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 
 

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