What's Wrong with Fly Fishing, you ask?

What's Wrong with Fly Fishing?
This is my “industry” response to the recent articles and posts on social media concerning “What’s wrong with fly fishing.” Deeper issues, such as environmental degradation and conservation will be addressed in future articles – as well as my ideas for fixing the various problems we have.

There has been much talk lately on blogs and other social media about the state of our sport – specifically, “what’s wrong with fly fishing.” I suspect that the end-of-season blues, coupled with an economy still not close to hitting on all cylinders has people grumpier than usual – and speaking out. In all the commentary I’ve read, however, no one has yet gotten down to the brass tacks, even though that is always promised.
As someone who has been at this sport since long before it was cool, and who has made at least a quasi-living off of it, I thought I might throw in my two cents worth on the topic.
My goal here isn’t to further the divisive tones that exist, nor to name names, but rather to simply present a “black-box” look at things that need improvement, from my point of view. Let’s remember, too, that for all the “problems” we have – we also still have an amazing sport that shows more allegiance than acrimony on most days.
The problems in the sport occur at all levels – the manufacturers, the shops and the consumers. Each have contributed to the dysfunctional elements that tear at the collective soul of this great enterprise.
Manufacturers -
Much of the blame for the problems in the sport rests with the manufacturers. Unrealistic sales goals have caused many of them to abandon the traditional specialty shop approach, and try to sell to consumers directly. This undercuts the shops who carry their brands, and creates competition in the marketplace where it doesn’t need to be – between the manufacturers and their dealers.
Traditional avenues that once gave dealers outstanding margin, like closeouts, are now dominated by the manufacturers. When Minimum Advertised Pricing can be abandoned, no dealer can cut as deeply as the manufacturer and still make money. This also, of course, poisons the well of future sales -- particularly in product categories like rods and reels. If a consumer gets last year’s top-dog rod on closeout, he/she will not likely be in the market for the new model – which the shops will have been forced to buy through the next manufacturer-caused problem: Pre-season minimums.
Pre-season minimums are forced buys that the manufacturers require of their dealers. You want margin (or simply want to keep your dealership)? Then you pony up a big pre-season order. This means that the shops have to commit in October of this year to buy $XX,XXX dollars of Brand X goods in next year.
Because much of the manufacturing (and virtually all fly tying) is done overseas, such minimums are needed to book factory time, etc. The problem is that the pre-season process puts the people least able to absorb shortfalls (the dealers) in the most vulnerable position. It is one of the main reasons that fly shops come and go like TV sitcoms.
Shops -
The shops tend to be their own worst enemies. We have become so focused on grabbing every available dollar that we now see relationships – rather than just individual sales – as zero-sum situations. Our in-fighting and bad-mouthing of competitors serves no one -- and such lines in the sand ultimately drive customers to choose one or the other (limiting their choices) or to abandon the shops altogether and simply buy online.
We also tend to focus too strongly on gear (the least exclusive thing we have to offer) and not enough on the shopping experience – which should include a conveyance of the angling experience. By selling the tools of the trade without the romance, we are shortchanging the sport. Fly fishing isn’t great because of nano-resins, it’s great because our boots might walk on stones traversed by Lee Wulff, Ernest Hemingway – or our fathers.
Guides are another story completely, and they will require a separate column. (One thing that must be stated quickly, however, is that their ‘over-technifying’ the sport and insistence that they be seen as some sort of god-like creatures are not good developments).
Anglers -
The anglers themselves bear some blame – and are cutting their own throats in many ways.
First, by doing things like going to a local shop, talking with the sales people about product benefits, etc., and then going online for the purchase to save a few bucks is unconscionable. I have literally worked with people for over an hour – casting various rods and talking about how they compare and contrast for varying situations – only to have the customer ask for the model numbers so they can ‘read some more.’ Inevitably they don’t return – or worse yet, they return with a product purchased online when it has a problem.
The upshot, naturally, is that shops have to cut back on the brands/models they carry – which limits the consumers’ choices, and often starts the death-spiral of dwindling inventory—dwindling traffic. Those few dollars saved online will be of little solace when you’re on the way to the river and need a spool of tippet – and there is no longer a local shop.
Also, we have lost much of the spirit of the sport when those with great experience are stingy about sharing their knowledge with newbies. We are drawing lines way too fine, as well. If someone’s pursuit of the sport differs from yours – it doesn’t make them wrong. Unless they are committing an ethical breach of some sort (that is, damaging the resource) who cares if someone does something you don’t care to do? Shut up and let them enjoy it.
Ok, that is my run-down. Please let me know what you think!

1 comment

  • Greg

    You posted this last November and no comments? I for one agree with everything you have to say. One can purchase products anywhere, one shops at a fly shop because of the people and the experience. I will be stopping by soon to check out your shop, buy something and perhaps book a guide trip.

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