Whether we like it or not, fishing and politics are inextricably intertwined. That may be an anathema to you. It might boil your blood that our favorite pastime is immersed in politics these days. Fishing is supposed to be an escape from the troubles of our world, not something that sucks us deeper into its turbulent waters. Trust me, I’m just as angry and disappointed as you are.
When I started fly fishing, I was an emotionally burned-out senior political aid working in Congress. Fly fishing was my escape from the frustrations that enveloped me on a daily basis – frustrations that hit me like a ton of bricks the moment I set foot on the marble floors of our nation’s capitol. Every day, I would sit at my desk with an insatiable itch in my feet to rip off my cognac-colored dress shoes, replace them with felt-soled wading boots, and wander with a peaceful heart and carefree mind through the wild waters and woods of Virginia.
Regularly escaping the insanity of our crazy world is something we owe ourselves and is something we desperately need for our wellbeing. We need to find solace on vast public lands. We need to delight in the sheer ecstasy of tarpon jumps and the blistering runs of chrome steelhead. And we need to cleanse our souls with the cold, clean waters of a mountain stream. But these days, it is not enough to just enjoy these resources. It is even more important to fight for them.
I wish it were not the case, but our public lands, waters, and fish are experiencing unprecedented partisan political attacks that threaten the future of these shared and cherished American resources. That is not an alternative fact or my opinion. It’s the God’s honest truth. And if we are going to enjoy these resources in the future, we need to join together today and get political, no matter how distasteful that may be to you.
You may believe that politics and fishing should stay separate, but politics does not stop at the water’s edge. It shapes the very foundation of our sport. It determines if our rivers are clean enough to support the fish we chase. It determines what lands we can fish on and whether we can access them. And it even determines how expensive our gear is.
So to suggest that our industry needs to bury its head in the sand is shortsighted. To threaten to boycott any company, organization, or media outlet that takes a political stance is self-defeating. Even worse, to demand that our industry stops publicly engaging in the political process that shapes the bedrock of fly fishing is to be complicit in our collective demise.
Yes, this is politics, but it does not have to be partisan politics. What we’re talking about is protecting our shared values as sportsmen. These values do not divide along party lines, but rather are fundamental American values we all share. When we put those values first and speak up for them, we can become a powerful force that has a real impact on our political system.
That means that we need to be willing to call out any politician that threatens these values and to support any politician that strengthens them, regardless of party. Equally important, we need to celebrate and support companies, conservation organizations, and media outlets that have the character to speak up on behalf of our collective interests and that have the courage to wade into murky political waters. Last but not least, we need to encourage and empower our fellow anglers to get involved, speak up, and fight tirelessly for these values.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Those are profound words that still ring true today. If we stay silent and refuse to speak up, if we stay angry and divided, and if we do not hold our politicians’ feet to the fire and demand they fight to protect our resources, the things that matter most to us will die, and we will be the ones to blame. Silence and division are no longer options. We need to pave a new path forward.
* Thanks to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition for letting us use their photo from this week’s public lands rally in Montana.