Brown Folks Fishing is an organization that hopes to foster diverse, inclusive communities through fishing. With so much negativity and hate occurring in the world, Brown Folks Fishing seeks to bring the good out in people and catch some fish! Follow along for more…

Flylords: How did Brown Folks Fishing (BFF?) start?

BFF: Brown Folks Fishing launched last February in Instagram out of a desire to create a space that centers the faces and voices of anglers of color, particularly black and Indigenous folks. We wanted to create a way to build community and network with other BIPoC who are interested in fishing and cultivate a voice for anglers of color on environmental issues. As a media platform, it is a tool for surfacing the deeply held traditions and relationships that many communities of color have with fishing. Since then, it’s grown into a national, grassroots network. We’ve started hosting events locally and are in the process of developing several programs and initiatives at the intersection of diversity, angling, and environmental stewardship.

Flylords: Can you summarize BFF in a couple sentences for us?

BFF: We cultivate the visibility, representation, and inclusion of people of color in fishing and its industry. We work at the intersection of race, media, and fishing as a gateway to conservation and as a vehicle for reimagining a fishing industry that fully reflects the people who love the sport.

Flylords: What are the core foundations of BFF?

BFF: Building community, reducing barriers to entry, expanding access, and reimagining conservation.

Flylords: BFF is a part of the Diversity Outdoors coalition—can you tell us more about this?

BFF: Diversify Outdoors is a coalition that shares the goal of promoting diversity in outdoor spaces where people of color, LGBTQ+, and other diverse identities have historically been underrepresented. We are passionate about promoting equity and access to the outdoors for all, that includes being body positive and celebrating people of all skill levels and abilities.

Flylords: How are fishing, conservation, and diversity tied together?

BFF: This is a complex question, and there’s a lot of angles to it. Here in North America and many other places across the globe, Indigenous people have long been stewards of the land and water we fish on. Many of these communities have rich traditions in fishing and deep, cultural connections to the fish and water.

When approaching this question from another angle, we see that the fishing and conservation industries are two areas where BIPOC and other diverse identities have been grossly underrepresented.

With Brown Folks Fishing, we see getting more diverse folks together and on the water as a gateway to conservation. Throughout all of our work, everything has a conservation component because it comes back to our survival. When you look at environmental disasters — whether natural or caused by humans — often the first and most impacted are communities of color, and in particular black and indigenous communities. That’s why one of our core foundations is reimagining conservation — because the specific survival of communities of color is rarely part of the conversation in this space.

Flylords: What is BFF doing to effectively combine these three ideas (need to mess with this wording)? Suggested: How is BFF working at the intersection of these three areas?

BFF: Brown Folks Fishing is a member of the Portland Community Harbor Coalition. PHCC’s mission is

to elevate the voices of communities most impacted by pollution in the Portland Harbor Superfund site — including Native, Black/African American, immigrant and refugee, and houseless people of all backgrounds — in the billion dollar federal cleanup of the eleven mile Willamette River “Superfund” site, Portland Harbor. The goal is to ensure that impacted communities benefit from and lead the cleanup, restoration, and redevelopment of the harbor.

We incorporate environmental stewardship information and practice into all of the events and educational initiatives we take on so that both fishing and conservation are integrated and inherently connected.

Flylords: Tell us a little bit about BFF’s Angling for All coalition

BFF: The coalition is a brain trust of individuals from across the fishing industry who have come together to support Brown Folks Fishing in developing the Angling for All Pledge. The is inspired by and meant to be supplemental to Teresa Baker’s Outdoor CEO pledge. The ultimate goal of the pledge is to identify, address, and remedy systemic barriers to entry in fishing in general, and in fly fishing and conservation in particular. Pledgees are endorsed by BFF and publicly acknowledged by the Pledge platform, indicating to new and diverse anglers that they have, at a minimum, performed diversity, equity, and inclusion coursework. We’re still in development. Anyone interested in being part of the coalition should contact @brownfolksfishing.

Flylords: How can anglers improve diversity in the fishing industry?

BFF: I think first the industry needs to take a long, honest look introspectively and then ask why the they have struggled with diversity for so long. When you look at the 2019 Special Report on Fishing, you’ll find that participation is growing across the board. However, when you begin to disaggregate the data, you’ll find a completely different story in fly fishing. While the overall number of anglers participating in fly fishing has grown over the last two years, all non-white groups have either stagnated or declined in participation. When you look more closely at the report, you’ll find that the participation rate of Native Americans is not broken out — this is not only a challenge to accurate reporting but also highly problematic erasure. Wholesale change has to start internally, especially with bigger companies, boards, and executive suite officers choosing to do the work. It has to start at the top and trickle out to all other aspects of a company or organization, and it has to be a commitment at that level in order for things to really take root.

At the individual level, reach out and offer to take someone fishing! Think about the ways you’re creating a space for an angler of color to feel like they are able to bring their full selves to the water. That’s transformative.

Flylords: Care to tell us any stories that have come out of BFF’s work?

BFF: I think the best way to reply to this is to share a reflection from one of our local event attendees: “This last month has tested me in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s been hella rough. The event on Sunday really left me feeling humbled and at peace, even if just for a few hours. When we started down the drive to Oxbow, seeing deer on the path, eagles in the sky, getting out of the car and walking up to a rainbow squad of humans smiling, laughing, listening with such purpose…AND being taught by a WOC about the river and its inhabitants was beautiful!!! Watching my son being taught how to fly fish – seein that smile on his face was everything. It’s so different, the vibe that was created…It felt relaxing, centering, grounding, and I didn’t feel self-conscious (which is unusual for me). Thank you for creating an environment that brings people together like that. Such an encouraging event. I know so many lil black and brown kids that could use a dose of what @brownfolksfishing has got goin.”

Flylords: How can anglers get involved with or help BFF?

BFF: Reach out to us on Instagram or via email! We’d love to connect!