Is the Instagram Lifestyle Killing Fly Fishing?

Posted by & filed under Public Lands, Stories.

By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
April 11, 2018


The fishing community at large has a love-hate relationship with today’s Instagram lifestyle.

On one hand, it’s great to have the ability to share photos and video with thousands of other anglers. Seeing the creativity in how others capture the raw beauty of nature only spurs more innovation in outdoors media. Like all good things, though, there’s a downside to the modern Instagram lifestyle.

I should probably get this out of the way right now — I love social media, and I really love Instagram. 99% of the users there work to make fly fishing a better sport and community, and to raise awareness for conservation issues.

After reading an article from Ryan Hudson, owner and operator of the Wyoming Fishing Company, in Sweetwater Now, I was unfortunately reminded of the other 1% of fly fishing-oriented social media enthusiasts.

instagram lifestyle photo one

Photo by Spencer Durrant

Hudson’s article retells the story of a fishing guide from Colorado – who’s also a “brand ambassador” for a few fishing companies – who went to fish in Wyoming, caught a spawning brown trout off its redd, held it in the net for 20 minutes waiting for an entire photo crew got upriver to snap some shots.

Oh, and the guy didn’t have a fishing license, and left the scene of that indiscretion to fish part of the Green River that’s closed in the fall every year.

Hudson’s point in retelling the story wasn’t to single out the guide in question – though the poaching scumbag deserves it – but to highlight a growing problem within fly fishing:

Too many anglers are blinded by the opportunity to increase their Instagram lifestyle cred that fishing ethics and common sense go right out the window. Likes and follows mean more than being a responsible steward of the country’s fisheries. Being seen as the angler who makes a living fly fishing feels more important than respecting the fragile, finite natural resources we have.

Now I’m not trying to tell people how to live or how to fish. One of my best friends — Hyrum, who goes by @utah_on_the_fly on Instagram — is a stellar photographer. His Instagram profile gets tons of traffic, deservedly so. Hyrum has definitely cultivated an Instagram lifestyle that shows his passion and love for fly fishing.

Hyrum cares far more about the fish, and the places in which we find them, then he does in getting the “perfect shot” to share on Instagram. He’s yelled at me before because I’ve kept a fish in the net, or out of the water, too long. Half of what I know about photographing fish I’ve learned from watching Hyrum.

Photo by Hyrum Weaver

Ryan Kelly (@greenriverflyfisher on Instagram) is the best fly fishing photographer I know personally. Just like Hyrum, he’s yelled at me for not handling fish right during photo shoots. Ryan is a semi-retired guide on Utah’s Green River. The trout, the river, and the scenery have provided him with an income for about half of his life. But he’s also created a unique Instagram lifestyle that’s drawn the attention of dozens of national publications.

So what’s the point of all this? Well, it’s simple: there’s a right and wrong way to balance your social media enthusiasm with the natural resources you use to generate that content.

What the guide from Colorado did is inexcusable. And I’m not saying that the way Ryan and Hyrum live their Instagram lifestyle is the only right way to do that.

Photo by Ryan Kelly

But every angler worth their salt can agree that sacrificing the potential health of one fish isn’t worth it for a picture that we’ll all forget about in a few weeks.

As much as it may hurt to hear it, I’d say that yes, the Instagram lifestyle is hurting fly fishing. It’s hurting the entire outdoors industry too, but fly fishing is where I make my living. That’s where I see it most, and that’s where I know I, and my fellow content creators in this space, can make a positive difference.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum and Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.