OPINION: Fly Fishing “Brand Ambassadors” + Social Media – What Might They Be Doing to Your Fishery?

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The beat up tail of a spawning male brown trout on the Green River. PC: Instagram
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The following was written and submitted by Ryan Hudson. Owner and Guide of Wyoming Fishing Company.

As anglers, we have all discussed it and most of us have even witnessed it in real life.  You run into someone on the river whose top goal is increasing followers on their social media of choice by targeting that one “photo” fish, sometimes with photographer and/or videographer in tow. Days or weeks later, you see that angler, with “that fish” from “that day” all over the internet and maybe gracing the pages of some of your favorite brands, or even worse – the cover of your favorite “fish porn” magazine.

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All of us anglers have the right to post pictures, showing off our catch to our friends. That type of bragging has been going on for decades, and that’s what makes it great. Sometimes photos are the only memory you have from a great catch-and-release fishing trip, but what about those who are taking these pictures for something else?

Trying to gain fame, free “schwag” or credibility within their social circle. And many times doing whatever it takes for this type of so-called fame, even to the detriment of the fisheries and to the actual fish.

Are these self-promoted “brand ambassadors” helping or hurting the sport?

On the Pro Staff, brah….

Popular fishing brands – those that have been around for a long time and also up-and-coming brands to the sport, have created incentives to anglers or “brand ambassadors”, at times, with free gear to use fishing photos supporting their gear and apparel, and this has become a popular goal of anglers who want to try and fish for a living, and why not?! Get free gear to go fishing, absolutely!

Brand ambassadors can and have been responsible stewards to the fishery resource for many years, but it seems in the last few years many will go to any length for a cover shot, free gear or any sort or clout in the fly fishing industry.

One common action in spring and fall is for the “ambassadors” to show up and target fish on gravel in their redds.  AKA, Spawning trout.  If you need any introduction to why targeting spawning trout is unethical and often FATAL to spawning trout and the nest of eggs, refer to my past article HERE.

Being that the ambassadors are visitors to Wyoming in most cases, it’s extremely convenient for them to show up when trout are in shallow water spawning.  Get a big fish quick, hashtag it up, tag your brands and start to gain followers and more brand support.  It’s quick, easy and they have another hundred plus followers before they even make it out of Wyoming.

As a guide/outfitter throughout Wyoming who is on the water locally 11-12 months out of the year, I have seen many well-known social media celebrities come and go.  Unfortunately, the majority of these guys (and gals) all push ethical lines and/or break the laws to get their “hero shot”.

I have seen this for years and finally have had enough after this last incident and figured people should hear about it.   I’ve heard rumors of people saying I lied, heard other rumors saying this was on the reef and even heard rumors that people said this wasn’t even in Wyoming….so lets clear a few things up.

You Made the Cover, braaaaah….

Patrick Duke on the cover of American Angler. Notice the beat up tail.

The cover shot of the December 2017 edition of American Angler magazine is a perfect example of the desecration to this sport and the seriousness of this “brand ambassador” attitude.  This magazine has just shy of 30k readers in it’s 30 years of publication. The cover photo is of Patrick Duke, a fishing guide in Colorado, presenting an impressive male brown trout, a trophy fish anyone would love to claim. The brown also has a noticeable beat up tail… you guessed it, from being on gravel on the redd.

This spawning brown trout was caught on a stretch of the Green River. You ask how I know that? I witnessed the fish when it was caught and saw it with my own eyes. It came off a historical brown trout redd that has been established for many years – even longer than my 14 years fishing the river.  To clarify, this fish was caught in water open for fishing.

Duke claims it was “in the drop behind the redd”…. but c’mon, that’s the most common excuse from anglers who hold beat-up finned fish in their photos.  As a guide, I’m sure Patrick has either heard this excuse a lot or maybe even used it a time or two. Or maybe he puts his clients on redds regularly and hasn’t, I don’t know.  As I floated on, I saw Colorado photographer Matt Shaw carrying some serious camera equipment as he made the hike back to Duke, who held the brown in his net until Matt arrived, so they could get the perfect shot, their hero shot.

But all of that is technically legal… so far

Fishing spawners is legal, however unethical in my humble opinion (and many others in this sport).  But that isn’t where this story ends.

After this fish was caught, Duke’s group of anglers drove up to a closed section of river, launched their raft and began to fish. This section of the Green River closes EVERY year from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 and it has been this way for many years. It is also clear in the state fishing regulations. It didn’t take long before someone (a non-resident guide) noticed them fishing illegally and called Wyoming Game & Fish (WGF).  According to Mr. Duke’s instagram account, he has visited this area in years’ past (during the fall) so he should’ve known that last year’s closure was no exception.

Upon speaking to the group, the WGF Warden discovered that:

  • The group was fishing a closed section of river that is marked where they put their raft in
  • Duke was not following the law by providing life jackets for the group in his raft
  • Patrick Duke had not purchased a Wyoming fishing license

Duke was issued citations for each violation, including fines. Fishing without a license is poaching.

Upon further investigation, I’ve found no records indicating that Duke purchased his aquatic invasive species boat sticker, which is required by WY law and most likely didn’t have an AIS inspection at the Wyoming/Colorado border, another legal requirement for any water craft to enter the state of Wyoming.

As a self-proclaimed ambassador, licensed Colorado fishing guide and an assuming role model of the sport, surely this group of guys should’ve known that they needed to satisfy the legal requirements they violated. At least one like purchasing a fishing license… right?

Upon contacting American Angler Magazine, it was discovered that the Editor, Ben Roman had no knowledge of this incident. (Update: After posting this article it has been shared that Romans is the former Editor of AA)

“I liked the space around Duke and the fish for cover lines….blue sky… dripping wet fish and Patrick showing some “emotion” in the picture,” said Romans, when contacted about the incident, “Unfortunately, I didn’t notice something significant. The trout had a damaged tail and underside, which is typically a sign its spawning and in the process of clearing gravel from a redd.”

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Romans and I both agree that preventing situations like this is the “million dollar” question that seems impossible to find an answer in the current climate of sport fishing.  Mr. Romans was not present on the Green River the day this fish was poached, and it’s unfortunate that Patrick Duke and Matt Shaw would try and hide this from the people who promote them and their angling/photographic skill set. After all, wildlife pursued in any state by illegal measures is defined as poaching.

Ambassadors of our sport and their photographers have a way of concealing these events, allowing the incident to go unnoticed.  Until it makes it to the cover of a nationwide magazine and the right eyes see the cover photo.  Leaving the brands they represent and magazines such as American Angler in a bad spot, to say the least. This is why it is up to the public to keep their eyes open, and in this case, they did.

I don’t believe that Ben and American Angler are in the business of the “the hero shot” and promoting unethical behavior.  As a matter of fact, American Angler received the very first endorsement this winter from the keepemwet.org movement.

This movement is an conscious effort to use images of dripping wet fish, in hopes that it will help people learn better fish handling. (Look for more information about it in the March/April issue of American Angler.)

Spawner Tail on Duke's Instagram page, from the same location.

As for this incident, the fish was claimed to be caught ethically, but by the looks of Mr. Duke’s instagram page, he has caught a few mature male browns at this spot over the years, in the fall, directly below a classic brown trout redd and most/all with beat tails (according to his instagram account).  I guess that’s just coincidence…

Notice the same background on the shot below?  This is the same dogleg turn in almost all of Duke’s photos shown in this piece, other than one above.  According to his instagram, this fish was caught this year when the cover shot fish was caught, notice the same zip-up sweater as in the cover shot?

Follow-Up

At some point we must understand going to any lengths illegally/unethically for social fame shouldn’t be accepted by followers and the sponsoring companies should take additional steps to prevent this, maybe vet the ambassadors just a little, after all, they are representing you..sometimes illegally, you just don’t know it.  In this case, great organizations like Hatch Reels, Thomas & Thomas, Orvis, Yeti Coolers, Howler Brothers & Cortland Fly Line all have been misrepresented by Patrick Duke and they should be aware of this. Let them know you don’t approve.

Trophy Spawner from the dogleg turn, a few years ago
Same Spawner, just flipped. Brand ambassador attitude.

Maybe the incentives these companies create for the ambassadors are pushing anglers to do whatever necessary for their fame shots, and that needs to stop or change. The crowd of responsible anglers notice this and are taking note.  Ambassadors are role models to the angling community, keep that in mind.

As brand ambassadors of such prestigious brands and stewards of the resource, targeting spawners should be ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE.  Unfortunately, the sponsoring companies and magazines such as American Angler have to be even more weary of poachers looking to gain fame, as this is a CLEAR example of fine brands and a magazine being that were taken advantage of.

We fly fish for the sole purpose of memorable interactions with fish at a low risk to the fishes’ wellbeing, not because we want to slay fish. It brings us together, in places we love and want to protect for the future. If slaying fish was the goal, then we would be ripping rapalas and snelling sucker meat to circle hooks all the time.

What Can You Do

  1. Obey the laws regarding fishing.
  2. Read and obey boating regulations pertaining to Aquatic Invasive Species.
  3. Keep an eye out for illegal guides.
  4. Understand negative impacts of targeting and handling spawners and inform those targeting spawning trout.
  5. Don’t fish spawning trout
  6. Don’t anchor or wade around spawning trout.
  7. Keep the fish wet and limit time out of the water.
  8. Fish barbless hooks.

 

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Both resident and non-resident sportsmen and women must continue to keep an eye on our fisheries if we want the quality to remain. Wyomingites are fortunate to have non-residents love our state as much as we do. If we work together and honestly/ethically follow these guidelines, we may see less dead fish.

We’re simply tired of watching social media celebrities visit areas that are special to people, disrespect those people by breaking laws and pushing ethical boundaries, and take fish however they can for their own gain, just for gear and followers (and I’m not talking about putting meat on the table.)

It’s time to stand up against this type of fishing. Feel free to contact me if you have any ideas!

Ryan Hudson
Wyoming Fishing Company
ryhud85@gmail.com

#dontfishspawners #donttreadonme #leavespanwersalone #spawningtrout #flyfish #flyfishing #saveourfisheries #wildtrout #mindtheredd


 

Ryan Hudson lives in Daniel, Wyoming and is Owner/Operator of the Wyoming Fishing Company LLC alongside his black lab Ichabod who is the first mate.