When the world closed its doors in 2020 in response to the global pandemic, Americans did something not many expected. They retreated…outdoors. 

Across the outdoor recreation spectrum, participation in virtually every outdoor pursuit grew significantly as Americans looked for recreational opportunities outdoors with their families. And one of those pursuits was fly fishing.

In 2020, fly fishing enjoyed a single-year growth rate of more than 11 percent — the largest year-over-year bump on record. Suddenly, fly fishing wasn’t so “fringe.” Yes, it was still a niche, but it was a niche with real clout.

And for the last 3 years, data coming back from 2021 marks fly fishing can boast more than 7 million active participants — more than 2 percent of the country’s total population. A recent Angling Trade survey reported that 89 percent of those queried saw a “surge” in fishing-related purchases in 2021. In response, the survey reports, 53 percent of retailers greatly increased their stock in 2022. Unfortunately, the survey shows that around 80% percent of those surveyed reported a decrease in expected demand in 2023.


The message? We’re relevant, and we matter, but the COVID bubble, while not exactly quite ready to burst, has at least deflated significantly. It is natural to see a decline now that the world has opened back up and there are so many competing interests for people’s time. COVID provided an ironic chance to expose millions of people to fishing. Now we need to show them more reasons to stay out on the water. The time to strike is now by building on our relevance and engaging more people. We must share our passion for fly fishing with others. 

Time to engage

First, let’s be clear on one thing — when it comes to getting more involved in political and conservation circles, inaction is not an option. As an industry sporting a healthy and steady growth rate + numbers — even across the decade preceding COVID-19 — we have a responsibility to our customers, clients, retailers, and manufacturers to put our clout to work for the good of the resources we utilize.

It’s important we consider the influence potential we can have in conservation circles and how healthy receipts across the fly-fishing spectrum can boost R&D and help our corner of the industry produce the best and most sustainable gear and equipment anywhere. 

Airflo’s “Terracycle” program is a great testament to how solid participation in fly-fishing can lead to producers taking long-term approaches to their own environmental impact. However, in order for these programs to exist, there needs to be a certain level of participation – and that level needs to either increase or hold steady for programs such as “Terracyle” to continue.

Our standing in the outdoor recreation industry gives us more opportunity to pursue real, meaningful growth of the craft. From entry-level fly gear with the potential to expand and broaden the experience for more traditional anglers, to more nuanced sectors like soft-good production, travel, and media that continue to grow and prosper, we can now punch above our weight class. 

Of course, it’s more than just being healthy as an industry. Our industry, quite uniquely, depends on healthy watersheds, clean water, access to public lands and waters and general conservation education.

Part of being more active on behalf of our craft involves working with important conservation partners, like Trout Unlimited and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, two groups that put boots in the water to make fishing better for everyone. Membership in these groups consists largely of fly anglers, and that’s relevant — these folks speak our language and want to know what we have to say. Importantly, they, along with other groups like the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) are at the forefront of the efforts to protect and restore the resources we need to keep our craft strong and sustainable. Using their knowledge and experience, we can engage credibly and appropriately in the places where it counts.

Use it or lose it?

That’s why we need to use our influence and endeavor to keep it. Fly fishing must present a united front as an industry in order to maximize the influence we’ve earned. Together, we’re stronger. Together we have more credibility in political lobbying circles and more influence with management agencies. Together we have more impact when we go after bad actors who seek to tarnish the environmental assets we need to keep our pastime healthy.

Image via Arian Stevens from last years ‘Native Fish Society Homewater Roundup’.

As an industry, we can do many things to put our influence to work. But perhaps it’s best to be organized and coordinated — to speak and act united whenever possible. In this vein, and amazing resource for organizing our influence and putting it to work is happening this summer in Orlando. 

Last year’s attendees flooding onto the ICAST floor.

The annual ICAST trade show, produced by the American Sportfishing Association, is the largest fishing tackle show in the world — last year, more than 13,000 people in the overarching recreational fishing industry attended. 

This “Super Bowl of trade shows” offers the fly-fishing industry unfettered access to our peers in the conventional tackle industry, and it gives us the opportunity to share our craft across the massive fishing industry as a whole. But perhaps most importantly, it gives us a chance to come together and talk about the issues affecting fly fishing and how to use our influence to address them.

What’s more, we’re being courted by the ASA to be a significant part of the 2024 show this coming July in Orlando. Last year, the ICAST show dedicated more floor space to fly fishing and expanded the show’s new product showcase to include six fly fishing gear and equipment categories. This year, the number of categories will grow to 10, and, again, more exhibit space will be dedicated to fly.

“We wanted to let all of the fishing community know that fly fishing is a big part of the picture, and it is important to have it all under one roof,” said Blake Swango, ASA’s Vice President in charge of membership and the annual ICAST trade show. “Our team came up with a concept to create a special experience for fly fishing vendors (at ICAST) by creating a dedicated ‘fly zone’ on the show floor. It was a huge success.”

The ICAST Fly Shop gives exhibitors the chance to show off their products in a shop-like environment, where they can interact with retailers and connect with one another for meaningful interaction. There’s no other opportunity like it, where we can gather as an industry in a setting where we can rub elbows with the larger conventional gear and tackle folks and work together to grow our industry and build on our influence. 

Add to our voice, increase our strength

By adding the fly fishing industry’s voice to issues already on the table for the conventional angling side of things, we can help push issues across the finish line. And, we can earn the trust and goodwill from conventional anglers. Communication and coordination is key — an “us vs. them” approach doesn’t work. Conservation issues affect all anglers. 

And, as Swango noted, attendance at the ICAST event in Orlando this year comes with an ASA membership.

“Not only does ASA produce the largest sportfishing show in the world, but we are also the leader in advocating for the sportfishing community, and an important source of education and resource materials for our members,” he said. “ASA represents our member organizations in front of both state and federal lawmakers to ensure access to fish and abundant fisheries. It also protects these members from unfair trade and commerce policies.”

Simply put, it’s our best opportunity to show our force and flex the muscles we’ve worked hard to build. It’s a public-facing opportunity to show our fellow industry professionals that the fly fishing corner of the industry is growing and that our contribution to outdoor recreation and the efforts to work on sustaining the resources we need to ensure our continued growth will be outsized. 

It’s our best chance to use the clout we’ve earned. It’s our greatest opportunity to show we’re serious about continued, sustainable growth. It’s our best shot to show up and show out with all anglers. United

To learn more about ICAST 2024 and its mission to support fly fishing, Click HERE. Registrations open Today!

ICAST 2023 Enhances and Expands Fly Fishing with New Features


  1. I am very sorry to have to say this, but climate change deniers have no place in the public voice of fly fishers. They are damaging their own sport. I have lost all patience with these people, and their like-minded friends who vote for politicians who want to kill the EPA, de-regulate everything, and support every extractive industry that comes down the pike.


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