Friday, February 1, 2013

Some thoughts from the middle

Saw a post at Fish Camp Rehab titled Standing in the Generation Gap and really got to thinking. As a little departure from the are my thoughts:

I am a tweener when it comes to the conversation of old school vs new school.  I remember rotary phones and then later carrying a folded up sheet of paper in my wallet so I could call back someone that paged me…unless it was just a code like MMA1 (meet me at my house) or MMA2 (meet me at your house).  I remember NEEDING to have books as they were the only source of information outside my circle that was available to me.  I remember need to have a good set of maps in the car and the ability to read them rather than typing an address or lat/long in to a GPS and blindly following the digital voice.  I remember holding the ideas and writings of ‘industry people’ up as the gospel of fly fishing, and now having met many of them I can say that some deserve that pedestal while others fall short. 

At 35 I feel like the bridge between the old school and the new school; I remember the last way of doing things but also embrace the new ways.  I understand the broader context of issues now but feel the urgency to act now rather than wait.  I am old enough that the old school still calls me a kid, mostly tongue in cheek, while we have a few fingers of whisky neat but young enough that I am not completely out of place doing shots with the next generation.  I still like the feel of a good book in my hand but know that I can find more, and sometimes newer, information online…and that you have to take both sources with a grain of salt and a skeptical eye.

In today’s A.D.D. world of texting, FB, Instgram and microwave meals the younger generation expects instant payoff.  Why in the world would they plan to attend a next month to talk about doing something when they can Facetime each other now and DO SOMETHING tomorrow?  Who can be bothered to plan months out to go to a meeting and see a presentation on something when they can kick back with their friends find the same thing on Youtube?  They are a generation that grew up on line and is more likely to get their current events from Moldy Chum than the local news.  Sadly many would not know Joe Humphreys if he walked up with a smile and shook their hand, something that I actually witnessed with horror at a recent fly show, but would pick Chris Owens out of a crowd with ease.  

I think that the disconnect between the last generation and the next generation is growing and is our own fault, but that can be fixed.  I think the onus falls on us tweeners to bridge the gap.  We have one foot on each side and so the ability to bring together the old and the new.  All the advertising in the industry has changed to target the younger crowd and bring them in to the game, but the attitudes of some people already in the game involved remains a hurdle.  It is not one generation vs the next…it need to be the generations working together to protect and grow the sport we love.  The younger generation does care, is technically savvy, and could be a wrecking ball for good if they have the proper motivation and environment to put their skills to work.  They do not want to be preached to, they want to be worked with.  A little respect given goes a long way for both groups.  Imagine what could happen for projects and initiatives with the new and old school working together.  The guys from the old school have the contacts and capital to get stuff done while the new school has the means to quickly get the word out en masse and mobilize large numbers of people.  Utilizing the strengths of the generations together would be good for everything from shows and conclaves to stream work and pushes for (or against) legislation.  

I am not saying that a fly fishing kegger, as fun as that could be, is the answer to our problems but neither are the endless meetings.   I do think we need a little more ‘What About Bob’ and a little less ‘Groundhog Day’ in our lives….baby steps and action.  Both generations need to understand that the other has something valuable to offer.  We need to leverage those skills towards a common goal of ensuring our sport is around for the next generation to enjoy.   When it comes right down to it, it may take someone with a strong sense of purpose to take the reins and run with it.  That person will have to have thick skin and respect on both sides of the fence to buck the trends and break the molds…pointing the ship back in the right direction.

Whew...writing is exhausting, let’s go fish.

-mike schmidt


  1. Good writing is exhausting. Like this.

  2. Great post Mike. It reminds me of one I started years ago after I quit my position as pres of our local fly fishing club. I didn't get very far in the post b/c I started to feel semi hypocritical and found myself questioning my own position. Where did I stand in there? I think you hit it with the tweener title.
    I'm 40. I don't do shots. (Its an old bull/young bull thing.) I feel like I would be able to ID Owens before Humphreys though I do at least know who Joe Humphreys is. I'm also pretty sure I've never been "farmed by a toad".
    I guess I'm a tweener.

  3. Mike,

    Nice article.

    After reading the about page of a well know blog I'm starting to get it. The text read something like, 'We created this site/biz' whatever because "we didn't see fly fishing clothing that we weren't ashamed to wear'. It went on about their new fly fishing "fashion", most of which was nothing more than what you would find at Journey's or Hot Topic with fish themes attached. The same label was also attached to fly fisherman before them with their "tweed hats and LL Bean gear"; all fashion no function.

    At 38, I'm arguably even more of a tweener, but even back when we started fly fishing we wanted pics and videos that had more in common with Rodney Mullen than Joan Wulff. So I understand the drive and ambition coming into the sport. We had the same drive and many of us channeled it to efforts in conservation and education.

    Anglers in the Ann Arbor area, as you may well know, are now drawing lines in the sand between the two camps every day and holding their positions due in part to the retail climate around them. The way I see it everyone is welcome in this sport as long as they support the efforts to preserve and protect the natural environment where it takes place.

    I met your brother last year at Smith's on the South Branch of the Au Sable and he was just getting into the sport. We talked and fished for about an hour and I got the impression he was going to take to the sport and run with it. I never stopped to think then, would he be on one side or the other, and I hope I never do.


  4. Good job Mike, and you make some very important points. I still carry a paper DeLorme atlas in my car and use it to plan trips and navigate. I've been privy to several other conversations of similar nature over the last year, and we all could use the same things- the wisdom and traditions of the older generation coupled with the get-up-and-go and tech savvy of the next. I too feel like a 'tweener. My family moved to our home in Northern Michigan when the phone lines went in in the early seventies, but I have watched and embraced as best I can how technology has finally become what we always hoped it would.

    Now if we can use it to protect and promote good fisheries, respect, and bring new ones to the fold. Good piece.

  5. Very well-said, Mike. At 46, I suppose I'm more aligned with the Dinosaurs. But I feel much more aligned with the new school. I just find the younger generation more open and inclusive. The Olde Schoole "it's not fly fishing unless you catch it on a dry fly" elitists always annoyed me. Fly fishing doesn't need to be an exclusive country club! You think figuring out how to catch a musky on a fly is cool? Rock on. Good for you! Want to tie flies that look like mice to land Troutasaurus Rex at 3am? Sweet! Many outdoor pursuits are experiencing dramatic loss of participants. Younger generations aren't hunting and fishing as much as they used to. I think making our sport broader and more inclusive is how we build a solid future.

    Of course, I started into this madness as a steelheader. So maybe my perspective is twisted. Oh, wait, I'm a steelheader which means I'm categorically twisted...


  6. A fine summary, Mike. Very fine. At 58 most would look at me and think old school and maybe I'm kidding myself in thinking I'm not, completely. Despite the years, I'm a tweener, at the core. I could go on, but you summarized it perfectly with:

    Both generations need to understand that the other has something valuable to offer.

    That's the problem, though. We've lost that discipline. Compromise and respect for divergent opinions seem things of the past. We need to fix that for so many reasons.

    Thanks for a thoughtful piece. And yes, let's go fish.

  7. Thanks guys. It is not often that I write more than a sentence or two at a time so it is nice when I am able to put something a little more substantive together and it comes off as well as I imagined it in my head. I know that in the piece I generalize and stereotype the two groups...that it is not always so black and white in person. I know guys in their sixties that are as progressive as it gets and guys in their 20s that refuse to do anything but dries on bamboo. In the end it is all about how you feel about the sport and how you choose to participate for it's betterment...or not.

    Ryan, I owe you a thanks man. John talked about meeting you for the next month and how cool it was that you took the time to help out a total stranger and guy his age to boot. He is just getting in to the sport as best he can but I live far enough away that I only get to hit the water with him a few times a year and he is on his own otherwise. He was jacked about getting in to fish and still will not tell me where you were but promised to show me next time I get up there to hit it with him!

  8. Well put, we've been dealing with this in the conservation movement for over a decade now, and it hasn't improved. So many wasted lessons in the older generation, so much wasted energy in the younger generation.

    As a tweener also (38), the part that's most perceptible for me is the balance of power. Older generation (in the conservation movement) has it all and is just not interested in moving off of that rock, or adapting to new things, and since they're in charge, they don't have to change. The efforts I've seen to empower new, young thinkers and doers are lackluster on their very best day. The young generation doesn't have the capital or schedule to be able to pull off massive logistical projects or gatherings, and honestly, they aren't even invited to participate in some of them.

  9. Well said Mike, there is a divide but it's not all on the part of the young guy's and gals trying to get into the business. I've been privy to several conversations with older guy's and Joan about this. She is willing to step aside and let the new gals do the casting demo's but some of these old guy's have massive ego's, and still demand 4 figure speaking fees, to show Kodachrome slides! they also keep in touch with who is speaking where and have a little plan to get each other hired.
    In 05 I was elected Pres of UFT, our oldest tying only club. The first thing I did was no slides, there are places to have a presentation made, then I took that 1500 that our top old speaker got every 2 years, leaving 200-500 for the other speakers for the season. We went to 200 up to 500 for all speakers fees, and you had to be new to the club as a speaker. We also went online looking for new members, we remained stable at 500 members until the most recent economic downturn. Some of the old guys didn't like my approach, but the average age of members dropped 20 years to the mid 50's during my term.
    I'm in my early 60's,primarily a fly tyer and started in this way to late 20 years ago, but if we want the young guys and gals to stay in the business we need to give them some press in the mainstream, spots speaking, teaching and for compensation.

    Peggy Brenner

  10. Very well put Mike. I too am a tweener, and at times find it difficult to relate to either generation, and other times I am right there with both of them. What I think lacks in the new generation from what I see is the concept of hard work, patience, pride in yoru work and respect. My father built his business on those three principles and he managed to remain busy as a finish carpenter his entire career as his work spoke for itself, and the way he treated customers like family was well recieved. Being passionate about what you do helps too, and all of those things are a direct byproduct of what you get out of it when you live by those ideals.

    What I will say, is us "Tweeners" who get it, have been fortunate enough to be able to sit back, recognize the importance of what both generations have to offer, and been able to capitilize on it a bit in regards to success. A wise person once told me to never judge a book by its cover, digest all information that you can about the sport, listen to what anyone tells you and take from it what you like or find works for you. This is something that rings true in our sport, as you can grow as an angler from the knowledge of a beginner or a 60 year veteran. I guess us tweeners are the one's who need to be the wise old sage's and pass the torch or bridge the gap as you so eloquently stated. I have no problem doing that as I am sure do you, especially because fly fishing is something is a defining part of who we are.

    Rich Strolis

  11. Wow Mike, you really nailed it with this post. What you say here applies to so much more than fly fishing. At 36, your analogies here hit home on many fronts, but especially in the work environment I'm in. Well done, and I hope you don't mind if I share with some others.

  12. Excellent stuff, gang. Thanks for carrying this forward, Mike. I think you did a better job with it than I did.

  13. Wow! Look at all the middle aged dudes that read your stuff!?!?? I think you should very, very happy A) with the response to this and another post and B) we get to see both sides of the river; back when it was stellar, and the days and work and time we put in to make it that way for future generations--> GAPS included. Still is funny when watching a movie and a guy gets on a phone - in a phone booth and my daughter asks- What is that?
    Tight Lines~

  14. No doubt Koz, I could not be happier or more surprised at the exposure that this post got and hope that it gets a few people thinking that may have just been coasting along before.

  15. Good write up Mike (and Ken). I originally wrote the piece "Conclave is Dead" as a slap in the face but it was more of a wake-up call to my local fly fishing organizations and what I think needs to change.

    I couldn't agree more with the "tweener" concept, and at 35yo I guess I am one of them. But the whole point of it was to change things up. We can't do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. It is a losing battle.

    This past weekend, largely through FB, myself and 4 other friends (age 35 - 42) through a little party down on the White River at a boat ramp in celebration of the start of the season. We got about 45 people there and fed them brats, beer, and gave them a bonfire and they staid for hours. It was the party they were looking for. I received a ton of comments (many from some of the older people in attendance), that something like this is exactly what our conclave needs....yet I doubt it will ever see.

    In the end, both new and old have plenty to bring to the table. It is just getting both to sit at the same table that is the issue at times.

    --Matt Tucker

    1. Loved your description of the Southern Conclave, we are a older age than you and have to agree. After attending the Southern conclave,it had nice workshops, but to many dinners and auctions, we just went fishing! One of the IFFF problems is everything they do is for fund raising,education and members, in that order and this makes their conclaves a little outdated to me, and I'm over 60.
      I'm on the BOD of the fly tying group and went to the International in 08, suggested they have conference call's for meetings, quarterly and more fun at the Conclave.It finally got done, but it took almost 6 months for the first call, and we are a small group at the international level.

      Peggy B

  16. Wish I could have been there for that!

    Koz...Owens is part of AEG and now Geofish

  17. Just stumbled on this post and like many others, I am in total agreement. As as tweener myself (34), I find it awkward to be the youngest (and female) member at my TU chapter meetings. Press coverage and more events aimed at a younger age group might provide a temporary solution, but when I think of long term planning, changing the tide is going to need all hands on deck: young and old. Utilizing social media and providing workshops/outings offer some promising results, though the game changer will be acceptance from anglers of all ages and genders. Looking forward to being a part of it all...