Kyle Schaefer is a man who knows what he’s doing. From guiding his clients to the Striped Bass of Southern Maine to writing and photographing his adventures, Kyle’s actions are calculated and thoughtful. There is no doubt that Kyle is an extremely fishy dude, but what sets Soul Fly Outfitters (Kyle’s Guide Outfit) apart from the rest is his activism. Kyle is the world’s first carbon-neutral fly fishing guide. Recently, we had a chance to talk with Kyle about his operation and what it means to be a carbon-neutral guide.

Kyle Schaefer
Photo: Dylan Schmitz

FL: Kyle, you have done a few interviews with Flylords in the past, so could you just give us a quick bio?

Kyle: My name is Kyle Schaefer and I am a fly fishing guide.  

I take a holistic approach to my craft and enjoy the tangential pursuits that accompany being a guide. I spend time shooting photography, writing, tying flies, and exercising my right to be a conservationist and climate change activist. I’m married to my soulmate Kitri and I’m expecting my first child in May 2021. My simple life goal is to, one day, become a content, wise, weathered old man and to listen more than I talk.  

Photo: Dylan Schmitz

FL: Tell us about your fishery up in Maine. What makes it so special?

Kyle: There is just something inherently special about Maine. It’s a little wilder up here and you don’t have to ramble quite as far to find solitude. Maine is Adventureland. The Pine Tree State quenches my desire for space and provides an amazing natural tapestry of rivers, islands, lakes, rocky coast, and woods to explore.  

When it comes to striped bass fishing, we have it pretty good up here. Maine is the northern terminus for migrating fish, the last stop on a journey of epic proportion. Our fish aren’t just passing through, they’ve come here with a purpose, to live, and feed from May to October, in Maine’s fertile waters.  

Photo: Dylan Schmitz

FL: What made you really open your eyes to the problem of climate change and want to take action?

Kyle: Science supports that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity, period, and there are so many daily examples pointing to that fact. 

The Gulf of Maine, where I fish, is warming 99% faster than the rest of the world’s oceans. These trends are startling, and we’re seeing the trickle-down effect of Maine’s warming waters. Marine heatwave days are now expected and have become the norm. Black Sea Bass are adjusting to the warming waters by moving north of their typical range, making them more accessible than ever before in the gulf. Striped Bass are staying longer in the season because water temps are more suitable as we get late into the fall. Other species like Atlantic Bonito, which historically do not migrate north of Cape Cod, are beginning to frequent our waters.  

This year, I was poling an oceanside flat at the end of June and ran into a small school of adult Bonito ripping across the shallows. This was a startling first for me. Juvenile Bonito are also becoming a more common catch out of Mackerel schools in the Gulf of Maine. Lobsters are marching North, and Cod are struggling to rebound in New England, partly as a result of warming waters.  

Things are changing at a rapid pace, and I fear we won’t be prepared unless we meet these challenges head-on. I am fully aware that my profession and livelihood hangs in the balance and that recreational anglers face the same fate. The good news is that we can adapt, change, and ultimately prevail.  

Photo: Dylan Schmitz

FL: What does it mean to be a carbon-neutral fly fishing guide & what are Carbon Credits?

Kyle: First, it’s important to understand a couple of terms: 

Carbon Neutrality refers to achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by balancing CO2 emissions with the removal of carbon through offsetting or simply eliminating CO2 emissions altogether.

Carbon Credits are defined as a generic term for any tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit one metric ton(tonne) of carbon dioxide or the equivalent amount of different greenhouse gases. For example, If Soul Fly Outfitters burns 10 tonnes of carbon, I would need to purchase 10 tonnes of carbon credits or reduce my footprint to net zero to be carbon neutral.  

***NOTE: “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” – Winston Churchill  //  I suggest viewing this process through that lens. We have a lot of work to do to slow climate change but right now we can take small steps that will lead to big impacts down the line.

My business inherently burns fossil fuels. I fill my tank with gasoline just like the next guy. I have to trailer my boat from A to B, and my clients burn fossil fuels to meet me at the ramp each day. The fishing equipment that I employ has its own carbon footprint: I fly on airplanes to certain destinations and my website even has its own small CO2 footprint. You’d be surprised when you dive into your own impact and begin to dissect how you can reduce and offset your own carbon footprint and the benefits that await you at the end of the process. Rick Crawford at Emerger Strategies helped consult me through the entire process of taking a CO2 inventory, reducing my footprint, and finally offsetting my CO2 usage. There are important standards to strictly follow and transparency is key; Rick’s expertise was essential each step of the way.  

Step 1: Take a GHG CO2 Inventory

The process of going carbon neutral is simple. The first step is to take an inventory of the greenhouse gases (GHG) CO2 used to operate my business throughout the calendar year. This exercise alone proved to be eye-opening. I am now aware of each different category where my business impacts global climate change. My business’ footprint is now fully transparent, and I am still striving to balance my resource needs with the impacts of climate change.

Step 2: Reduce Your Footprint

With this inventory knowledge, I can now better understand and strategize exactly how to reduce my carbon footprint. Here are just a couple of ways that I am using the data to evolve: 

  • Reduce travel to and from the boat ramp by fishing more local waters and explore the possibility of a boat slip for 2021.  
  • I offset the impact of my client’s travel to and from a guide trip. I can reduce in this category by continuing to cultivate and target a more local client base. I have a fair amount of out-of-state clients that may enjoy the ease and reduced impact of fishing with a guide that is more local to them instead of traveling to me.  
  • I’ve researched electric engines and have discovered that although they are cost-prohibitive right now, in the future the cost will be coming down and this may be a viable, cleaner way to power my boat.
  • Reduce international trips. Truly assess if each travel opportunity is essential and worth the CO2 output.  

Step 3: Offset Your Footprint

At this point, I’ve done the hard part. I’ve quantified my footprint and I’ve strategized on how I can further reduce my carbon usage. Until I’m operating a business that runs entirely on renewable energy, my work won’t be done.  

Now that I have quantified my carbon footprint CO2 burn in a calendar year I know the number of carbon credits that I need to purchase for my offset.  

I chose to invest and purchase my carbon credits with a local project called the Tri-City Forest Project in Massachusetts. The Tri-City Forest Project sequesters about 122,000 metric tonnes of CO2 through conserving forests and watersheds and increasing recreation opportunities. 

Now the benefits of becoming carbon neutral are becoming crystal clear. The purchase of my carbon credits are offsetting my footprint by funding a project that is managed to sequester carbon, allow increased access to greenspaces, and provide meaningful learning opportunities for the surrounding communities.  

Photo: Dylan Schmitz

FL: What unique challenges does being a carbon-neutral guide bring to your operation?

Kyle: Each year, I’ll need to set aside about a day to quantify my carbon footprint CO2 usage, find ways to reduce my impact, and offset my remaining footprint. The process is already quite simple, especially with the help of Rick Crawford. It’s time well spent. This yearly exercise will become as routine as filing my taxes.  

Photo: Dylan Schmitz

FL: How can other guides become carbon neutral? 

Kyle: The path to carbon neutrality is easy, and I would recommend that all guides consider joining the Fly Fishing Climate Alliance. New territory can certainly seem daunting so I was thankful to have Rick Crawford guide me through the process. It’s possible for the fly fishing industry to lead on climate change and this is a great way to walk the walk. The process is easy, inexpensive, and accessible to every guide and business in our industry.  

Photo: Dylan Schmitz

FL: What is the Fly Fishing Climate Alliance?

Kyle: The Fly Fishing Climate Alliance is a collection of guides, shops, lodges, brands, and nonprofits who share the common belief that it is our responsibility to take action to solve the climate crisis. The alliance is helping to empower the fly fishing industry to do its part in saving both the planet and the fish our businesses depend on. In joining Emerger Strategies’ Fly Fishing Climate Alliance, members have agreed to reduce their carbon footprint and go carbon neutral by 2030.

Photo: Dylan Schmitz

FL: What advice would you give to other anglers who are looking to become more climate-friendly themselves.

Kyle: The first step to action is being aware and educating yourself. Simply tune into your footprint and think about the challenges that our world faces. How do you fit into that equation? How far do you travel to your favorite fishing spots? Are there local waters that you’ve been wanting to explore? because now, more than ever, is a great time for local trips. Think about the purchases that you make and how they might impact our environment. Are you supporting companies that are fighting for our environment and voting with your dollar? Sometimes we choose the climate-friendly choice and sometimes we don’t… we’re imperfect and the path to solving the climate crisis will also be imperfect. Cultivate good environmental intentions, begin to act on them, and don’t be hard on yourself. Celebrate the wins, large and small. Systemic change will come from the leadership of our country and other countries around the world. Your voice matters and speaking up to your local representatives does not go unnoticed. It can be daunting to get involved but just take some small steps, one after the other.  

I clearly remember the moment that I realized conservation work would be a major part of my life. I was sitting in a giant lecture hall at the University of New Hampshire and my professor was giving a room full of eager learners insight into the dire heading that our planet is on. I remember a tear running down my cheek. That moment hit me like a ton of bricks. Right then I knew I would join the fight. I didn’t know how but that didn’t matter. That lecture lit a fire that I’ll stoke for life.

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