Crazy Thing? A "New Period" For Fly Fishing

“‘The New Period’ … will be marked, I think, by greater simplicity of gear, technique, style and purpose. It will be done closer to home, more impromptu and with less media attention. It will be gentler, more elegant, and less aggressive.” That’s Gordon Wickstrom calling an end to the “TU Era” of over-technical perfection and announcing a return to greater simplicity in fly fishing culture, where fly shops return to being “refuges for what is most delightful in angling.”
Interesting stuff, especially in light of what I sense as a growing movement away from “extreme fishing,” “fish porn,” and hip “bumism” in the sport. (Are you truly a trout bum if anyone knows you’re a trout bum?) In the Boulder, Colorado Daily Camera.

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  • while i think wickstrom’s column is full of intentional hyperbole…he let us know right off the bat by opening with a sampling of verse from yeats about fly fishermen turning into crazed writers n their old age…i think he (and you) makes a good point: commercialism’s role in fly fishing culture is probably diminishing due in no small part to the bad economy. constricting revenues have caused ad budgets to dry up, and presence = influence in media. rising inventories due to slow sales have also motivated short-sighted and cash-strapped mfgs to make unfortunate decisions to sacrifice their retail dealer networks to direct-to-consumer and big box discounter marketing plans – damage to relationships that will likely prove irreversible. the ripple effects are a sea change in the fly fishing industry: traditional media constriction, a sharp increase in the survival-of-the-fittest pressures in the fly shop biz, and a new alliance between formerly “exclusive” brands and big box retailers that is driving down price tags for the hallowed brand names.
    as the cartel of those mega-brands loses its stranglehold on american fly fishing, i do believe things will change. and i do think there will be some “old-fashioned” elements incorporated by those who succeed in the new era. but they will also need to embrace a new global paradigm and modern technologies if they hope to be counted among the fittest – the survivors.

  • jdubya

    I disagree. The business is full of opportunity for people who can come up with their own flies, their own “way” of fishing, and any other means of grabbing attention. Then all it takes a good email campaign, a flashy web site, and away you go. I think there is greater possibility for some of these operations that require little from many, versus the standard fly shop that requires a lot from a few.

  • I hadn’t gotten a paragraph and a half into the Wickstrom column when I thought about Tenkara. Something told me Tenkara was going to be mentioned. And it was.
    While I think fly fishing may be on the verge of playing out closer to home, I don’t think it’s going to be done on small streams with reel-less rigs. No – it’s going to be done on urban waters, with super fast, fighting-butt enabled rigs tossing ultra slick lines at the spookiest of targets.
    That’s more than one man’s opinion, and I think the column was entirely narrow, somewhat naive thinking at play. The whole concept of tweed vest and creel, on a spring creek, disappeared while that last generation of fly fishers desperately tried to hold onto ‘tradition.’ Yet Wickstrom assumes that TU is at fault for not bringing up the youth? Youth aren’t fishing because they don’t perceive it as fun! The stuffy participants, the overblown etiquette – when I heard well-known industry players complaining about cleats because they purportedly put scratches on rocks I was floored, yet unsurprised. What kid wants to hear that garbage?
    There are plenty of people who, as a result of the above mentioned attitudes, will never be a bamboo rod customer, and they’ll certainly never give Tenkara even a first thought. They’ll pursue fly fishing for the challenges it presents, the need for constant improvement of skill sets, for the gathering of knowledge that can be used down the road to enhance the experience.
    Taking two steps back is nothing more than wishful thinking.

  • jdubya,
    i think u may b reading more into wickstrom’s msg than is actually there bcuz of the hyperbolic mode n which he wrote it. he was waxing poetic…thus nostalgic.
    but i think the 2 of u would agree about the decentralization of fly fishing, and that was his big point. he was talking about a return to the local and personal relationships among anglers as much as he was talking about small streams and simpler gear. and even a custom rod or reel builder, fly tyer, etc. w/a website and email list and a toll-free phone # has a more personal biz than simms, sage, orvis, or cabela’s. i think he was trying to say that the media might change from being overly-dominated by high-flying trips to south africa and new zealand, and shift to more “homegrown” location content. it’s exactly the less from more instead of more from less idea u mentioned.
    as for tenkara, while ancient, it is also pretty high-tech these days. and it has a very broad appeal to backpackers, kayakers, etc. due to its portability and simplicity. if nothing else, it could be a fabulous recruitment tool for us. and geography plays a big role n one’s point of reference. wickstrom is n colorado, where even the city folk get out into the mountains on the weekends with great regularity, and the small streams vastly outnumber the giant tailwaters. i’ll give u an example from my old homewaters n the ozarks…
    when most fly anglers here “ozarks” or “arkansas” they think of the white river tailwater below bull shoals dam and a rare shot at a world record brown trout. to go there, u fly in to little rock, memphis, or springfield, mo. u then drive 3, 4, or 1.5 hours respectively. during those drives, u will cross numerous wonderful smaller streams (creeks and rivers) chock full of smallmouth bass and/or trout. but the “industry” has promoted “the white” for years cuz that’s where the $$$ was. now the $$$ is drying up. and now folks r staying closer to home and fishing those smaller streams more…whether it b for carp, bass, panfish, or trout. and i think that was wickstrom’s bigger point. i’m not a carp guy, but i’ll give u this much: there’s probably 100 times more fishable warm water n this country than cold within a 1 hour drive of 80% of america’s population. and that alone accounts for a lot of the immense disparity n the popularity of bass fishing vs trout fishing…a reality that has always been lost on the fly fishing world.

  • Ken –
    I too am in Colorado. The idea of city folks frequenting the mountain region is a myth. They’re hanging out in coffee shops all weekend sipping lattes, with their racked-to-the-gills premium SUVs (never a spot of dirt on them) sitting in the parking lots.

  • michael,
    and i submit for ur consideration that the latte-sippers r never going to become anglers of consequence no matter what – big stream or small…carp or trout. they were not the folks i’m referring to.

  • Freelance Fly Fisher

    After reading your comments, I must say that I cannot take your view point seriously with all the grammatical issues it carries. I would suggest editing it and making it more readable.
    Now, as someone who works for a major fly fishing retailer, I must say that I don’t think the trend is heading to smaller, simpler gear. The events governing the economic changes we have seen have driven people towards escapism more than ever. People are no longer content with doing their normal activities, and look towards new activities such as fly fishing. I think, were the trend towards smaller simpler gear be true, we would see people buying cheap, small click pawl reels. Lately (as far as the shop I work at goes at least) people have been interested in the mid to high priced gear. We have been seeing a lot of orders for reels manufactured by Galvan and Abel. We have also seen many orders for the mid-higher end fly rods, Like Sage’s Z-Axis and TCX series. I think the trend will continue this way, though I think the manufactures will start to change here in the near future.
    I guess we can only wait and see.

  • Dave Smethurst

    I don’t get the “TU Era” reference. TU is not a fly fishing organization, it is about clean, clear cold streams and trout habitat and the fish themselves. Certainly, the majority of “us” are fly fisherman. Some are “trout bums”, some love their old, and new, bamboo rods. We dicuss bugs in Latin sometimes – but’s that the individuals, not TU. Dave