Our pal and frequent Fly Talker Koldkut recently sent me an interesting email about some problems associated with getting new people into the sport of fly fishing.
He pointed out that many people are intimidated by the prospect of going into a fly shop to learn from square one, even when those shops are offering free clinics and Fly Fishing 101 classes. I can tell you that many of the people who make and sell fly fishing products are doing their best to recruit newbies. (Though we can always do better. And please, spare me the "I don't care if more people fish because I want my space in the river" chatter because there's nothing wrong with getting people off the sofa and in the outdoors where, with luck, they'll learn to actually care about oceans, lakes and rivers.)
Still, I hear over and over again how "intimidating" fly fishing must be. As Koldkut explained, part of that comes from seeing a guy in his full "battle rattle" on the river, and thinking there's "no way I'm going to spend all that money to look like that." I remember hearing that 3M did some market research on this issue. They found that the two things that inhibit would be anglers most are: the cast, specifically figuring out those tricky mechanics, and knots. The latter seems silly to me since I only use three knots for 99 percent of my fly fishing (a nail knot, a double surgeon's knot, and an improved cinch knot). Then there's the perception of a steep learning curve. What, with the bugs and the currents; not only do you have to cast a fly accurately, you must drift it just right... It's enough to make anyone crazy.
Hence the push to make fly fishing as simple as possible, which some in this sport think has been a mistake. I for one, have been critical of certain dumbed-down nymph techniques. But in the end, a person has to embrace the sport's complexities and all the frustrations that come along with them to really like fly fishing.
Koldkut wrote that the real catalysts for bringing newbies into the sport are mentors. And I agree. You will feel more comfortable and learn quickly when your buddy takes you fishing. Maybe the fly shops should not only try to be the "teaching buddy" for strangers, they should also facilitate a buddy system--perhaps offer free loaner gear to the person who wants to take his or her novice friend along for the first time. Do you know of many shops that do this?
By the way, if you take a buddy fishing yourself, you'll see how rewarding that can be. And if you already do, thanks for doing so.