Adapt or Die: Addressing the Ever-Changing Sport of Fly-Fishing

The inspiration behind the film: "Adapt", Presented by G. Loomis

Improvise, adapt, overcome. It’s a creed, owned by no one, but embodied by the best. If you’re a member of the US Marine Corp, Clint Eastwood aficionado, or just up to par on your pre-2020 meme culture (Yes, the Bear Grylls one), this order of words are most likely familiar to you. The act of improvising, adapting, and overcoming is a step-by-step process in overcoming mental, physical, or spiritual hardships. Now, while not all problems are military-grade tough, our fast-paced, ever-changing world is always presenting new challenges. New obstacles to be met and challenges to be faced. The main factor that separates those who thrive and those who fall, is the ability to change with the times and meet their hardships head-on. Now, what does all this have to do with fly-fishing?…

In the following paragraphs, we will be directing the cultural shift we’ve seen in fly-fishing over the last couple of years. We’ll also be covering the inspiration for the creation of our film, “Adapt”, and how we as anglers can embrace changing times. 

emily fishing in a small creek

What’s Changed in fly-fishing over the last few years?

We’ve all seen it or at least heard it before. “Fly-fishing ain’t what it used to be…” It’s no secret that during the last few years, fly-fishing has seen what some might call, “a moment”. Others might call it “an explosion” and some, unfortunately, might call it, “a damn travesty”. With more and more people able to work from where they want, as well as a changing societal view towards interacting in the outdoors, more and more people have taken to their local waters with a fly-rod in hand. Some may contribute this to the commercial emergence of fly-fishing in mainstream media, many will most likely assume this is a ripple effect from the 2020 lockdown and an emphasis on seeking out activities that practice social distancing.

denver from top down

Whatever the reason, fly-fishing seems to be the hot topic right now. In a corollary response to more and more boots hitting the local waters, there has been a surge in disgruntled anglers cursing the very earth that new anglers stand on. “I get out on the river for solidarity.. to get AWAY from people. That’s becoming nearly impossible these days”. If you’ve heard this muttered under harsh breath at your local fly-shop or bar, you wouldn’t be alone. It’s no secret that fly-fishing is a sport that many people pursue to find solace: to escape crowds and have some much-needed time to spend with themselves. It seems as the world gets louder, quiet spaces become more scarce. But is this really the case…?

josh graffam in a boat alone

Is Fly-Fishing Seeing the Death Of Peace and Quiet?

In short, our answer is: “No.”, however, like most conundrums sparked by cultural shifts – this is not a yes or no question.

deep in a creek
A quiet scene from a lonesome trout stream – they still exist!

A decade ago, at least to the populous, fly-fishing could be chalked up to an activity your grandpa may have enjoyed, which involved standing in khaki waders, flailing a long rod around with brightly colored line. However, that’s from the outside looking in. If you were to ask a fly-angler to define their “activity” they would’ve most likely told you something along the lines of:

“It’s a method of escape. Thorugh a practiced and disciplined art form, fly-fishing is an ethereal pursuit that allows an individual to interact with nature’s very own ebb and flow. It’s a test in patience that boasts no promises outside of the highest highs and the lowest of lows which are dealt by the hand of the stream, lake, or ocean…”

walking alone by the water

Well, we’d at least hope it’d be something like that. Now, if you’re reading this and find yourself thinking, “Well, that’s how I’d still define it”, in our opinion, you’re fishing for the right reasons. But, that’s not up for anyone to decide. For some, it’s the pursuit of stoke. For some, it’s a source of revenue (guiding). For some, it’s an identity as a whole. However, the only correct definition out of all of these anecdotes; is that the purpose of fly-fishing is different for everyone.

A view from above

… But, I Didn’t Ask for Fly-Fishing to Change.

Oh, we rarely do. But somebody did. In fact, it looks like a lot of somebodies did. Whether we realize it or not, the world of fly-fishing, like everything else, has always been changing. There’s a reason most of us aren’t wearing wicker baskets and fishing heavy split cane rods with silk fly lines anymore. There is a reason organizations like Trout Unlimited, Bonefish Tarpon Trust, and Captains for Clean Water exist now. There’s a reason for the change, and like it or not – we’re all part of it. So, what are we going to do about it? Herein lies two options:

Option 1). Pout. Only talk about the “Good ‘ol days”. Distance yourself from something you once loved with a fiery passion. Put down others. Stand in front of a moving boulder and blame the mountain when you get squashed (metaphorically… don’t actually do this), do your best to make sure as few people as possible enjoy what you once did…


Option 2). Adapt.

inspecting a fly

What Does it Mean to Adapt in Fly-Fishing?

Okay, we’ve been working towards it, now we’re finally here. To adapt is to move with change, not against it. NOW, LISTEN: When we say “change” we don’t mean throw out all your old gear and flies and spend thousands of dollars on new equipment. We do not mean burn your old fly-fishing literature and crumple up the posters above your tying desk. We don’t mean: to start an Instagram page and throw your old photo albums and film camera in the trash. Change does not need to be so dramatic, and it certainly doesn’t need to be painful. There’s still something for being said for going out and enjoying fly-fishing the way you always have. That’s fine. However, if you’re expecting it to always produce the same results, you’re going to be disappointed.

walking up a river

What we mean by “Adapt”, is to find new ways to compliment your love of fly-fishing! Utilize changing times to take a fresh look at your sport! After all, if the road has run your vehicle’s tires down til they’re bald, do you stop driving, or do you get new tires?

The opportunity to adapt is a beautiful thing and can be accomplished gracefully. Yes, there are new challenges to be met, but as an angler, when aren’t there? Accomplished anglers know: when fish aren’t biting – try a new fly. When it’s raining – put on a raincoat. If you want a new fly-rod, lie to your significant other about how much it costs (just kidding, honesty is the best policy *wink*). Adapt!

graffam hooked up

In the same vein, if you feel like your local fishing hole which you’ve fished every week for the last 20 years has been overrun by newbies, it’s a great opportunity to take a drive through the country and find an untouched gem. If climate issues have stunted your trout fishing, try warm water species. (Have you ever fished for bass or carp on the fly? It’s exhilarating). If fish have wisened up to your methods of approach – try new methods for fly-fishing (and if you think you’re too good for tight line nymphing, you’ve probably never heard of Joe Humphreys – and that’s a problem). The beauty of fly-fishing is that it’s all about adapting and finding new methods to catch fish – after all, if you wanted to catch fish easily you could have just been a spin-angler!

carp on the fly
Carp on the fly: It’s just like bonefish – just without the plane ticket.

What Gives Us the Right to Tell You to Change?

The best answer: Nothing.

At Flylords, our mission is to share the joy of fly-fishing with the world in the hopes to breed future leaders and conservationists to help maintain the sport for generations to come. However, we know that with that comes a sense of responsibility for putting new anglers on the water.

It’s a give-and-take situation, but in the end, it comes down to this:

No one is going to force you to adapt. No one can make you look further for fish, or try new things. However, if you’ve actually taken the time to read this piece, and don’t see the point of adapting, then we wish you the best of luck with your future and ask that you don’t try to spoil it for the rest of us.

Thank you.

looking for carp

About the film: “Adapt“:

In this film, we take a look at the sport of fly-fishing through the eyes of 3, very unique, anglers. Here, Emily Dmohowski, from Vail Valley Anglers, Josh Graffam, from Umpqua, and Rick Mikesell, from Trouts Fly Shop, address how they are adapting to the changing culture of fly-fishing. Whether it’s waking up earlier, driving/ hiking further, or finding new ways to fish and new fish to fish for, these anglers are striving to defeat the stale rhetoric of the curmudgeonly angler and take action! In this short film, brought to life by G. Loomis, we dive into what it means to be an angler and what it means to adapt.

walking through the woods

Learn more about G. Loomis’ specialty rod line, HERE.

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  1. Decent piece, but…

    They had to toss in the standard “…spin angler…” insult. That’s disappointing.

    First…there’s enough division in our lives as it is, why add more?

    Second, it’s an inaccurate term. It only describes anglers using spinning gear…which is maybe half, or less of non-fly fishing anglers. Most use spinning and bait-casting gear. The proper term is “gear angler”. A publication that claims to be involved in the culture of angling should know this basic fact.

    Third, there comes a point where choosing to use fly angling gear is just silly, and all it’s doing is artlessly making catching fish harder for the express purpose of being able to brag, “I caught it fly fishing”.

    I agree with the idea of encouraging adaption, and most of the rest of the piece…but let’s not engage in the practice of lifting ourselves by putting others down, eh? It’s embarrassing.

  2. I think you miss a factor that has grown with the demand for fly fishing by more people:. A factor that has contributed to the increased rarity of fishing good water: the increase of fishing shops and the huge increase in guides operating out of those shops accompanied by those same shops leasing local waters for their private customer use. Waters that used to be available for the polite asking are now off limits unless you want to pay for a private guide and, usually, a rod fee. Often going from $300 to $500 and up.Here’s a twist in that game: those same fly shops use local public waters to guide beginner clients and those looking for a cheaper option. They usually arrive with clients very early in the morning to secure the best water and hold it. Again the average (usually local) fly fisherman loses out. It stinks.

  3. I fish the same water, using the same flies, fishing the same techniques as I did 30 yrs ago. I fish for mostly wild trout, chasing large browns and doing so very successfully. I watch the “fly fishing world” go through “adaptations” from Tenkara to Euro Nymphing all the while chuckling inside as all the “gadget guys” fumble through one iteration to the next. I find simplicity in doing the same thing over and over while expecting the same results. Some would call that SANITY!

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