I’m 27, and was born and raised in Maine. I have been fishing my entire life and fly fishing for a decade. Once I picked up a fly rod, I instantly was tantalized by the difficulty required to do something so simple: catch fish. I became obsessed, tying my own flies, making my own rods and climbing the furthest reaches of headwater streams to find native trout.
Now, contemplating becoming a guide, starting my own fly shop or joining an existing company, I find myself wondering, where are my friends? Where are my peers?
I bring the occasional friend to fish and might know one or two people on whom I can rely to regularly come along, but most are not obsessed. They are not kept up at night. They do not dream of the next dry fly sip or fear missing giants of the deep. Why?
As I study the past and talk to elder fisherman, it appears a good number of people were obsessed with fly fishing. Were fishing opportunities more prevalent? Have we become lazy as a generation and don’t want to master a difficult task? Was there a deeper connection to the outdoors? Has technology created a divide between us and nature? How does something, seemingly so popular, disappear?
Whatever the cause, I see a decrease in extreme interest in fly fishing in Maine for the younger generations.
To find great trout fishing in 1960, you didn’t have to travel far, regardless of where you lived. In 2018, to find great trout waters, you may need to travel several hours, particularly if you live in southern Maine. There are, however, supplemental opportunities throughout the year — just follow the stocking truck. Stocking opportunities aren’t as glorious as major trout streams of the North, but they are unique and locally present. There are opportunities close to home, regardless of location, so that can’t be the reason.
Could it be that my generation is just lazy? Most of my elders would say so, but I know I am not lazy. I see my friends working extremely hard to pay off student loans, start families and pay ridiculous amounts for a small piece of property. There is just no way laziness is the reason fly fishing is fading in popularity with the youth.
A deeper connection to nature has inexplicably escaped my generation. A large contributor to the breakup between people born after 1990 and the woods is technological advancements. I have an iPhone, I’m writing this on my Mac laptop and have all the technological pieces that a person my age would likely have. But I can disconnect and do on almost a daily basis from technology and find tranquility in water and on land.
As Izaak Walton knew in the 1800s, “God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”
I believe my generation perceives fly fishing as a means to catching fish. It is anything but that. The misperception of fly fishing may be driven by the endless Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts of people glorifying their “once in a lifetime” catches. What about the journey? If my generation continues to misperceive the essence of fly fishing, I fear the popularity of fly fishing will be forever lost.
How can this divide be bridged? Growing up, I was helped at almost every stage of life, or so it felt. The level of aid received at every step for kids today is twofold compared to my childhood. However, I had no fly fishing instruction, no adviser telling me what to do or how to do it.
As Ted Leeson says, “There are a lot of advantages to being self-taught. Quality of instruction is not one of them.”
Learning through experience is unique and can’t be replicated. In order to restore the interest within the art of fly fishing, it is up to my generation to introduce and allow future generations to learn on their own. Half of the fun of fly fishing is observing, failing, adjusting and succeeding. If you remove failure, how will anyone become hooked?
Gregory LaBonte teaches and coordinates biology labs at the University of New England.