Fly Fishing's "Brideshead Revisited" Moment

September 27, 2008 By: Marshall Cutchin

“You can’t say enough about fishing. Though the sport of kings, it’s just what the deadbeat ordered.” — Thomas McGuane
Talking with a Wall Street Journal reporter yesterday, I was presented with an innocent question: “Fly fishing is a rapidly growing sport, isn’t it?” “Well, no, not really,” I said. Before the words were out of my mouth I remembered that one of MidCurrent‘s purposes is to help grow the sport, that this was national media, and that my suggestion that participation in fly fishing had stagnated wasn’t helping our cause. “It’s an age issue, I think…. More reflective of overall trends towards kids staying indoors and our not giving them reasons to be excited about the sport.”
Maybe I’ve been watching too much politics.
The fact is, fly fishing is and will remain a niche sport, and that many times when we attempt to draw some picture of universal appeal we dilute the message. I sometimes wonder if by telling folks that fly fishing is easy, that it is sexy, that it has all the excitement of snowboarding and the stimulation of a good video game, we aren’t getting the message out at all. In reality, our sport is one of the most complex activities you can engage in while out of doors. And that is exactly how it should be. The effort to become a better fly fisher inevitably makes us more aware of our intricate connection to the natural world. If you don’t understand that, or don’t know its value, you might as well be fishing with dynamite.
So when fashion moguls film someone “fly fishing in black tie and waders on a grand country estate,” we should snicker at the Brideshead Moment, but only because it looks elitist. If we want to preserve what’s valuable in fly fishing, let’s make more of an effort to make the sport accessible to those who want to learn (kids, for example) and worry less about making it simple. We won’t preserve anything of our sport by dumbing it down and allowing it to slide into irrelevance. Designers don’t sell clothes by making them look all the same, and kids see through our suggestion that fly fishing is a great sport for deadbeats too. The king doesn’t need new clothes, he just needs some good old-fashioned advice — and a good, quiet place to fish.