Posted by: AAPGAI | February 7, 2016


An article written by Ron Holloway.


Changes for the good in fly fishing are welcome, however changes for the worse

should be challenged by all who really care for our sport. The problem is however,

who, other than the individual, can arbitrate on what is good and what is not? One

thing for certain is fly-fishing has progressed through the years and tackle and

methods of use have developed exponentially with the introduction and use of

sophisticated manufacturing technology and space age materials.

Experience also teaches us “old stagers” of fly fishing that fly fishing today is

now somewhat different to fly fishing as we knew it in 1958. Whether all the

changes these tackle improvements have spawned have been for the good is open

for debate. There appear to be signs that the historic attitudes and ethics within

angling and present day fly fishing in particular, have changed or are coming under

threat. Maybe it is that fly-fishing has been inevitably led to change since those

halcyon days of pre 1958, and that these are due more to environmental and human

social changes beyond our control? What ever it may be, there is a growing

realisation within the ranks of us “old stagers” that fly fishing as known in earlier

times has lost or is in danger of losing contact with its historic traditions, sporting

ethics and philosophies. All of which have been handed down from generation to

generation. On the other hand today’s “old stagers” are not advocating returning to the

tunnel visioned, dogmatic Halfordian attitudes that shackled dry fly fishing in bygone


It has, in many cases, been the traditions and sporting ethics set down in the writings

of the recognised influential doyens of the early days of fly fishing that have

influenced and attracted so many people into a life long love of our sport once they

have been introduced to its beauties and complexities. This wonderful sport of ours

has, through absorbing its rich literature and in its practical participation with a rod in

hand, afforded so many thought provoking natural challenges, endless enjoyment,

peaceful relaxation and personal satisfaction to so many human beings. It has been

that way for many generations of fly fishers, and above all it has greatly enriched so

many human lives along the way.

The great technical advances in modern tackle design and manufacture has

encouraged the development and use of some new and very ingenious methods for

catching game fish, some of which, it is feared, now bare little resemblance to fly

fishing as it was known in 1958! As these new methods have evolved and are

developed and used under the heading of fly fishing then it is surely for the individual

angler to voluntarily impose upon himself any arbitrary regulations he sees fit that

maintains their sporting use. The criteria for setting these arbitrary conditions should

be to maintain a code of sporting practice that respects the prey and contributes to

the maintenance of the written and unwritten voluntarily accepted ethics and sporting

traditions of the art of fly fishing.

Is it little wonder many “put & take” fishermen eventually tire of regular predictable

angling experiences? Some either give up fly fishing altogether or as their skills

improve some acquire the urge to move on to seek further challenges to their fly

fishing skills by becoming an AAPGAI instructor or by hunting genuine wild species

of fish either in the sea or fresh water. It does not take much time for these true

sporting fly fisherman to appreciate the new challenges that nature offers. The

measure of the quality of the fishing experience, allied with the appreciation of the

natural beauty of the surroundings are both inversely proportional to their artificiality.

Could it be the lack of fly life that is responsible for stimulating some of the observed

changes in fly fishing attitudes? Or could it be the methods now employed by some

anglers, which, in turn, may indirectly be compromising our sports historic traditions

and ethics? Changes that now see people fishing the hallowed dry fly chalk stream

beats for trout “across and down” with brightly coloured weighted lures because there

is little or no active fly life these days to bring trout up to the surface to feed. Except

maybe when the May Fly are up.

New tactics have evolved to catch trout and grayling. These fishing methods are

quite legal and there is little doubt at times that these methods are very successful at

fish catching but can some of these methods really be classified under the heading of

fly-fishing? Where can a line be drawn, or in fact and more importantly whether such

a line should be drawn?

This being the case should we as fly fishermen even care? Just as the

“upstream dry fly only to a rising fish” code of practice developed a hundred plus

years or so ago, should then similar arbitrary decisions be made by fishery managers,

fishery owners as well as the individual fly fisherman of today. The question is who

determines if, how, when and where the use of these modern techniques are

acceptable or not. To date no one appears to be willing to come out and take a

definitive position one way or the other.

If we really think about it, have things changed all that much during the last fifty

years? It is a matter of personal choice whether a fly fisherman adopts or adapts to

these modern changes. The most important thing is that today’s fly fishers continue to

happily fish legally in the manner that suits them, abide by the local rules and in

doing so maintain and protect the historic values and philosophies and sporting

guidelines all of which have underpinned the evolution of our wonderful sport.

One of our greatest privileges as fly fishermen is to be in a position to release some of

our catch of genuine native and wild trout if we want to. This is not out of a

sentimental avoidance of the act of killing a wild or native trout. It is the awareness

that on many waters of this country which are still able to carry self sustaining stocks

of wild and or native brown trout from season to season, that wild and native trout are

now far more valuable as sport, or the promise of sport than they are as food for the

belly, or sops to the vanity.

So where does all this leave us today?

One of the most influential pieces of angling writing on this subject is

encapsulated in an essay by the late fly fisherman, writer and conservationist,

Ed Zern which appeared in the “Field and Stream”some forty or more years ago

entitled “The Ethics of Fly Fishing”. In essence that essay, at the time sowed the

seeds from which have grown my present heartfelt feelings concerning the wonderful

sport which has been such an integral part of my life for the past fifty years or more.

Thirty years of which were spent as a river keeper on the Upper River Itchen in

Hampshire. When given some thought, it seems that all the problems of life are

ethical problems and so to attempt to separate out the ethics of fly-fishing is found to

be rather difficult.

The essence of our sport of fly-fishing and dry fly fishing in particular, is skill, and

the voluntary imposition or acceptance of arbitrary conditions demanding these skills.

Fly fishing usually requires more skills than fishing with metal spinners or heavy

spoons, fly casting generally requires more skill than spinner casting or bait casting.

Fly fishing encourages the development of collateral senses and skills as in the

powers of observation and ability of identification of insects and the dexterity of

tying accurate imitations of the same. Dry fly fishing hones the skills in adept field

craft it encourages a stealthy stream approach and delicate fly presentation. Dry fly

fishing can in my opinion be a more sporting and exciting way of catching trout we

see feeding off the surface of the water. If, at times the spin and bait and the Czech

style nymph fisherman catches more fish than the fly fisherman is irrelevant because

it could just be the other way around, but then who really cares?

The sport of fly-fishing is surely not a game or a competition between fishermen, it is

an end in itself. If we look at those great figures in the historical tradition of fly-

fishing, they are not the men who caught the largest fish or hold an array of cups and

shields and medals for the greatest numbers caught. They are those men who like

Ronalds, Francis, Mottram, Sheringham, Halford, Marryat, Skues, Lord Gray of

Falloden, Dermot Wilson, Theodore Gordon, Lee Wulff, Frank Sawyer Vincent

Marinaro, John Goddard and Peter Lapsley and many others who have given to our

sport, lasting contributions of thought and knowledge, of the fish themselves, of fly

fishing and fishing philosophy. All of which is set down in their writings and

illustrated above all by their good sportsmanship.

There have always been those fishermen who could accumulate more fish in their

catch returns than anyone else. They belong to a fraternity who have that over

whelming desire to be seen to have caught the most fish. Why is this? Because it is so

important to them, but fortunately no one seems to remember who they were. If our

precious rights to pursue our sport are to survive unmolested into the future and our

angling waters protected and well maintained for the benefit and use by our children

and our children’s children to fish, then maybe a good start in this direction would be

a movement away from today’s media driven statistics angling culture where, “must

be seen to catch”, size, weight and numbers appear to be paramount.

The time is rapidly approaching for us all to pause and seriously reflect on how our

sport has evolved in our lifetime and envisage how we wish it to progress in the

future. Finally and more importantly we should question in what state we leave our

beloved sport of fly fishing to future generations.