After Team USA won its first international fly fishing competition over the summer, a team win at the FIPS-Mouche Masters World Fly Fishing Championship (50+ division) in Madonna de Compiglio, Italy, it was safe to wonder if competitive fly fishing could really take off in the United States.
But according to a prominent member of the U.S. International Fly Fishing Team, that’s not a likely proposition.
“First of all, most Americans don’t know about it,” Team USA board member Lance Egan said, 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 at the FIPS-Mouche World Championships in Spain — Team USA finished sixth — noted that efforts have come and gone in the states, but significant elements are missing if any such effort is finally. to success.
“Whenever we travel overseas to compete, one of the first things we notice about the other international teams is the corporate support they receive,” Egan said. “When we got to Spain, the rest of the teams were decked out in the logo provided by their corporate sponsors. Here in the U.S., there is very little corporate support from the fly fishing industry for a fly fishing competitive with fly”.
This, indeed, would seem to be a major missing element if fly-fishing enthusiasts were to commit to a competitive fly-fishing effort in America. Another link missing?
“As a rule,” Egan said, “there is no prize money in international fly fishing. It is strictly prohibited.”
This, of course, does not mean that an independent effort to create a competitive fly fishing tour in the United States could not gather a large number of sponsors, work with fishing destinations and then offer enough prizes to create competitive events. that might 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 highly successful BASS productions, which draw thousands of interested bass anglers and spectators to multiple Bassmaster events in various age classes, there is no recognized American equivalent in the fly fishing space. BASS also has no shortage of corporate sponsors looking 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 which begins in January and is sponsored by Strike King and Bass Pro Shops. And, yes, there is a high school Bassmaster event — it’s sponsored by Abu Garcia and Academy.
The big difference, of course, is participation. According to the American Sport Fishing Association’s 2022 Special Fishing Report, there were more than 40.5 million Americans who considered themselves freshwater anglers in 2021. That same report notes that there were only 7, 5 million fly fishermen that same year (and that’s 300,000 less than in 2020). , when the COVID pandemic led to a marked increase in fly fishing participation). Although the study does not differentiate between the types of species that anglers pursue, it can be inferred that bass fishing with spinning or baitcasting equipment is many times more popular than fly fishing for trout among the northern public. american
Another difference? Water. Bassmaster tournaments take place on large lakes and reservoirs, and participants move around those reservoirs, wearing sponsored gear, driving sponsored boats, and using sponsored equipment. The impact on fishing? Perhaps it is significant in the short term, as the bass are removed from the water, stored in live wells, and weighed and measured each day before being released. But consider how this might look in the world of fly fishing, where habitable water for trout (assuming trout would be the target species) is a little harder to come by.
A recent informal poll of fly anglers on Facebook showed a lack of support for competitive fly fishing in the United States. In fact, the opposition was not only against the idea; he strongly opposed it, going so far as to comment on the social platform that competitive fly fishing would have such a negative impact on the trout water that it would completely ruin fly fishing. Overall, 83% of respondents opposed the idea of a fly fishing “tour” or competitive event in the United States. Only 14% supported the idea, with 3% falling into the “maybe” category. One caveat: Many who responded and commented said they might be behind a fly fishing competition that was held on private water, but not publicly accessible water.
So while many in the American fly fishing community celebrate the nation’s first international victory in the FIPS-Mouche arena, most fly anglers want nothing to do with a competitive, highly marketed, and very commercialized in this country.
Corporate interests that serve the much smaller and much more moderate fly fishing community will likely see the same trend, and until that trend changes (and let’s face it, it’s not likely), there will be no corporate support for competitive fly fishing in the US
“I think, in the American market, potential corporate sponsors are very scared of the idea of competitive fly fishing,” Egan said. “None of them that I know of have ever tried to use competition for marketing.”
So far, the only credible effort to create a competitive fly-fishing tour in the U.S., similar to, say, the PGA Golf Tour, took place in 2014, and event winners were left dry by promoter of the event when the effort seemed. failed financially. A similar effort appeared to be underway this fall, but nothing has come of a promotional website for the “Pro Fly Fishing Tour” that goes so far as to list potential sponsors — replete with company logos and relationships implicit—and competitors, including Egan. .
An angler takes part 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 has been unsuccessful. Hatch Magazine contacted the website owner via an email address provided on the site, but no response has been received.
But competitive fly fishing exists in the United States, albeit on a non-professional level. The non-profit National Fly Fishing Team USA holds regional “mini-tournaments” to select the anglers who venture into the various FIPS-Mouche World Championship events each year. Of course, without prize money, these events are not heavily marketed. But, in many cases, they do take place in public water, or at least water that is publicly accessible.
And, Egan said, deliberate participation in competitions is pretty muted in the United States.
“I would say, across the country, there are maybe 100 people who compete regularly” in Team USA-centric events, Egan noted. “In other countries, there are thousands.” And, he said, unless anglers are actively seeking Team USA qualifying events, “you’re probably going to miss out on the opportunity to compete.”
The competition statistic, by itself, might be more telling 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. The Euronymph is a prime example: with competition comes innovation, and welcome or not, those innovations find their way to America (Perdigon nymph, anyone?). The lack of a competitive establishment in the U.S. “slows the advancement of the technique,” Egan said, noting that U.S. fishermen are often behind the curve set by competitive international fishermen, especially those from 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 nearly 360 votes and 55 comments.
“Why make everything on this planet a contest?” asked angler Mark McKenna commenting on the aforementioned survey. “Who can catch more fish? That’s a big ‘who cares?’ to me.”