Fly fishing and outdoor sports have some big problems.

We are not saying that every fly angler is elitist, sexist, and racist. There are lots of fly anglers and organisations out there doing great work to engage with new audiences. However, that, unfortunately, does not mean this sport is devoid of these aspects and there is a lot that can be addressed. It may not necessarily always be obvious but sadly it is there. Fly fishing in the UK is a sport predominantly practised by white males. To us, that simple lack of diversity in the sport suggests we have a problem. Since starting Bear we have been learning as much as we can about how we can make fly fishing inclusive and accessible to all. It's why we started the business. Here are some of the things that have made us more aware of the issues present in the sport. 

Racism

It exists in every part of society, including the countryside and its activities. It is a human rights issue. We believe it is one of the biggest problems in fly fishing.

We are not exempt, a couple of months ago diversity was a small part of our goals to increase accessibility and participation in fly fishing. Recent events (should have been earlier) have given us cause to delve deeper into this topic and develop a better understanding. We still have lots of learning to do. 

We are absolutely not saying all fly anglers are racist. We are saying that there is an immense lack of diverse representation within the angling world, us included, and a total lack of recognition of the issue. We do not think that most people are acting with malice, but turning a blind eye does not help solve these problems. 

Here's an activity for you. Head over to any countryside or fly fishing based organisation in the UK and type racism into their search bar. We have found it difficult to find much outside of a generic policy. This does not mean that it does not exist. It just means no one is talking about it. Please let us know if you find anything of note and we will add it to this resource.

This article is a little old now but is still just as relevant. Ignore the stuff about the Angling Trust. It's changed a lot since then. This does, however, show that anglers are not necessarily good at actually making change even when they are complaining about the problem. It's no surprise little has been done to recognize the issue of racism. 

"So, after weekly complaints from anglers far and wide, Angling Times put the issue on the news agenda on a very regular basis. We were joined by the likes of Keith Arthur and Labour MP Martin Salter and, eventually, the body that makes fisheries law in this country – the Environment Agency – agreed to change the rules to make it illegal to remove fish from public venues. But before acting, the Agency commendably wanted to know exactly what anglers wanted before rewriting legislation.

A consultation period subsequently began and all those who had complained, written letters to the press, logged on to forums and generally moaned to anyone who’d listen, were invited to make their opinions known on a purpose-built website. Essentially, a million-plus rod-licence holders were given the chance to shape their sport for the better. But before Angling Times shamed some into action, just 66 people had taken part." - Steve Partner

https://www.anglingtimes.co.uk/fishing-news/2009/steve-partner-lets-face-it-anglers-are-just-plain-lazy?rq=racism

Here is a very insightful article from Chad Brown published by Hatch Magazine.

"I fought for freedom alongside others who have given their lives but sadly, as a black man I can only enjoy this place by donning my flak jacket and carry my weapon to protect myself."  Chad Brown. Read his full article below.

https://www.hatchmag.com/articles/thoughts-killing-george-floyd/7715062

And another. This article by Beth Collier was the most eye-opening for us regarding why the BAME community feel so uncomfortable in the countryside.

"This exploration is situated within the context of racialised narratives about our place within natural settings. Environmental organisations that are typically staffed by white middle class practitioners have framed our apparent absence as rooted in a lack of interest in or appreciation of nature. A colonial perspective that regards white people as the true custodians of nature persists."  -Beth Collier. 

https://theecologist.org/2019/oct/10/black-absence-green-spaces

Sexism

Fly fishing in the UK is mostly practised by men. Women are welcomed but not always treated respectfully. Speak to a female fly angler. They will likely give you an example of sexism they have experienced. In the US there is a much bigger female fly fishing contingent. However, they still experience sexism on the water. Companies and organisations in the US are doing great work to combat this. In the UK we have a lot of work to do. Again I am not saying all UK fly anglers are sexist, but that we need and can do more to make women feel respected and safe in general and whilst on the water.

This video shows that sexism exists in fly fishing.

These articles are really good resources for more information.

This article is full of examples of sexism within fly fishing.

https://www.outsideonline.com/2395554/instagram-fly-fishing-women

Something equally relevant from a Scottish guiding company.

https://www.youfishscotland.com/blog/15-sexism-and-fly-fishing

The most in-depth piece you will find on the topic.

https://amuse.vice.com/en_us/article/gyaknm/fly-fishing-sexism

Elitism/Protectionism

It seems very few doubt this one. Especially in the UK. We realise this one is a little different in the US with increased access to water. However, we have often been told that it is still a sport that's seen as being shrouded in snobbery over there. 

The elitist culture runs deep in fly fishing in the UK. Clubs and private landowners have controlled most of the fishing around the country for much of the 20th century. This made access hard for all but the privileged few. In recent years this is something that is changing and hopefully will continue to do so. There are lots of great organisations like fishing for schools doing excellent work. Also as someone who has been involved in fly fishing for the last 20 years, I know that fly fishing can be extremely accessible and un elitist. Unfortunately, none of these messages have made it through to the general public. 

I (Oscar) can speak from my own experience on this topic. Coming from an untraditional fly fishing background. Growing up in a council house with a large family on a very low income, it was not necessarily the natural sport for me to take up. Fortunately, I was introduced to it by my grandfather and fell in love with it straight away. To afford to go fishing I started growing and selling chilli plants. Anyway, that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I changed my entire personality to fit in with the crowd that dominated the sport I loved. Ask anyone of my friends or family. For a long time, I was not me. This was not because anyone, in particular, made me feel unwelcome. Most have been amazing. The feeling came from the sports history, industry and literature. 

Unfortunately, there are very few resources available on this topic. But one does not have to look very hard at the portrayal of the sport and access in this country to understand why the sport is viewed in this elitist manner.

We will keep adding to this page and build a resource. Hopefully, we can all use it to learn and improve fly fishing for future anglers. This conversation needs to happen. 

If you use instagram we suggest you check out these accounts: 

@melaninbasecamp 

@brownfolksfishing

@blackafinstem 
 

2 comments

Sorry about this. I reviewed my comment that you posted and realised that I’d got the sequence of events wrong in one paragraph. I posted a video, was then asked if I was a Christian, replied that I was a Muslim, and Lipslicker then made his Islamophobic remark. Also, Lipslicker’s remark referred to taking kids shopping, not fishing. Apologies; I’m locked out of flyfishing.co.uk so I wasn’t able to check the sequence when I first wrote my comment. The correct version is the paragraph below:

during a discussion about whether Scotland will become independent from the United Kingdom, I post a clip from a TV programme(which contains offensive language) . In response to an another poster asking if I am a Christian, I reply that I’m a Muslim. Shortly afterwards someone calling themselves Lipslicker writes something to the effect of;
I suppose you can delight in saying such things without having your head chopped off while taking your kids shopping

Incidentally, the tactic of banning people who challenge bigotry on fly fishing.co.uk. has, apparently, been used by the moderator of that site before my ban. The Secret Angler blog in the feature on Racism in Angling, goes into this further.

Please accept my apologies for the mistakes in my previous post and of course you have my consent to edit my original post if you wish.
David

David December 09, 2020

Thank you for a very interesting site. I have a few reactions and responses, some from personal experience, others from just having observed some of the issues and thought on them a little. So please excuse me if the following meanders.

I think there are several things going on in terms of racism in fly fishing in the U.K. There’s the evolving nature of social media. People say what they they really think, or what they think other people want to read…Actually, I’m pretty sure some people flat out lie, posture, and use the internet to rehearse and practise versions of themselves. So absolutely there’s racism in fishing forums in the U.K, both fly fishing and not. Whether fly fishing has a higher proportion of racists than other sports I don’t know. Possibly, yes. And here I’ll demonstrate my prejudices. Because fly-fishing is both tweedy at one end(crusty old gents on exclusive chalk-stream beats who dislike everything about modern Britain including multiculturalism) and popularist at the other(confused, gear-heavy guys fishing reservoirs who voted Brexit and distrust multiculturalism). So fly-fishing has a good weight of people who don’t like black people.

Then there’s how I, being one of those black men, orientate myself among this. Most of my friends don’t get why I like fishing. I’d say my white friends struggle with it to the same degree as my black friends. The article from the ecologist certainly gives insight into why People of Colour would be wary going into a wild area in this country. I don’t know if you can consider fly fishing in the U.K without taking into account the experience of going into fishing forums. So I’m not going to. On the forums, well it’s like having to share a railway carriage with Alf Garnett. If it isn’t some fool banging on about Polish Anglers being responsible for low sea-trout numbers in the public Southampton stretch of the Itchen, it’s a numbskull(on a sea fishing forum this time) recycling tired old garbage about anglers of Far-Eastern appearance not only plundering fish-stocks but shining lights into the water to endanger shipping.

Of the forums, the one I’ve found most idiot-rich is flyfishing.co.uk I was recently banned from that site after the following exchange;

during a discussion about whether Scotland will become independent from the United Kingdom,
I post that I’m a Muslim. A little later, I post a clip from a TV programme(which contains offensive language) Shortly afterwards someone calling themselves Lipslicker writes something to the effect of;
I suppose you can delight in saying such things without having your head chopped off while taking your kids fishing.

I then got a ban for ‘very distasteful postings’. Obviously there was a background to this. Flyfishing.co.uk is a big site with useful fly-fishing information among it’s members. I rejoined it during lockdown spent time both reading and posting, mostly about fly-fishing technique. However, there are threads about such subjects as Brexit and the aftermath of the U.S elections. They are kind of interesting, but oh boy are there some nasty little racists there! I had been confronting them somewhat.

I think that the exchanges around culture, identity and fly fishing is going to go on, and will become more vicious as the hard-line racists dig in. Because fly fishing does have associations for some of connecting to a mythical English countryside, without people of colour. Generally, the bigots who go to these sort of perceived idylls from the modern world are fragile and become angry and defensive when they feel threatened. I’m interested in parallels so I tried to find one. Historical European Martial Arts is usually known as HEMA. Now, I’m kind of across the street from that in that I practise a traditional Japanese sword school, so maybe I have some insight into some of HEMA’s organisational issues. That said, I don’t know anyone who practises HEMA. Anyway, it has recently come to light that;
There are some active fascists who practise HEMA.
Some HEMA clubs actively and overtly exclude right-wing extremists and police their memberships for such behaviour
Some HEMA clubs are multi-cultural.
Some HEMA practitioners admit that there is a problem with extremist right wingers and racists in HEMA, and some deny that there is any problem whatsoever.

I don’t see the racism and the response to it in fly-fishing going the same way as HEMA. HEMA has a different set of mythic allusions. Wannabe knight-in-armour isn’t the same as wannabe 18th century country squire. So HEMA will attract a different class of bigot. Also, martial arts is literally more nose-to-nose than the insult-flinging-from-down-the-bank that can go on in flyfishing.
I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this. Is fly-fishing a special case? Are there other pastimes where racism has been successfully dealt with?

David December 07, 2020

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Shop now