Does competitive fly fishing have a future in the US? | Hatch magazine

After Team USA won its first international fly competition of the summer – a team victory at the FIPS-Mouche Masters Fly Fishing World Championship (over 50 divisions) in Madonna de Compiglio, Italy – it was safe to wonder if fly fishing the fly may actually take off in the United States.

But according to one prominent member of America’s International Fly Fishing Team, it’s not a viable proposition.

“First of all, most Americans don’t know anything about it,” said Team USA board member Lance Egan, referring to the international fly-fishing competition. “They don’t know how it works and there’s just no interest in making fly fishing a competitive sport in the United States.”

Egan, who returned to the U.S. in October after competing in the FIPS-Mouche World Championships in Spain — Team USA finished sixth — noted that efforts have come and gone at states, but there are important elements missing if any such effort is to ultimately succeed.

“Whenever we travel abroad to compete, one of the first things we notice about other international teams is the corporate support they receive,” Egan said. “When we got to Spain, the other teams were wearing logos provided to them by their corporate sponsors. Here in the United States, there is very little corporate support from the fly fishing industry for competitive fly fishing.”

Indeed, this would appear to be an important missing element if fly fishing enthusiasts were to get behind a competitive fly fishing effort in America. Another missing link?

“As a rule,” Egan said, “there is no prize in international fly fishing. It is strictly prohibited.”

That doesn’t mean, of course, that an independent effort to create a competitive fly fishing tournament in the United States wouldn’t be able to gather a bunch of sponsors, work with fishing destinations, and then offer enough prize money to create competitive events. that can appeal to the best fly fishermen in the country. But so far, that hasn’t happened, and Egan doesn’t expect it ever to.

Unlike the wildly successful BASS productions, which attract thousands of interested bass anglers and spectators to numerous Bassmaster events in various age classes, there is no known American equivalent in the fly fishing space. BASS also has no shortage of corporate sponsors who want to attach their names to Bassmaster events. For example, in March 2023, BASS will run the Academy Sports & Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. This is preceded by the Bassmaster College Series starting in January and sponsored by Strike King and Bass Pro Shops. And, yes, there is a high school Bassmaster event – it’s sponsored by Abu Garcia and the Academy.

The big difference, of course, is participation. According to the American Sport Fishing Association’s Special Report on Fishing 2022, there were more than 40.5 million Americans who considered themselves freshwater anglers in 2021. The same report notes that there were only 7.5 million fly anglers in the same year (and that’s down 300,000 from 2020 numbers, when the COVID pandemic resulted in a marked increase in fly fishing participation). While the study does not differentiate between the types of species anglers pursue, it can be concluded that bass fishing with spinning gear or bait is many times more popular than fly fishing for trout among the American public.

Another change? Water. Bassmaster tournaments take place on large lakes and reservoirs, and participants move around these reservoirs, decked out in sponsored gear, driving sponsored boats and using sponsored equipment. Impact on fisheries? It is probably important in the short term, as bass are removed from the water, kept in live wells and weighed and measured daily before being released. But consider how it might look in the world of fly fishing, where inhabitable trout water (assuming trout would be the target species) is a little harder to find.

An informal poll of fly anglers conducted on Facebook recently showed a lack of support for competitive fly fishing in the United States. In fact, the opposition was not only against this idea; strongly opposed, going so far as to comment on the social platform that competitive fly fishing would have such a negative impact on trout water that it would destroy fly fishing altogether. In total, a full 83 percent of those who responded opposed the idea of ​​a fly fishing “tour” or competitive event in the United States. Only 14 percent supported the notion, with 3 percent falling into the “maybe” category. One caveat: many who responded and commented said they could get behind a fly fishing contest that took place on private waters, but not on publicly accessible water.

So while many in the American fly fishing community are celebrating the nation’s first international victory in the FIPS-Mouche arena, most fly anglers want nothing to do with a competitive, highly marketed, highly commercialized tournament in this country .

Corporate interests serving the much smaller and much more subservient fly fishing community will likely see the same trend, and until that trend changes (and let’s face it, it’s unlikely), it won’t. have corporate support for competitive fly fishing in the US

“I think, in the American market, potential corporate sponsors are intimidated by the idea of ​​competitive fly fishing,” Egan said. “None of them that I know of have ever tried to use competition for marketing.”

To date, the only credible attempt at creating a competitive fly-fishing tournament in the U.S. similar to, say, the PGA golf tour occurred in 2014, and event winners were left high and dry by event promoter when the effort apparently failed financially. A similar effort appeared to be underway this fall, but nothing has come of it, with a promotional website for the Pro Fly Fishing Tour going so far as to list potential sponsors—replete with company logos and implied relationships—and competitors, including Egan.

An angler competes in the FIPS-Mouche World Fly Fishing Championship earlier this year in Spain

An angler competes in the FIPS-Mouche World Fly Fishing Championship earlier this year in Spain (photo: Lance Egan).

“I have no idea what this is about,” Egan said, noting that he has tried to contact the website’s owner to remove his name, but as of this writing, there has been no response. success. Hatch Magazine contacted the owner of the website through an email address provided on the site, but no response has been received.

But competitive fly fishing does exist in the United States, albeit on a non-professional level. The national non-profit Fly Fishing Team USA holds regional “mini-tournaments” to select anglers who participate in the various FIPS-Mouche World Championship events each year. Granted, without any prize money, these events are not heavily marketed. But, in many cases, they occur in public water, or at least water that is accessible to the public.

And, Egan said, intentional race participation is pretty quiet in the United States.

“I would say, nationwide, there are probably 100 people who compete regularly” in Team USA-focused events, Egan noted. “In other countries, there are thousands.” And, he said, if anglers aren’t actively seeking Team USA qualifying events, “you’re probably missing out on the opportunity to compete.”

Competition statistics, in and of themselves, may be more revealing than any other. As Egan points out, this is also why many of the technical advances in fly fishing come from Europe, where the competition is fierce. Euronymphing is a prime example – with competition comes innovation, and, welcome or not, those innovations find their way to America (Nymph Perdigon, anyone?). The lack of a competitive institution in the U.S. “slows down the progress of the technique,” Egan said, noting that American anglers are often behind the curve set by international competitive anglers, especially those in Europe.

But none of that seems to matter to American fishermen, who seem at best indifferent to the idea and at worst downright hostile. In just three hours, the Facebook poll garnered almost 360 votes and 55 comments.

“Why make everything on this planet a competition?” asked angler Mark McKenna who commented on the aforementioned survey. “Who can catch the most fish? This is a big ‘who cares’? for me.”

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