Rethinking a Life of Fly Fishing

Offshore Florida

I have been fly fishing for a long time, and like many of the devoted, I have been uncompromising in my angling pursuits, sacrificing everything from a semester of college to jobs to nights in awful motels or my car in exchange for tight lines (and sometimes not even that).

From my early days of fishing Appalachia to later exploring Caribbean flats in Mexico, there are two things I have not been able to ignore:

1. My fishing, like almost everything I do from showering to driving to the grocery store, comes with a cost to the environment.

This is an easy thing to ignore, largely because the idea that we damage the resources we love is an inconvenient and a disheartening truth. Regardless, if I drive my truck 12 miles to the coast or if I fly to Florida to tear around the Keys in a flats boat, my passion for exploring the outdoors does in fact bring harm to those very places.

2. I encounter devastating poverty nearly everywhere I fish, and often, I am the beneficiary of this poverty.

In California, I can buy a dozen avocados for a dollar on Highway 1. Across from the avocado stand, I can see migrant workers grinding it out in the same fields that have a history of labor abuse and related human suffering. While this is an easily identifiable example, it takes very little to see that we are surrounded with additional examples. Anglers are now finally asking where their flies come from and why children are tying their flies in countries that have records of labor and environmental abuse. Again, there are countless examples.

So now the challenging part: How to respond. I don’t have an answer for this, but I know that as a taker, I have a duty to give back. Do I make lunches for migrant workers and pick up trash at the beach each time I fish? What about international trips in which Third World poverty might be tougher to tackle? I want (and maybe need) to be continually in search of new fish in new waters. As this comes at a cost, and as my indulgence too often puts me alongside those in poverty, I need to determine how I can pursue my passions without neglecting the needs of my neighbor.

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