Social Media and Fly Fishing: For better or worse?

Like many, I am sure, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media. It is a pretty easy target these days. It has "condensed" our world. We are able to converse, to learn from, and to show off to people from all over the world. It also makes some of the ugliness a much larger part of our daily lives. It has brought us together and torn us apart. Hell, I write this after a month long Facebook break after it just got kind of old and repetitive. After trout season ended, it seemed like an ideal time to see what the world looks like without Facebook. Social media has become such a part of our lives, for better or worse.


As I write this, I've just concluded my little social media experiment. It is also readily evident just how mentally and physically addicted we become to social media. We get up and find ourselves checking what happened on Facebook. Or we get a little bored and it is time for a FB check-in. We get addicted. After a month mostly without Facebook, it was interesting just how much things like Facebook are how we are all connected, how we know what activities are happening when, and it has almost become the default mode of communication. I felt quite uninformed at times. I also felt a little relieved. There is more than a bit of bullshit on Facebook.

West Fork Sports Club, Avalanche, WI
Many stories have been told around this campfire ring, some of them were probably true. (maybe...)

In many ways, social media as it is was inevitable. It is not like it came out of nowhere. Twenty-five years ago, message boards were the social media of the day. They brought people together from across the world and we shared ideas, fishing stories, fly patterns and techniques, etc. The Fly Fisherman Magazine message board brought together people from all over the world in the 1990's. It helped bring Hans Weilemann to Wisconsin to fish the Driftless Area in 1997. And Patrick Hager's Wisconsin Fly Fishing Page and message board, established in 1994 brought together a lot of the fly anglers from Wisconsin and neighboring states. Of course, today it has a popular Facebook page and the message board draws less traffic today. It is part of the evolution of the internet and social media.


How we communicate changes but the desire, the need, to communicate never changes. That is a good thing!

1997 - fishing with Hans Weilenmann
Hans Weilenmann of the Netherlands fishing with us in the Driftless area for HansClave (1997).

For Better...


This one is pretty simple, the internet has shrunk the world and made sharing and obtaining information much easier than ever before. We are more connected, better educated, more in-touch with our community than we have ever been. I would argue that evolution of fly fishing has never been faster. Ideas are shared from around the world. Through the internet and friends that I have met through the internet, I have interacted and fished with people from most of the continents and many of the US states. To me, learning is a huge part of the enjoyment of fly fishing so interacting with a larger and more diverse population provides more opportunities to learn and become a better angler.


If you take Mark Zuckerberg's words at face value, Facebook was created and is run to bring the world together. In the age of troll farms, huge social rifts in society, and other such bullshit; it is sometimes difficult to see this as an obtainable goal in today's world. It is certainly a noble goal. It seems it is really up to the users to ignore the bullshit and not amplify it.


What does this mean for fishing? I think it means building a sense of community. It means having some self discipline and thinking for a few seconds before hitting the submit button. It means not being a troll - no matter how great it might feel in the moment. It means that online communities need to police themselves. It means not shaming others for their choices in what flies to fish (even if they fish mop flies) or that they kept a couple of fish. And not being a braggart - at least not all the time. There is nothing wrong with showing off a catch and being proud of it now and again but now and again.

Wisconsin TROUT tool on the WDNR page
It has never been easier to "do it yourself" and to find information than it is now.

For Worse...


There is no good or polite way to phrase this - the world, the internet is full of people that simply do not give a shit or if we are giving them the benefit of every doubt, do not know any better. I have to admit, I look at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and sometimes it drives me a little crazy. There are a lot of people that don't seem to have a lot of self control - or just like to troll or can't seem to help but raise the stakes when they fire back at perceived slights or someone that has different ideas from them.


I think most folks have come to understand that on the internet today, you are the product. Just go to any of the "big sites" - YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. - and it is pretty evident that you and your buying power is what they are interested in. The business model is to keep your eyes on the product for as long as possible so you see more advertisements because that is where the money is. Maybe it is my age, upbringing, experience, or whatever but the Instagram pages full of nothing but "grip and grins" of nice trout bores the shit out of me. And too many anglers try to measure themselves against what they see online without seeing what you are seeing online is not very real. We put our best face out there - we don't share the frustrating day where we never really figured things out, our backcast caught in the tree behind us, or any number of other trials and tribulations that are all part of the process.

Smoked Trout and jalapeno poppers
Oh, no, dead fish! Smoked Brown Trout on my Weber Kettle made a great treat.

I posted the smoked trout above to a Trout Unlimited Facebook page I help manage and of course felt the need to preference it with the fact that they were caught from a 10 fish, no size limit stream. A stream that the local biologist would tell you can benefit from additional harvest, which is the reason for the regulation in the first place. Why did I feel the need to tell everyone about the stream I caught the fish in? To keep the internet police in check. And I totally get it. I hate seeing mishandled fish or a guy - let's face it, it is ALWAYS a guy - bragging about keeping big fish.


I'm sure there is not a way to quantify it but I do wonder how many fish die because somebody had to get photos of it. Sure, there has always been a "need" for grip and grins (they bore me...) but today there are so many more people to show. And seemingly so many more people with the need to show them to others. Just give Instagram a look - many of the pages are like a self-contained Insta Repeat. Does it really matter - I mean in the bigger picture (no pun intended). No, it really does not. I'd rather see a trout or two get taken home to make a meal than one get unknowingly sacrificed so somebody can show the world what a great angler they are. Let's face it, that is the general rationale for "grip and grins" whether we want to admit it or not.

Ed Haaga with a Wolf River Brown Trout
Ed Haaga in a pre-internet photo. Can you imagine the poutrage today?

The Wrap-up


If there is a "take-home" message here, it is simply to be better. Don't troll. Let things go. Think before "pulling the trigger". This includes me. I have certainly been guilty of posting stuff I've not been proud of later. There is not a hard and fast line between bragging and sharing. Maybe bragging is sharing too often?


Maybe this is asking too much but how much better would the social media world be if the goal of people was to try to create interesting conversations? To inform and not to show off or show up others? To try to make Zuckerberg's vision of connecting the world a reality. Is that too much to ask?

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