First, what the Hell is an "influencer"? That's really a job? I am probably showing my age but, damn, really?
John Dietsch wrote a piece - An Influencer Rows Through It - in Angling Trade magazine, a magazine that does not normally enter many peoples' consciousness but this article reached a pretty wide audience and received a lot of attention. Certainly he seemed to have stuck a nerve. It is a drum that Kirk Deeter, editor of Angling Trade and Vice President of Trout Media, the editor of Trout, the magazine of Trout Unlimited, and others have been beating recently.
I am not sure I really understand what an influencer, a brand ambassador, or a 'pro' really is - and is not. Part of what drew my interest in the topic is the ongoing conversation about the NCAA and the "name, image, and likeness" (NIL) changes that are taking place reminded me of the article by John Dietsch I had read some time ago. Not to get into the argument about whether or not the NIL is going to be a good thing for NCAA athletes and college athletics or if it is going to drastically change college sports, maybe in quite a negative way for many athletes. What I have seen in the short time that student-athletes have been taking advantage of this 'new found freedom' is that it may not be a meritocracy. From what I have seen - and it is still early - is that endorsement deals and other money is going to exactly who you would expect - the quarterback, the basketball player that the shoe companies have been "influencing" for years, and really attractive female athletes.
Last time I checked, Maxine McCormick became the 2016 World Champion fly caster when she was only twelve years old, so young females kicking ass is nothing new. Problem is Maxine’s achievements were measured by judges, but the yardstick on Insta followers is vague and leads to antagonism.
I think that quote from Dietsch's article gets to the heart of the issue - people think that those gaining all this attention have not earned it. They have not paid their dues and they maybe are not all that accomplished at fly fishing...but they look the part. Shyanne Orvis (Instagram) and Maddie Brenneman (Instagram) are among those have received the most attention and blow-back as fly fishing influencers. Misogyny, jealousy, an unwillingness to accept the new generation or acknowledge that they bring something new and different to the sport, or a legitimate criticism? A bit of all of the above?
Sex Sells - So What?
We all know that it is nothing new that sex sells. As Kate Watson put it in the podcast, The Sexualization of Fly Fishing (below), the concern is that "Beauty will trump skill set". It is something of a double-edged sword - the attractive female fly angler gets attention for her looks, not her skill, but they have have a difficult time gaining acceptance by the fly fishing community for their skill.
And it works both ways, fly fishing boomed by about 60% after "The Movie" and that probably would not have happened if Paul Maclean was not played by Brad Pitt. For lack of a better way of putting it, fly fishing has a sort of "sexiness" about it. There is a reason that advertisers use fly fishing (generally exceedingly poorly - seriously, hire a consultant so the actor looks like they know what the Hell they are doing!) to feature their products. If Brad Pitt was throwing spinners or drifting worms, a River Runs Through It lacks much of its appeal.
I do not think that anybody has more insight into this issue than does April Vokey, maybe the first fly fishing "influencer" in the internet age. Today, I think, she has the most interesting, informed, and insightful "take" on the topic. She speaks with an understanding of both sides of the issue on her Anchored and Into the Backing podcasts.
April often has topics that are about the social aspects of fly fishing. One particularly interesting episode of Anchored was with Darcie Arahill ("Darcizzle" on YouTube) whom is probably best known for her bikini fishing videos on YouTube. And April did a recent Into the Backing podcast with Kirk Deeter, Tom Larimer, and Bridget Fabel on influencers (Into the Backing Podcast Ep. 08: Fly Fishing Influencers in the Wild). If you want to get to the real "meat" of the conversation, skip to minute 53 when April asks, "why is it always women that are named as influencers"?
"Ruining Fly Fishing"
I will be honest, I do not even know what the Hell it means for fly fishing to be ruined. I enjoy my time on the stream as much as I ever have. Maybe we do not see the effects here as they do in the more "hip" and tourist-driven fisheries. There have been no shortage of stories and videos about how the West has been over-run since COVID hit. We have certainly seen more anglers in Wisconsin but nothing has been "ruined", at least not as I see it. A little busier, for sure, but ruined? I am not seeing it.
Part of the issue is that fly fishing is really small potatoes in the broader world of outdoor recreation. The number of "Insta followers" of some of the best known fly fishing influencers is nothing compared to the followers for other outdoor pursuits. But there is a "Sexiness" that fly fishing has, an aura of coolness, that spills over. Influencers making real money in fly fishing are doing it through tangential markets - selling coolers, clothing, alcohol - the things that go along with any outdoor pursuit, not just fly fishing. All industries strive to grow, whether or not you want more anglers on the water, manufacturers do and they will try to make it happen. For the industry to grow - it means reaching new people which has been largely a younger audience, particularly females where much of the increase in anglers is coming from.
Here in Wisconsin?
Maybe we are a bit removed from the issues others write and talk about how fly fishing is being ruined? Maybe I am a bit out of touch and things are being ruined all around me and I am not seeing it? Wisconsin does not fish like many of the western states. Except for the smallmouth bass rivers, we do not have a lot of rivers that are floated by drift boats. We tend not to have the "destination fisheries" of the west either. We wade and we have tons of public land and much more generous stream access laws. I am not sure Wisconsin is immune to having fisheries loved to death but I am not seeing it happen. Maybe you are?
"The Movie" was going to ruin fishing too. It was a mere blip in the larger picture. Let's face it, what will decide what proportion of the new influx of trout anglers become life-long trout anglers is going to be whether or not they have some measure of success. What I have seen is more inexperienced anglers judging by the number of people I see fishing stream reaches that I know were too warm and by the number of anglers I have seen fish behind me. But we all had to start somewhere and then learned more along the way.
Maybe people worry too much about things they can not control. There are no "gate keepers" for trout or fly fishing. The barriers to entry are pretty low and while often thought to be rather "snobbish", there are few more egalitarian sports. Instead of bemoaning the newbies, maybe it is our job to help them, to educate them about stream etiquette and fish handling - even if they have to take those Instagram shots. I think we do well to have more people looking out for our resources.
Me, I am just out there having fun.
The best fly fisherman is the one having the most fun out there.
This is less a post about my thoughts and more about sharing resources for those that are interested in reading, watching, and listening to more on changes we are seeing in the fly fishing world - or, man do I hate the word, "industry". Read on if the topic interests you. If not, I did not take too much of your time...
Links to Resources
An Influencer Rows Through It - Angling Trade magazine, John Dietsch article
The Dark Side of Social Media - Hatch magazine, Chris Hunt article
Fly Fishing Influencers in the Wild - Into the Backing Podcast (April Vokey)
Instagram Troll or Activist? An Interview with copper Plated Sixes - Anchored Podcast (April Vokey)
Darcizzle on “Fishing in Bikinis” - Anchored Podcast (April Vokey)
How Instagram Became Divisive for Female Fly-Fishers - Outside, Britta Lotking article