishing” while searches on more specific
terms relating to fly fishing grew (we aren’t).

Still, do you think declining numbers of fly fishermen can be fixed by revealing hard-found fishing spots to those who are marginally interested in the sport (marginal enough to leave it if big fish aren’t forthcoming).

I’ve wrestled with the idea of a contracting fly fishing universe, and lacking a beer, my current thinking is this: It’s not that the fishing isn’t good enough, it’s that fly fishing isn’t easily enough mastered in a world growing increasingly ADD (and connected to the great indoors, and yes, fearful).

It’s tough to watch someone struggle to catch their first (and second, and third) trout, and while much can be done to help some over that hump, the truth is it’s a sport whose recent marketing hype has greatly exceeded the reality of tangled leaders and long, fishless stretches.

Ask me again in another beer, and you may get another answer.

Hope spring eternal

@TC – inline>>

I’ve been looking…

I picked the term fly fishing because I thought it represented the entry-level search. But you are correct – other terms are not picking up the slack.

Still, do you think…

Not necessarily, but I think it can serve as a primer. I wanted to convey the sharing aspect more than anything, and when Matt made his post I was in the middle of this little analysis. His ‘chain reaction’ really set alarm bells off. Reason: I’ve been fishing for quite a while, but have lived all over. When I landed in a new town, I always sought out a ‘home shop’ – a place where people gave me the information I needed to hit the water. During my time in CO, I’ve settled on two retailers who always take time out for me regardless of how busy they are. And I’ve noticed they take careful time out for others when I’m in self-service mode. I don’t really buy a lot of gear nowadays (don’t really need it), but I make all my purchases from them, and them only. Without their help, I wouldn’t know about 75% of the spots I fish, nor the seasonal changes/timing, sometimes odd techniques, etc. My visits are their payback, and I believe that is what Matt was trying to convey.

I’ve wrestled with…

Agreed, completely. A friend recently conveyed this tidbit (I haven’t been able to verify yet): roughly 5% of Denver residents have ever spent a single night in the mountains. Amazing, particular considering I spent roughly a dozen weekends in a tent last year and I’m a semi-slovenly over-teched accountant.

It’s tough to watch…

Yes it is, but over the last few years I’ve dragged a lot of people out without suffering. I am sure guides have a tough job, because they have to treat clients with kid-gloves – exemplify the grace/beauty/zen of the sport while putting newbies onto fish. I don’t think it works that way, and therefore take a different tack. I choose only thick-skinned friends who know my penchant for being a perfectionist a-hole. I drill them on casting technique, knot tying, water reading, and the concept of motion (you’ve got to keep moving if you want to find fish!). I follow them around and shout out their mistakes – repetitively. Right about the time they are ready to go to blows, they hook up. All at once my incorrigible badgering makes sense to them.

Ask me again after I come back from the liquor store, and you may get another answer too.

PS: Thanks very much!

PSS: I caught my first trout of the new year just last Friday, so I know all about ‘fishless stretches’. Does it discourage me? Quite the opposite – I get a little miffed, then reflective, and then kick into research mode. And I want to get out more.

Not that it would account for all of the “missing” searches, but maybe some of it has to do with the popularity and quick, effortless means of acquiring info that forums/bulletin boards offer.

When I want fly fishing related info- whether it’s how to, where to, etc.- the first places I look aren’t the search engines, they’re forums. Looking at the traffic on several forums I’ve been active on over the past 4 years, I’d say I’m not the only one. Search engines are great, but there’s too much searching(no pun intended).

Alex –

I agree that the amount of information available certainly affects advanced searches. But if you are a non-participant who just saw someone fish while you where out on, say a hike, and are inkling to get into the sport, you’d probably search for it first (i.e. you wouldn’t know where the forum was to begin with). Still, that sharing component in the communities must be viewed as a good thing.

Then again, someone might have a site they frequent that happens to link to a forum or blog about fly fishing – that would certainly make a difference. I’d even hope someone passing by here looking for commentary on Fannie Mae or help with mcrypt would garner an interest in fly fishing, although that is probably wishful thinking considering the ADD Tom mentioned.

>roughly 5% of Denver residents have ever spent a single night in the mountains.

I understand the damaging sociological implications of all this, but given that I’m the guy who advocated an open season on illegally operated ATVs, I’d be hard-pressed to sigh deeply if someone said your stat was wrong, and that fewer people actually make the trip.

Life, it seems, remains conflicted for some of us.

Woody says:

Fly Fisherman’s cover catch phrase is “The Quiet Sport”, better it should be “The Solitary Sport”. We lament the decline fly fishing’s popularity and at the same time we moan about hot spotting. “Oh god, there are too many people on the river”, followed by, “Bummer that the local fly shop had to close, not enough business, I guess”.

If you are concerned about the contraction of fly fishing, look in the mirror, what are you doing about it? If fly fishing is your secret passion that you don’t share, you are contributing to its contraction, and the cycle that builds from it. For example, fly fishing clubs are great for sharing knowledge. If you aren’t in a club, try joining one. If you are a member of a club encourage friends that aren’t members to join. Take them to a meeting. If you are at a meeting, seek out the new members to talk to instead of hanging with your cronies. Share your knowledge with others, even if it means a giving up a juicy fishing spot. Not everybody has the immediate motivation or inclination to get out there and beat the bushes. If you meet a newbie on the river, give them a few of the right flies to help him/her along. That motivation needs to be nurtured and a little easy success goes a long way.

We are a selfish lot. We want our cake and we want to eat it as well.

Matt Dunn says:

My logic is dubious. But I agree with you Michael, as you put it so much more succinctly than I, that sharing info is, in the end, good. But the real mystery is how to get people interested in the first place. Naked Amber Heard? Hopefully…

@ TC – I don’t like the ATVs (or snowmobiles – sorry JPL) either, but there is a significant amount of open space they aren’t allowed in, or couldn’t get into, anyway. Can you imagine someone taking an ATV up into the Desolation Wilderness?

@ Woody – Agreed. I’ve bumped into guys out here who keep all these notes locked away, and whine like little girls if they find out you disclosed their ‘secret spot’. Thankfully, they are not particularly well regarded in the community.

@ Matt – If you can deliver Amber Heard, in the buff, to my doorstep, I’ll turn my prized Sage 389LL over to you immediately.

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