For me, social media has been both a blessing and a curse when it comes to fly fishing. When I started fly fishing, you really only could take a disposable camera along and those pictures ended up at the bottom of a shoebox. As time progressed, flip phones got cameras and you could take that grainy photo that looked like you smeared the lense with grease. However, it seems now every cellphone has a high quality camera and every fish caught ends up on Facebook or Instagram. It wasn’t until waterproof phones became a thing that I even thought about taking photos of the fish I caught. I let other people risk dropping their phones into the water to get photos of the adventures we went on. Thus, for most of my fly fishing career I have no evidence of the fish I caught, or the places I went to. Yet, with time, I began to take more photographic evidence of the fish I caught and eventually began posted my exploits onto social media.
I joined Instagram in the fall of 2015. I found a decent username and began interacting with people who loved to fly fish. I quickly fell in love with seeing all the wonderful pictures of fish being caught and the adventures people were having. It almost became like an obsession as I went through my camera roll trying to find good photos of past fishing trips to entice followers. I must admit, I was hooked. However, the obsession lead to me meeting so many awesome people in the fishing community. In the past, I viewed the fly fishing community as being full of snooty old men, who rarely wanted to speak with a younger fisherman. But, Instagram was full of fishermen that wanted to exchange information, talk about flies, and share locations to fish. It was like a breath of fresh air knowing that there were people out there that fly fished and weren’t full of themselves.
On the other hand, Instagram showed me a very dark side that social media contains. For one, social media has made fishing feel pressuresome. What do I mean by that? It means that I feel obligated to document every fishing trip I take so my followers can see what I am doing. If you go days without fishing, it’s almost like you’ve dropped off the radar of the fishing world and you’re forgotten. This has led me to yearn for the days where I left the camera behind and soaked up the sun with friends and fish. Now you have to record that release, or get that right angle so that fish looks bigger than it really is. It’s odd to think that I care what strangers think about my life, or that their perception of me is important. Before Instagram, I was just a guy who wanted to catch the next fish, no matter how big or vibrant that fish was. Now it seems that if I don’t document my days on the water I am doing disservice to those who follow me, or my close Insta-friends who would want to know what I am up to. I know you may be thinking that I could just leave the phone at home and just fish, and I have, but there is an addictive nature that comes with knowing the world is watching. However, I have started to take the camera out less and focus more on enjoying the art of catching, not snapping.
Another troublesome aspect of social media is the fishing police. These individuals take it upon themselves to shame people who break “unspoken rules” of fishing. That could be pulling a fish onto shore, putting fingers in gills, or even just having the fish out of the water. Now, I am not condoning the actions of fishermen who bring unnecessary harm to fish, but I will say that shaming fishermen, especially those who are just starting out, is the absolute wrong way to go about getting change. These individuals seek to hold power over new and inexperienced fishermen by calling them out for their mistakes. It makes them feel good to show off to the world about how much they know and that they are absolutely better than these people breaking the rules. However, all these people are doing is feeding their egos, not bringing about real actual change. If they wanted to bring change, they would invite these people out fishing and educate them through showing them the proper way to handle fish, instead of shaming them anonymously online. It pains me to see a new fly fisherman post a photo they are proud of only to have someone take a dig at them for being unaware of proper fish handling. If you’re one of those guys who likes to shame others for their mistakes, remember, all you’ve done is make it so these people won’t post fish pictures anymore, not handle fish better. You don’t know these people, and you don’t know their abilities and understanding of fly fishing. So, the next time you see someone doing something that goes against your unspoken rules, offer to take them out and become a mentor, or just ignore it and don’t be a jackass.
In the end, social media can lead you down different paths. You can use it as a tool to meet people and expand your fly fishing knowledge, or you can look at it as a way to push your agendas and ego onto others. I like to think that most fly fishermen are good people and want to help grow the sport. However, we should also take a step away from the camera now and again, put down our phones and remember why we really love to fish. It’s not about the photos and the followers but the memories you make with friends.
Thanks for reading and check out me and my friends on Instagram @troutmadness