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Do They Really Care About Fishing?

Don’t be afraid to critically review conservation organizations or environmental groups.
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Apr 9, 2024
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Do They Really Care About Fishing?

There’s a difference between conservation and environmentalism. That matters to fishing.

Conservation, as I’ve always known it, is about taking care of natural resources and improving habitat–preventing the wasteful misuse of those resources–with the goal of ensuring there will be something left (or something even better) in the future.

Because we want more ducks flying around, we take care of the marshes. We steward rivers and oceans, because we want more fish swimming in them. But let’s be honest, many people want more ducks so they can shoot more ducks, and more fish so they can catch more fish. (My hand is raised.)

The environmentalist’s goal, as I understand it, is to preserve the planet so human beings cannot screw it up anymore. And in my mind, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with either approach. What gets dicey is how the ideals overlap and diverge and how far the agendas get pressed. Sometimes, they end up in conflict.

I think the American Sportfishing Association does zillions of good things. I also think they’re wrong on lead (they generally oppose bans on lead fishing tackle). Lead in tackle, when left behind in shallow waters, is bad for birds like loons. Selling products that include lead is good for fishing commerce, so loons aren’t ASA’s problem–not the hill they want to die on. While I disagree with the stance, I see where they’re coming from.

Other environmental and animal rights groups are pressing for things like bans on fur sales and trophy hunting. Not fishing problems? Well, what about selling things like dubbing, or elk hair, for fly tying? Then it becomes a fly-fishing problem. Not hunting for anything you aren’t going to eat? Hmmm, sounds like a reasonable position. But wait, isn’t pulling trout, bonefish, tarpon and other fish around by their faces, for the fun of it and a bunch of photos to share on social media, sort of the same thing as chasing animals to make wall mounts out of them?

When Jeep or Toyota shits the (river) bed and runs ads showing vehicles splashing through rivers, the environmentalist is upset about the scarred banks and jumbled rocks. The conservationist is angry because that ruins habitat for bugs and leaves chemicals behind that kill fish. They’re both right. There’s more common ground than not.

Still, some conservation organizations are so concerned about chasing the young urbanites and convincing them to join their causes that they’re turning their backs on well-established and respected fishing and hunting organizations.

I think you’re either in, or you’re out, when it comes to fishing, hunting and conservation. No matter how you slice it, catch and release or otherwise, fly fishing is a blood sport. How we anglers interact with the resources–not polluting, handling fish, pressuring fish, etc.–is, in and of itself, a massive conservation issue. 

So, ask critical questions and choose wisely when it comes to the conservation, or environmental, organizations you support. Who’s really hauling the mail? Who’s winning the battles? And by that, I’m not talking about raising money. I’m asking how much they really care about fishing…

It’s a lot easier to have a conservation conscience when the conservation organization has a fishing conscience as well. – Kirk Deeter

Understanding Online Shoppers

When we conducted some of our initial Flylab consumer research (2023), we found that fly anglers shop at these basic locations: fly shops (23%), online (21%), big box stores (4%) and “all of the above” (52%), which isn’t that surprising. The ease and convenience of online shopping (60%), along with these general positives: selection and inventory (25%), user experience (10%) and deals (5%), have naturally shifted the buying experience to our digital devices. Fly shops still matter, of course, but their transactional market share has been eroded by outside (online) competition, and more than you might think.   

Where it gets more nuanced to understand is when we asked, “Where do you shop online?” and the high-level locations broke down to: fly shop e-commerce (23%), manufacturer direct (20%), Amazon (16%), obviously, with consumers looking for better information, inventory and deals, and “all of the above” (41%). Anglers also noted that they valued discounts 96% of the time. 

What seemed, initially, as fairly simplistic online shopping behaviors are actually more complex reactions to a continually evolving consumer landscape, driven by the speed and ease of technology. Of course, anglers still want to physically transact in fly shops, telling us they wouldn’t buy these core product groups online: waders and boots (21%), fly rods (16%), flies and fly tying (13%), but 48% have shifted to a place where they will buy anything online. These same anglers also told us the things that bothered them about shopping in-store: lack of inventory, burning gas and traffic, lost time and in-store “purchase pressure” (hard selling).

So, when you start to understand why today’s anglers are avoiding the fly shop, you also start to get a better sense of what kinds of branded and in-store experiences might draw them back: 1. exposure to product information, but not necessarily hard-selling 2. communities build trust 3. build inventory, to the extent you can 4. incentives: free shipping and deals to compete with the big e-comms (start a rewards program) and 5. building a shop experience worth showing up for.

When you boil it all down, today’s anglers are saying to the specialty retailer: Do better, and you can win us and our business back. Most of the savvy fly shops already figured this out after the pandemic, and the rest should be quick to catch up.

The angling consumer is actually pretty forgiving, given you meet them closer to where they want to be from the user experience and incentive perspectives. No one really wants to buy from Amazon if they don’t have to–consumers tolerate the experience for price and delivery. 

We’re pretty bullish on specialty retailers and upstart brands clawing back this eroded market share in the next five years. Every day, new technologies appear to help the little guy scale and compete. It’s just a matter of time, trust and execution.

Product Buzz

The Best of Show 2024 (The Fly Fishing Show) Consumer Gear Award Winners were announced. Flylab reviews a bunch of products recently: the awesomely simple Fly Banjo fly dryer, the super grippy Challenger 7-inch Deck Boots by Simms, Redington’s highly-economical Escape Wading Pants and the YETI Rambler Half-Gallon Water Jug that every guide should have in their boat. Outside takes a swipe at the Best Fly-Fishing Gear for Every Type of Angler–most of the standard gear and brands you already know about in 150 words (each), but worth reviewing. A quick wader repair hack from Patagonia for your summer adventures.

Fly-fishing News

Writer M. Robbins Church on his personal history with Silver Creek: “We planned to support ourselves (earn gas money) through six-day-a-week, low-level jobs wrangled for us in Sun Valley by my neighbor and our fly-fishing mentor, Joe Brooks.” Kirk Deeter with a book review: Reelly: Unbelievable Fly Fishing Guide Stories by Ryan Johnston. Fly-fishing guide, Alvin Dedeaux, explains why he quit strike indicators. Some great fly-fishing tips from the instructors (some Flylab founders too) at Todd Tanner’s School of Trout: fly fishing Q&A. A story about Whatcom Creek, flowing through the city of Bellingham, WA, and its post-apocalyptic resilience. 

Recent Press

“Kudos for the solid writing. Not much of that around these days.” – Captain Pete Scafaru

“I’ve enjoyed the articles about how to make fly fishing more artful and respectful, which could be an ongoing thread. As a woman owner in a sea of men, I have encountered it all, and I love the idea that what I ask of our staff and guides would pervade the industry and humans in general.” – Heather, Flylab Partner

“Stop pinching mom and pop, but get deals for subscribers for product they would pay retail for at the mom and pop…” – Manufacturer

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but this sort of feedback is off-base in a bunch of different ways. One, we never dictate to the specialty retailer (mom and pop) how to manage their incentives to our members, because, ultimately, they understand their businesses much better than we ever could. Two, it’s exceedingly rare that mom and pops violate MAP pricing policies, even when the same manufacturers are blasting five emails per week to their customers about MASSIVE DTC SAVINGS about the same products they sell. Three, we easily could be driving our traffic and sales leads to manufacturers or Amazon or REI, but we’re not. Because we believe in the little guy (mom and pop), and are putting our money (traffic) where our mouth is.   

We’re always looking for Flylab feedback–send any comments, thoughts, suggestions, and we’d love to hear from you.

Scouting Report

We’re hard at work hunting down the coolest new products, brands and partners you’ve never heard of. 

Blue Line Co.

Blue Line Co. is a custom fly dealer, providing unique and highly-productive patterns for trout, bass, carp, bream and redfish. The BLC focus has been understanding/testing the “triggering mechanisms” of fly design, whether that’s shape, color or movement. BLC flies have more time on the water than just about any other commercially available flies when released.

Flylab discount: 20% off all BLC flies.

They have a bunch of great variations on some classic patterns.

Partner Spotlight

Karmik Outdoors

Karmik Outdoors is a waterproof-decal-based system for securing gear. They are a trusted resource and technology platform (phone-scanned QR codes) for helping adventurers recover their missing outdoor recreational gear: scan, connect, recover. Everyone hates losing their outdoor gear–let Karmik help you get it back with a 78% return rate within one day.

Flylab discount: 40% off all decal purchases.

If you’re a fly shop, outfitter, fishing lodge or outdoor brand and interested in becoming a new Flylab partner, learn more about our program here. Join the best partner network in fly fishing.

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