Has the Internet age damaged our beloved hobby? (The irony of the medium on which you’re reading this isn’t lost on me, by the way.) I consider myself an above average consumer of digital media; I am not an old, crotchety luddite who longs to travel back to a history where information was mostly found at the local library, back to a time where America was great again. I am still barely a relatively young techno-gen-Y-millennialist, looking to find the latest and greatest technological development in fly fishing gear, and mostly looking for that information online. But I can’t help wondering how my experience of fly fishing and the fly fishing culture differs from previous less tech-empowered generations?
The benefits of the Internet to the pursuit of our hobby are obvious and widespread. Conservation efforts have been given a larger voice and the ability to share crucial information efficiently has been a boon. Information has likely never been more accessible for a new fly angler to learn and advance in skill and knowledge. For those of us who choose the conventional worker bee life, either by inertia or lack of forethought, (my choice being the latter), the gift of video, pictures, etc., keep us excited and partially satiated until our next outing. And it is easier to be a well-informed fly angler because of the information available online: we can now view a photo map of our fishing locations; we can look up the flow of the rivers we fish to see how high the probability of drowning is the day we intend to fish; and we can often find out what some expert, or self-styled expert—“I’m the best at fly fishing. I’ve never much done it, but I’m the best…”—thinks the best flies and techniques for a given piece of water are. Certainly the benefits aren’t limited to just the above.
Now that I’ve completed the obligatory view of the half-full glass, what does the empty portion have to say, (besides “drink me and pour another)”? I think it would say we’ve lost some of the romance and mystery that fuels us in fly fishing. Isn’t a part of our enjoyment the pursuit of the obscured? The discovery of the unknown? Uncovering the secrets ourselves as if we are the first to ever discover such things? If we lose the mystery of discovery, do we lose some of the magic of fly fishing?
In my desire to produce hero shots, like those seen continuously on social media, I’ve at times lost track of why and how I enjoy to fish. And I’ve noticed that I am no longer as impressed by the hero shots others post. If it is true that familiarity breeds indifference, I for one don’t want to be so familiar. I want to uncover the mystery of new water on my own. The mystery of the novel makes the experience better. You see, fly fishing is just like sex…never mind; I don’t really mean that; it’s not like that at all.
Fly Fishing isn’t the easiest hobby to in which to endeavor. The fact that it takes study, practice, exploration and experience to gain proficiency is one of its greater values. I’ve conversed with many anglers who after reading a forum, article, or opinion, have mentally abandoned personal trial and error for what they now perceive as gospel. What happened to a past when the average angler had the great pleasure of figuring out new water on his own? That is how we make something ours. I suspect the answer is those generations of fly anglers without the gift of the Internet in many ways had a richer overall fly fishing experience. The process may have been slower, but more rewarding in the end.
[Should I fear that the Internet will eventually bring about a dystopian future where we no longer need to actually go fly fishing, preferring instead to enjoy our fishing experience through the eye of an “expert” who posts his angling to an online game where we can enjoy his exploits as if our own? After all, don’t kids these days enjoy the experience of Grand Theft Auto, forsaking the actual stealing and mayhem of a life of crime like we did back in the good old days? No, I don’t think I’ll fear that at all. I’ll stick to fearing more reasonable things, like fearing trans-fats and gluten.
So what’s the moral of my musings? Read the Burkheimer Blog and then turn off your computer. Go fishing somewhere new without reading all about it on the Internet. And don’t panic.