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I’m appointing myself Ambassador

The December 2010 issue of Angling Trade touches on a topic of great importance to those involved with the business side of fly fishing: attracting new participants to the sport. Editor Kirk Deeter talks of some ways people in the industry can grow the sport, and suggests 7 things that must happen in order for this to be successful. I won’t go into detail with the 7 things here (if you want to read all about it, sign up to receive your free subscription (it’s quite good, and an interesting point of view to get a take on the world of fly fishing: from the inside out). But Deeter has some good ideas that include: ensuring the success of next year’s IFTD in New Orleans; aligning the fly fishing world more closely with the American Sportfishing Association and putting the “fishing” back into fly fishing; reconnecting the fly fishing world with the Outdoor Industry Association; doing away with the perception that fly fishing is a difficult endeavor with a learning curve that’s too steep for beginners; increasing on school-based programs such as TU’s Trout in the Classroom and Fly Fishing in Schools Program (which I am embarrassed to admit I wasn’t even aware of until Deeter’s mention of it, which means it’s clearly not promoted enough); reaching out to the bass nation; encouraging fly fishing retailers to talk with one another.

On the last page of the issue, contributor Tom Bie goes on to suggest some other ways that the fly fishing industry might effectively grow the sport. For those who don’t know, Bie is the editor of The Drake magazine, which is regarded by many to be one of if not the coolest of the print magazines serving the fly fishing world. At any rate, Bie voices doubt that reliance on a professional organization or trade group will result in what is needed to really attract new folks to the sport of fly fishing. Instead, Bie says this:

“Also, adding to Kirk’s (Deeter, not Werner, FYI) list in his editor’s letter, there is one thing I’d like to see happen: Since fly fishing has 10,000 freelance writers, all of whom have apparently written a book, I’d like to see these authors start focusing their flyfishing pitches toward some non-flyfishing publications. I’m not suggesting writers stop sending queries to Kirk Deeter, Frank Amato, Joe Healy, Andrew Steketee, Ross Purnell, Steve Probasco, Steve Walburn, Tom Bie or any other flyfishing editor. I’m just requesting that you also query some general interest magazines to see if we can place a few flyfishing stories in front of people not in the choir…let’s bombard them with some flyfishing destinations and see what happens. And if you really love the taste of rejection, send something to Mens Journal or Outside or Esquire. True, they’re a lot harder to get a story in, but if you can pull if off, a half million people will see it. And that would be cool.”

Lately I’ve been struggling with what I want to be when I grow up, but Bie’s words have motivated me.  It’s like he was talking directly to me because ironically I’m one of those writers he mentioned–you know, one of the 10,000 who has apparently written a book (actually three). At first I wondered how he could possibly know who I am, and then I remembered that way back in October 2009 I sent him an email inquiry about possibly submitting some work for The Drake. I never heard back. 😉

Well, since I know the taste of rejection (it’s similar in flavor to that of skunk, which is something I’m all too familiar with), I’ve decided to take Bie’s advice and hit up some outdoor magazines that are not flyfishing related.  Surely I can demystify the notion that fly fishing is a difficult sport that’s too challenging for beginners.  If someone like me can learn to fly fish, anyone with the intelligence of a Labrador Retriever and the dexterity of a gorilla can learn it. Maybe it is The Unaccomplished Angler who becomes the ultimate ambassador of fly fishing to the outside world: someone who is a nobody in the fly fishing world–just a regular, Budweiser and BBQ’d ribs kinda guy. My mantra will be, of course, that thankfully there’s more to fly fishing than catching fish.

So fair warning to you editors of outdoor-related, non-fly fishing  magazines: The Unaccomplished Ambassador of Fly Angling will be knocking on your door. Please be gentle with your rejections.

16 thoughts on “I’m appointing myself Ambassador”

  1. Patrick says:

    Whew! Thank you for stepping up, Kirk. Having not written a book, it seems that I can continue my curmudgeonly ways; gladly sharing ineffective flies with unwelcome unexpected companions on my streams, revealing that casting right to a rise is best, and knowing that stream etiquette favors me and my sidearm. Now be a chum and pass me my Arrogant Bastard Ale…

    Just kidding. Sort of. You can still pass the beer.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Pat, anyone can write a book- clearly I am living proof of that! If you come up to the NW next summer I’ll take you out to an isolated stream I found this fall, and we’ll use some of your ineffective flies to catch a bunch of cutties. If you’re willing to slum it I’ll provide the Budweiser and pork rinds.

      Cheers,

      Kirk

  2. Chuck says:

    There isn’t a fly fisherman alive that doesn’t fancy himself an artist , poet or a writer!
    I know several guys who are fantastic , professional photographers and they can only get their fishing stuff published if they donate it to some tripe like Mid West Fly Fishing or Fly Fish America!

    The chances of getting some Non Fishing periodical to publish you, well……..Good Luck!

    Anyway why would I want to share my dwindling “havel” with the world and invite more Orvis adorned fools tramping through my living room and messing up my carpet? That’s what “A river runs through it ” did for years!

    Well , at least there was a lot of good stuff on Ebay because of all the guys who loved the idea of Fly Fishing and then found out what the reality is!

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Chuck, actually I know and fish with several guys who fancy themselves neither artist, poets or writers. But, if a generalization has some merit it comes from the fact that many fly fishing folks see fly fishing not so much as a means of catching fish, but as an endeavor that on some level speaks to their soul through the artistry of the sport. Those types of folks are going to be inherently artistic. For many who have a passion for something, there is a need to express that passion. And if the results of that expression can benefit others, it’s a good thing. As for getting a non-fishing magazine to publish an article about fly fishing, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be some opportunity for the person willing to work for it. Perseverance is what it’s all about in life, and nothing does (or should) come easily.

      Go bury your head in the sand along a riverbank. That way you won’t notice the Orvis adorned fools fishing next to you. 😉

      I appreciate your point of view- it’s stimulating and inspirational.

      Oh, and I think I’ve found some of those good deals on Ebay of which you speak. I picked up a Sage Z-Axis 6 wt a few years ago for $275. The cork wasn’t even dirty.

      Cheers, my friend. And Merry Christmas.

      Kirk

  3. Mr. Ambassador,

    Having chosen a passive form of writing myself (via the Riverwood Blog), I applaud your efforts to step up and carry the banner of the sport of Fly Fishing. I am one of the guilty parties that preaches to the choir – a minuscule choir at that.

    Living on a river that is dominated by “combat fishing”, bait and heavy gear chuckers, I think more exposure of fly fishing to regular ol’ fishing folks is a great idea. Not only is it good for fly shops and the industry as a whole, but think of the reduction in lead and toxic bait cure residue that will no longer be in the river system for every angler that converts to fly fishing!

    Personally, I’d welcome the sight of a few more “Orivs clad fools”, if it means a few hundred pounds less lead, fewer miles of 30 lb. test line and fewer parts per million of toxic waste in my local river system. Besides, maybe a few of them will turn out to be “Riverwood Flies clad fools”………………..

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Dave, the fly fishing industry probably won’t win over many gear chuckers (although I know plenty of folks who do both), but if we can disspell misconceptions that all fly anglers are rich snobs, a good PR mission is worth it. As I said in my reply to the other Dave, we want the kinda people that may be “Orvis clad” because chances were they’re going to show a certain level of respect toward our resources.

  4. Dave says:

    Being relatively new to fly fishing (less than 1.5 years) and learning how to throw a 60-70 ft cast with a single hander. And less than a year after learning how to single hand cast, I can hit the 100-120 ft mark with my spey rod. At this point not yet 2 years into my fly fishing tenure, I’ve become a relatively successful fly angler. By no means am I a Lefty Kreh, Mike Kinney, Dec Hogan, Jim Teeny, or the like. But, I will say that fly fishing isn’t the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.

    I’m sure we (fly anglers) know that we have put many hours into casting, learning to read water, toppling rocks looking for bugs, learning bugs, and tying knot after bloody knot to get where we are in our journey. For most “normal” people, this type of behavior would drive them insane. I believe most people wouldn’t want to devote this much time and energy into it, because we’ve become a society of have it now without the challenge. So, to some degree, I agree with Chuck above. And not to mention the pricing of our gear. I can head out to X-Mart and pick up a spinning outfit for $35.00 . Buy some cheap ass line for $5.00 and some weights, hooks, bait (or lures), and be fishing for @ $50.00. Whereas, $50.00 won’t even get you a good fly line in our world. Not to mention if you’re a Sage, Winston, C.F. Burkheimer, or any other top end fly rod fanboy. You’re looking at startup price of $300- $500 and that just gets you in the low end, which keeps most people away. We have a very small niche in the world, and unless companies like Sage, Orvis, Winston, G.Loomis, get their heads out of their asses and bring their high end down (by about 2/3). They’re not going to attract many new-comers to the sport. Personally, I don’t own Sage, Winston, G.Loomis, C.F. Burkheimer, etc, simply because I can’t afford them. I own primarily TFO and Echo, because price vs. performance and they’re what I can afford.

    Kirk, I think it’s great to try to get other people into fly fishing. Hell, if it weren’t for my mentor Chuck and my friend Brad, I’d have never been a part of this wonderful sport. But I have some real serious problems with companies like Simms, Sage, R.L. Winston, G.Loomis, etc knocking our heads off, selling rods for $1000 that cost them maybe $100 to make, and selling other gear for 8-10 times what it cost to make it, just because they can. Ok, sorry this turned into a total rant. Good luck , and I’ll be cheering you.

    Dave

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Dave, some great points you make. The reality of it is that while fly gear may be more expensive on average than spinning and other gear, fly anglers need not spend an inordinate amount to get quality gear. As you already know, top notch companies like TFO and Redington (just to name a couple) are constantly introducing good gear at reasonable prices. I think people who buy high end stuff do so because they can, but not because it makes them any more effective as an angler. And I say “go for it” to those manufacturers who do get $800 for a rod. If there’s a market, and there is, no harm no foul. It’s the same thing in any industry- there will always be luxury buyers for luxury offerings. Luckily, lesser income levels don’t prevent people from owning good stuff. It’s standard business practice in a capitalist society to make as much as you can on a product. I have no problem with that because again, I can buy perfectly good quality gear for a price that suits me.

      I may sound like I’m standing on a soapbox here, but so be it if my generalization is taken the wrong way: One thing I always notice is that streamside litter does not come from fly angling folks. There seems to be a higher degree of self respect that seems to come with the fly fishing territory and that may also mean that some fly fishing folks make a higher income on average (though certainly not all of us are in the high tax brackets). We want to attract the kinds of people to the sport who respect themselves and the resource- not the guy who spends $50 on a setup and a styrofoam cup of worms and a 12 pack of Keystone Light (and leaves the styrofoam cup and empty cans and box on the bank of the river).

      There may seem like an awful lot to learn for beginners, but if they take it one step at a time and absorb the information gradually, the learning becomes part of the intrigue. I think most people get intimidated because they turn to forums for recommendations, and end up with so many opinions that it simply furthers their confusion. The best thing to do is visit a local fly shop and sign up for a fly fishing 101 class where everything is spelled out methodically and clearly, and instruction comes from a person and not a book or DVD. Then hire a guide for the first trip and the learning curve is shortened drastically.

      Thanks for chiming in.

      Kirk

  5. Kara says:

    Kirk,
    Good on you for wanting to be involved in introducing new people to the wonderful world of fly fishing. I think bringing fly fishing to a broader audience is THE ONLY way the sport will grow. In the newest issue of Outside, there is a great article about fly fishing in ponds on golf courses. They also have been great about reviewing more and more fly fishing products to bring our sport to the forefront of the masses.
    You’re books are a great way to get kids involved which is just as important (if not more important) as they are the ones that are going to continue the sport.
    I know that many many people cry foul here because they don’t want their streams overcrowded…blah, blah, blah, but in my opinion, there are plenty of miles of river and millions of lakes and ponds that never get fished. If more people are on the water, then at least the sport will survive all while teaching environmental stewardship.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks, Kara. I completely agree that we have to welcome newcomers to the sport or it’s a dead-end road. Who will be the stewards of the resource that is the backbone of our sport if we don’t continually add new blood to the ranks of the angling world? We were all beginners at one time, so nobody has an exclusive claim to a riverbank or lakeshore. Intersting that you mentioned Outside magazine has an article currently. That means they aren’t an impenetrable fortress as Tom Bie suggested in his article for Angling Trade! They must be receptive so I shall strike while the iron is hot.

  6. Kevin Breen says:

    Working for a major airline (American) I am in constant contact with people from all over the world flying to some of the greatest fly fishing destinations in the world. Sometimes I forego (forget about) my other duties as a Flight Attendant, and seek out those on board who are wearing (Ross Reels, G Loomis, Sage, Simms, etc.) ball caps/t-shirts/sweatshirts, or carrying on a plethora of fly rod tubes of every rod maker out there, and find out where they are headed, where they have fished, favorite spots, or even the likelihood that I could fish on some of that private land they own on the Maddison, Batenkill, Yellowstone, Frying Pan, Roaring Fork, or other river I can sometimes only fish those all too public places. Sometimes they offer me their river frontage by suggesting next time I’m in the area, just call them and remind them of the time we met, and permission will be granted. I have followed up with much enthusiasm in the past and all of my requests were kindly obliged…..(Did I mention that sometimes I love my job?). Well, anyway, we have quite a few people of the fly fishing persuasion who fly on American Airlines and most of them know how to read. Our inflight magazine “American Way” is published 2 times a month and I have yet to see a single article on fly fishing, other than some ad about while “you’re in Aspen, Breckenridge, Jackson Hole…etc…try fly fishing “…. if the skiing, biking, etc. aren’t working for you…

    So, there is my 2 cents…what on honor it would be to say “Hey, I know that Guy, kinda”?

    Kevin

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Kevin, this is great stuff to read- I love your job, too. I sent an email to the editor of American Way. They seem to want query letters snail mailed to their offices, but I asked if I can do so electronically since it’s so much more efficient and saves on resources. I may need to contact you if they give a go-ahead for an article. You encounter with fly anglers as part of your job might make for some good fodder.

      Cheers,

      Kirk

  7. Paul Schmur says:

    This really hits home Kirk, had a very similar discussion with our staff last night, will send to you. Good stuff man.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks, Paul. It must be more than a coincidence that this is a hot topic of conversation, eh?

  8. Chuck says:

    I have chosen to mentor a kid who loves to fish and has an absentee father. I think the best thing you can do for the sport is to help a young person. I get great joy from passing along the values of conservation and tradition on a one to one – personal basis.

    He will sit around a fire with me after a long day in Fenimore and experience the real thing instead of reading about it in some John Geirach like drivel.

    That is my marketing scheme.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Good on ya, Chuck, for mentoring a kid. That’s the best way to learn- through actual doing. But I wouldn’t knock Geirach or any other such “drivel”. Reading, between actually getting out and doing, can fuel the fire.

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