Sunday, November 18, 2012

It Ain't Easy

I began this piece in August fresh from the showroom floor kicking it in a cheesie hotel room trashed like all who attended three days of Fly Tackle Dealer in Reno somewhat perplexed. For over two decades I've attended our industry trade show.  It’s always left me with a renewed enthusiasm for our industry, its people and fly-fishing in general. Annually it’s the only opportunity we: manufacturers, retailers, media and others vested in the lifestyle of fly-fishing have to gather.  Over the past decade, possibly longer, there has been considerable discussion and emphasis on growing our sport and again this topic occupied a fair amount of the daily dialog on the showroom floor, in hallways and during the last forum that I attended on “Women in Fly-fishing”. 

First off, I'm not a typical shop owner or flyfisher who advocates mainstream philosophies.  I'm concerned theses days for what's in the best interest of our industry, fly-fishing in general and most of all your experience.  I understand the need for growth as a retailer and industry, but I’m also very cognizant of the fact that the lifestyle we pursue with fly rod and reel is resources limited. Looking ahead I'm less concerned with growing the sport or seeing more fish being caught than I am with making sure we preserve the integrity of fly-fishing, the experience, the health of our fisheries and maintaining access to the waters we fish. 

Over three decades have passed since I got serious about fly-fishing. When I started there were no strike indicators, Al Gore had yet to invent the internet and in general there were fewer bodies on the water.  Much has changed since then and some of it I find rather concerning, especially the short cuts we condone in an effort to make fishing with flies easier and more effective without regard for the affect some of these practices are having on the fly-fishing and the waters we fish.  

In an effort to make fly-fishing easier, especially for those just getting started, we have adopted the strike indicator: bobbers, balloons, hunks of yarn, foam, all that take the skill or need of casting a fly with any proficiency out of the equation. On most trout streams flyfishers no longer cast, but lob their flies, wash windows, or chuck and chance.  I don’t fault or criticize those who use these techniques, since most have been lead down this path as a matter of convenience, profits and lack of forethought, however I am critical of an industry that has taken the very essence from fly-fishing in order to attract more participants rather than promote fly-fishing for what initially attracted us to it in the first place:  the challenge of the game, its grace and eloquence when done right, the sense of accomplishment on a variety of levels, all executed among some of the worlds most incredible landscapes. I don’t know anyone who was attracted to fly-fishing because it was easy, or as a means of catching more fish, yet we’re on this tangent that rarely reflects any of the sports attractive qualities. 

We all have our stories of what prompted us to pick up a fly rod initially.  In my early youth I would ride my bike to a friends bass and bluegill pond almost daily.  They happened to have a fly rod hanging with their conventional tackle; a Shakespeare Wonder rod with a Perriene automatic reel, that I randomly picked up out of curiosity. On that day my fishing changed forever. The attraction and fascination had nothing to do with its ease or for that matter even catching fish, it was the feel of the rod, the challenge of casting, being mesmerized by the visual display of the fly line unfolding in front of you and the command of it all when it rarely felt right.  The fact that it required skill to use only made it that much more appealing.

Fly-fishing has taken me to places that few other ventures could have.  It's been a life long learning experience that I now have the fortune of sharing with others.  Over the years I've put a lot into learning to fly-fish.  On many fronts I still do and often I'm still not where I would like to be.  There has been frustration along the way, and I still have moments where it all goes helplessly wrong. All said and done, fly-fishing can be quite simple,  that's its beauty. As long as your fly is in the water you have an opportunity to catch a fish regardless of your abilities.  In the grand scheme of things, if you are having fun that's what matters most, yet if you want to truly reap the sports greatest rewards you'll need to put your time in.  The fact that it is challenging has a great deal to do with its appeal.  Personally I can think of few things in life as enjoyable as spending time on the water, playing this game, casting fur and feather to lure a fish to take a fly, and when that happens because of the essence of it all its magical.


adipose said...

Amen brother!

adipose said...

Amen brother!

Tea said...

Great piece Steve

Tea said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Erob76 said...

Awesome! Nice piece Steve

Tom A-B said...

Hello Mr. Schmidt,

I'm a relatively new fly fisherman, at it now for about three years, pursuing mostly trout in Wisconsin's spring-fed limestone creeks.

If I peel back the layers of your commentary I think the argument you're making is that fly fishing is about fishing without indicators or split shot. Is that right?

As a matter of course I have found that as I have more success I'm drawn more toward dries and streamers. I don't know why though. I suppose chucking a wooly bugger to the head of a pool feels a lot like chucking a night crawler on a spinning rod. It begins to feel like hunting with a blunderbuss stuffed with forks and knives.

If you can entice a trout to come up and grab that hopper off the surface, you've really accomplished something.

Is that the argument you're making? Or is there some more nefarious undercurrent happening in the world of fly fishing tackle marketing?

Tom Anderson

Steve Schmidt said...

Mr. Anderson: Thank you for your comments. It's not that I don't think that indicator have their place in fly-fishing, but since they've been around I've seen a rather significant deterioration in peoples all around skills. I want to challenge you and others so that you'll get more out of your day on the water. As much as i enjoy fishing with dry flies, I get even more out of my days when I'm challenged and on some of those days I don't even catch a trout. Those are the days the fish you remember the most. It's such a great sport and has so much to offer. I want you to try it all, learn what you can, improve your skills, have fun!

J said...

Great piece.
I was raised with Fly Fishing, 4th generation in my family. I was taught to cast at the age of 8, as were my brothers, when Dad felt our arms could pitch the rather heavy Bamboo rods from the 30's that he owned. It was integral part of the food gathering process, along with upland and big game hunting we helped offset the cash spent at the grocer for 2 adults and 5 boys.
Dry Fly's were my Dad's passion, cast to Brookies on the small streams of central New England. I can remember him in an old pair of low cut sneakers, his pants rolled up and a farmer t shirt wet wading up-stream on a warm July Sunday afternoon.
Out of the 5 boys, only 2 took the sport to heart, and both of us live in the west now.
Like you I have had the chance to travel, fishing alone at spots in the 70's and 80's, that are only now being called "cool". I have watched the changes, some good and some not so much.
One thing I have realized is that Fly Fishing encompasses so much more than just the "sport" alone, for it is an "outdoor experience" that the art of casting to, and tricking a fish, is part and partial to. I probably spend as much time hiking and observing, listening and studying as I do angling on any one trip. I believe that this is at least some of what is lost in the sport today. I grew up with the "experience" part, and never questioned it. Many don't get that part, and in the long run become bored. It is what you make of it, good or bad.
As for the business part...I've said it before...the "industry" is lost and continues to chase it's tail, and, unfortunately the sport suffers. It, the industry, won't be saved by the next float, or 5 figure rod, or exotic destination. And as for the Sport, well it never needed a "savior", just the respect and dedication that it deserves. Those of us that know what Fly Fishing is, also know what it is not.