Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna L. Birkholm

March 15th, 1999


Interesting stuff in the mail this week. Two in particular were especially interesting from the difference in attitude.

The first was a Press Package (most outdoor writers who are members of the Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America (OWAA) get such press packages or at least press releases from everyone in the outdoor industry) which came from Mad River Canoe. Actually it's a little hard to tell exactly since the letterhead also had Wilderness Systems, Trinity Bay, Voyager, WindRider and Confluence on it.

At any rate, included was all sorts of neat color fliers of happy folks in kayaks and canoes, for each of the companies I just mentioned. The neatest part was the information about something called, "You Can Paddle! Days."

Quoting, "In a effort to bring new people into paddlesports and to support their dealers, Mad River Canoe and Wilderness Systems will bring their joint You Can Paddle! Days promotion to more than 200 venues in the United States beginning this March. This year's program, offered in partnership with dealers and co-sponsored by Chevy, will offer dealer and staff clinics and on-water consumer demonstrations."

Reading further I discover this is not something new, but a program previously know as "You Can Canoe! Days," was established by Mad River Canoe in 1985 and has introduced thousands of people to canoeing (and the Mad River Canoe product line) over the past fifteen years. That's very neat!

File that one away, and now comes the second Press Release. This one is from the American Fly Fishing Trade Assoc. (AFFTA.) This is a new group, about a year old, made up of fly fishing manufactures, shops, outfitters, sales reps, and speciality media. One of the more important stated objectives of AFFTA is to promote the sport of fly fishing.

It helps if you have good information in any business, so the folks at AFFTA commissioned a recent survey which revealed there are 6.5 million active fly-fishing participants age 16 or older in the U.S. An "active" fly fisher is defined as someone who went fly-fishing three or more times in the previous 12 months.

The survey also found that "10.9 million people have fly fished at least once in the last 12 months, and of this number, 40 percent were men age 45 or older. Some 25 percent of active fly-fishers are women, (a substantial increase over the 16 percent who reported active involvement in 1995.)"

"On the average the fly-fisher has participated in the sport for 16.6 years, owns 2.5 fly rods, [no pun intended. Editor] and spent an average of $278 on fly-fishing apparel and equipment in the last 12 months. Eighty-one percent pursued fresh water fishing, and seven percent enjoyed the sport in salt water, and 12 percent did both."

That pretty much lets you know who the survey folks think we are.

Here is the kicker: "Of significant interest to AFFTA members should be the finding that 18.3 million people - a full nine percent - over the age of 16 who have spin cast before with live bait are now interested in trying fly-fishing," said Bill Klyn, AFFTA president. "The challenge will be to develop effective marketing programs to target this huge growth opportunity."

Ok, how about a little mental comparison here. The canoe and kayak folks already have a program to get people into their boats and on the water. Just maybe these two groups should be talking to each other? Questions like how the canoe folks organize and set up their programs? What works and what doesn't? Time of the year and places that seem to get the best response?

If AFFTA is serious about promoting fly fishing, they should be doing more than producing another book for beginners. (Not that there aren't excellent ones already on the market.)

It seems to me there should be a program, available to shops, groups (as in Boy Scout, Girl Scouts, 4-H, Hooked on Fishing, Pass It On, and such) and local chapters of TU and FFF which provides a format for a Fly Fishing Day held on the local level. Get fly rods into the hand of folks who are interested! Teach basic casting, simple bug identification, just a very basic introduction. Enough to peak the interest of people who, according to the survey, are already interested.

Should this be of interest to AFFTA members? It already is. Should it be an interest of AFFTA directors? From the dollar standpoint I would think so! Will it help fly fishing? Hmmmm - there may be some conflict on that one, but my bottom line is every new person coming to fly fishing will bring another voice.

How? JC and I have been teaching fly fishing and casting for many years. The first time one of our students catches and releases a fish, that fish becomes THEIR FISH! As fly fishers we get very proprietary about our fish, and the water they live in. The folks who do not fish just don't care. Do fly fishers care more than spin or bait casters? I won't touch that one. I'm not ducking the question, I really don't hang out with many of those folks, but I do know fly fishers care a lot. And most got their start with spinning rods and bait.

I realize AFFTA is still a new organization. But I have a piece of advice, one that is far more important than it may appear on the surface. It is a carved-in-granite rule which FAOL lives by: Everyone who works on this website is a fly fisher; Period!

If all the folks working for AFFTA aren't fly fishers, I would suggest they learn darn fast. Without that, you don't speak the language. And don't have a clue. Marketing can be a very complex business, but without the insight of being in the mind of the fly fisher it doesn't work.

The sad part about the fly-fishing business which has always troubled me is the lack of co-operation and willingness to share information, or help the other guy. Moreover, the unwillingness to accept valuable information when offered. (The I'm the guru you're squat attitude.) Some fly shops are even worse, lying about a competitors product or bad-mouthing another shop. If the industry is to prosper, and fly fishing to survive, it's time to stop that crap.

"Develop effective marketing programs" Bill? Try coming up with a program that supports fly fishing first! ~ Deanna Birkholm

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

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