Diversity Will Grow Fly Fishing

Fly fishing, like a great many other sports has long been elite, predominantly enjoyed by white men, middle to upper class folk, who have the wherewithal to travel to remote places where trout live and afford the many items of gear necessary to experience the sport.

According to the 2016 Outdoor Recreation Participation Summary report published by the Outdoor Foundation (an nonprofit arm of the Outdoor Industry Association), fly fishing was enjoyed by a little over 6 million people in 2015. In general that number has not changed for the last ten years and there has been only a .5% change in the last three years. The 2015 Special Report on Fishing further shows that 3.6 million fly fish in freshwater. That’s not a lot of anglers compared to the 40 million other Americans, or 15.8 percent of the U.S. population ages six and older, who participated in fishing in 2014. That’s just 9%.

But while the overall numbers of fly anglers can seem static, the group is not monolithic and its in flux. In 2014, about 13% of fly anglers where new to the sport. Precisely one third of fly anglers were women, and African Americans and Hispanics were just over one fifth of fly anglers (about 10.5% each respectively). Of course, if your a member of the IFF or TU, two organizations that draw heavily from the core of fly anglers for members, you might not see the diversity reflected. If you don’t fly fish that often, or travel often to fly fish, you might not see that diversity. But you don’t have to look far. There are now over two dozen women’s fly fishing groups, the most popular have hundreds of members. TU also has a thriving women’s initiative aimed at recruiting and engaging more women members -not all, but many who fly fish or want to learn.

And increasingly, women and people of color can be seen on the water, both as anglers and guides. They are typically younger and as such are more likely to engage in different mediums than the previous generation of mostly white anglers – instead of subscribing to American Angler they are following dozens of their peers on Instagram. And that’s not to say they aren’t following fly fishing’s icons (predominantly white men) – pick one – McGuane, Gierach, Apte – but they are also watching videos by like Through the Guides, featuring well-known guides Alvin Dedeaux or Hilary Hutcheson (who is also the co-owner and host of the largest cable fly fishing show, TROUT TV).

If you go to the Somerset Fly Fishing Show in New Jersey, its noticeable how diverse the crowd has become. Saltwater fly fishing is attracting Hispanic and latino anglers who are reflecting their unique stamp on the culture back through video and social media content – DJ Dan Decibel’s films come to mind of young latinos fly fishing for peacock bass and tarpon around southern Florida. And then there’s Chad Brown, owner of Soul River Runs Deep fly shop in Portland Oregon and charismatic veteran, teacher and fly fishing guide – if you’re an outdoor enthusiast and you haven’t heard of his groundbreaking work with veterans and inner city youth (predominantly people of color) then you really aren’t following the fly fishing culture.

Many new brands are lowing the cost and barrier to entry while not sacrificing the performance necessary to enjoy the sport – Redington, Rise, Tenkara USA and TFO come to mind. Wal-mart is selling fly rods! Orvis has created an indispensible online library of fly fishing instruction and offers free classes to anyone in most of their locations. And of course the target species has also diversified – bass, carp, and other “rough” fish are now worthy targets on the fly thanks to a new generation of anglers (still mostly white) but younger and less tied to the traditions, who just believe the tug is the drug – any tug.

Still, it comes as no surprise that like golf, surfing, even hunting, there is a reaction to the change in the sport, who shows up in the locker room (or on the river) and the fact that it isn’t a sport of priviliedge any longer. The same social media and online tools that democratize the experience of the sport, can be used to flail against the change. Such is the case last week when Chad Brown received a nasty Facebook post, racist and ignorant, railing against black people entering the sport. Chad shared it widely and the community – every part of the community – women, men, young, old, black, white, brown, guide, outfitter, business owner – rallied behind Chad to shout down the prejudice. Frankly, I think it was a turning point in our sport. As a highly positioned person of color in the industry (I’m CMO of Trout Unlimited, a national conservation nonprofit) and often time the only African American in the room at fly fishing events, or on the water, I can sometimes sense the unsaid statement – “this guy is evidence that my sport is changing and I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

Well, I could just say, “get over it, the world has changed.” The U.S. electorate this year will be the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse ever according to Pew Research. Nearly one-in-three eligible voters on Election Day (31%) will be Hispanic, black, Asian or another racial or ethnic minority, up from 29% in 2012. By around 2020, “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group,” the Census Bureau says. Minorities will be 56% of all Americans by 2060 at the current pace.

But simply dismissing ignorance with facts is not enough. Considering that growth in fly fishing is stagnant, I would offer that the future to the sport lies with diverse anglers. So it was heartening to see the fly angling community leap to Chad’s defense. Someone was eventually going to react (and ignorantly) to the inevitability of the changes that are symptomatic of the shift in the demographics of the US. The outdoor community in general suffers from a diversity problem, but there is no shortage of good will to see it change, but change has been slow. These outbursts, attacks and temper tantrums against change (and there will be more) give us an opportunity to voice our own thoughts about how much we love fly fishing and for so many reasons, why we want to share it with the next generation, no matter who they are, the color of their skin, or the gender they identify with. These moments also give us a chance to ask ourselves – what am I doing to give others – everyone – the chance to experience this fun and positive connection to nature? Finally, and not the least of reasons we must come together to help bring more diverse people the joy of fishing, is that it can lead to an equal passion and commitment to conservation of our beloved outdoors.

Everyday I do my part as a member and lead marketer at TU (I recently initiated a grant to increase women’s representation in fly fishing films with partners Orvis, Costa and the Fly Fishing Film Tour). I also teach and guide just a bit when asked by nice people. I got my brother and his buddies into the sport – they’re Japanese American, African American. I think the key to this – is to spot an opportunity with one thought in mind, if you don’t teach others to take it up, then you well, you’re just using the resource for own pleasure, and really that’s not at all what fly fishing is about.

 

Orvis X TU Collabo

Another interesting project to share with you – this time we collaborated with Orvis to offer the ultimate dry fly rod in the H2 family to our newest Life Members. It was an honor and pleasure to work with the head designer Shawn Combs and fly fishing legend Tom Rosenbauer on this one.  …now I really ought to work on getting my posts on Alaska and Pulaski up!

Goodbye My Captain

Words do not describe how much of an inspiration this man was to me...
Words do not describe how much of an inspiration this man was to me…

O Me! O Life!

By Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

My New Gig at Trout Unlimited

Friends say we hardly see ya anymore. Acquaintances wonder what I got up to lately. Family shrugs and say, well he’s at work…which means he’s probably just gone fishing.

If I’ve been absent a bit folks its not because I mean to be. I figure you could just settle in and go back to the beginning of Film CRAFT and re-watch your favorites, or maybe chew through my Life in the District posts. I’ve not meant to leave you in a lurch. I still think fondly of you, still look forward to seeing you again. Its just that I’ve been a bit busy in the new gig.

For the last few months I’ve been settling in to my job at Trout Unlimited. The fifty-plus year-old conservation organization dedicated to preserving cold, clean fishable water and the trout and salmonids that inhabit it has got under my skin. About three years ago I met the indomitable, charismatic and electrifying CEO of the organization at a fundraiser in Long Island City of all places, probably about as far as you could get from a trout. I watched Chris Wood and several amazing speakers whip up the room in a frenzy against the Pebble Mine project that threatens to take out the largest sockeye spawning grounds in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, with a deft narrative that captured people’s hearts and wallets. And I said to myself, “I gotta get in on this.”

Thus began a patient and casual game of continuously checking the TU job board for the VP Marketing position. Always aware it was a longshot, I told myself, I can’t really afford to take the pay cut, and I don’t really want to live in DC, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to leave this “dream job” if they had it… Well things change and funny enough, I’ve come to realize this is the ONE job I’d do for free for the rest of my life. It turned out I would move to DC anyway to follow a passion to work on social good campaigns, landing at the BEST shop on Earth to do that (GMMB, the media masterminds behind the Clinton and Obama wins, and the perfect place to learn the DC political game). And it turned out the last guy in the gig didn’t think it was his dream job afterall – and that’s ok, I think he’s much happier in his new gig. And so there you have it. I won’t bore you with the intense amount of lobbying I did to land this opportunity, but needless to say I studied and hit the pavement hard, calling on the help of a broad constituency of…fishing buddies.

Since March I’ve been getting to know one of the finest group of coworkers I’ve ever known, folks with real passion dedicated to the cause, but intensely interested in doing things smartly, and with a solid people-first focus. They are neither right, nor left, they just care very deeply about the thousands of individual TU members out there in over four hundred chapters, and of course, the fish. TU turns out to be not only a storied organization, but one that is quite complex, with a long reach, and an invigorating set of goals that anglers, trout and salmon need more than ever due to climate change, tough politics, and the sorry state of our coldwater fisheries. I’m learning that yes, you can buy a dam and dismantle it, you can also work with farmers and ranchers to restore and reconnect trout to their native habitat, you can partner with business and government, and that you can teach a child conservation ethics through fishtanks full of trout in their classroom. Its all kind of amazing.

And then there’s the fact that alot of these folks fly fish. Pretty  neat.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to devote to deadbait going forward as I plan to do more writing on TU.org, our blog and maybe a few other places, but I promise to check in and share what I learn and perhaps the cool conversations and fishing adventures I might get up to now and then. I will probably share some my personal victories and defeats, and introduce you to some of my colleagues – who really do know how to fish – and I hope to, on occasion, stir you to give a thought to how important our wild places, our native and wild trout, and our actions all come together. Until then, tight lines.

Blue Ridge Tour

Well the all along the South from Louisiana to Georgia, the South is getting a dose of the legend, myth, and quackery that some have called climate change. But seriously, I can only imagine how beautiful the Blue Ridge must look under a veil of snow. Fortunately I fished the most Southern tip of the Blue Ridge over the holidays in balmy 50 degree weather.

At the beginning of the Appalachian trail in the Hiwassee basin, I was able to touch a few native browns in the headwaters of the Noontootla river. I scouted the Toccoa delayed harvest section for next visit (it was blown out). I also found opportunity on the Smith and Amicalola creeks during my two weeks in Georgia with the in-laws. Put a nice dent in the No Nonsense Fly Fishing Georgia guidebook, but I’ve only just begun to explore all the coldwater fisheries here. Most Georgians don’t even know they have 4000 miles of trout streams in Northern GA. I keep thinking I should be taking more advantage of the TU website to find fishing companions when I travel. In fact, I hope in just a few years to be able to take my daughter to one of those spots I’ve come to know so well, that she’ll be guaranteed her first Georgia trout on her first cast at least.

Noontootla
Noontootla Creek
Noontootla Wild Rainbow
Noontootla Wild Rainbow
Toccoa River
Toccoa River

Toccoa River Sign

Toccoa River Flyfisher
Toccoa River Flyfisher
Amicalola Creek Brookie
Amicalola Creek Brookie
Tailwater stockie
Tailwater stockie
Smith Creek Brownie
Smith Creek Brownie
Feisty Bow
Feisty Smallstream Bow

New Obsession? Hope Not.

This is a Painted Redstart that I spotted in my yard this morning. I can’t begin to tell you how lush my backyard and neighborhood is in Spring and Summer, with mature trees hundreds of feet tall, full brush and surrounded by parkland with marsh and meadow. I think this attracts a wide variety of birds to our little “flyway.” As I’ve seen all the usual suspects over the past year, including the rare Baltimore Oriole in my yard at one point. Anyway, hope it doesn’t turn into an obsession. I’ve already got one, but now I’m wondering what I could do to our backyard to enhance our resident and migratory birds stay with us?

Painted_Redstart_b13-39-353_l_1

La Colombe Torrefaction Coming to DC

La Colombe Coffee

BOOM… Wish I could say I broke the news but I’m a month late learning about this – Young and Hungry let DC know La Colombe Torrefaction was coming to the Shaw neighborhood late this year in Feb. How the F did I miss that?

So stoked. I’ve met the founders Todd Carmichael and Jean Philippe Iberti a few times, and am friends with some of the baristas that have been with the company since its inception back in the mid-90s in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. I love what they do – and when they opened three cafes in NYC a few years ago I was first in line. They don’t go in for all that ultra-fancy science-kit coffee but their sourcing and onsite roasting program is impeccable – as well as their trained baristas. I’m also a fan because when I grow up I wanna be like the Todd who  also happens to be a genuine modern-day explorer. Todd’s show, Dangerous Grounds, where he travels the world searching for rare and isolate coffee, is frankly the safest thing he does. He’s a world-record holder and ultra-marathoner, and was the first American explorer to cross Antartica to the South Pole ALONE, on foot and with no assistance. He arrived at the pole on December 21, 2008, after a total travel time of 39 days, 7 hours and 49 minutes. That same timestamp is tatooed to his right bicep. Ok, do I have a little bit of  man-crush, maybe. But I truly love La Colombe and am so glad its landing in DC.

 

Photo by Prince of Petworth
Photo by Prince of Petworth

 

 

 

Gunpowder Gem

Got out on Fathers Day for a morning of fishing on the Gunpowder River. The best thing to do when you’re up earlier on that persnickety piece of water is to throw streamers, but low and behold after a good half-mile walk in I found rising trout about mid-morning taking what I think was the previous evening’s spinner fall remnants and the occasional sulphur dun. After negotiating some a tricky back eddy current and some clumsy fellow anglers who decided to cross the river about 20 feet below me, I set my sights on a rising brown just ahead of a boulder in a pillow seam. The pillow seam worked to my advantage because it doesn’t allow a rising trout a lot of time to investigate the fly. After about 5 – 7 casts he took my sulphur. GP browns aren’t big, they’re wild and hard-won. So I appreciate that this feller and I met at all. GP brown on a sulphurAnd I connected with about four more trout that morning before heading home to be with my girls for the rest of the day. Thank you wifey for the gift of a morning on the water!