The 2020 trend has been to head outdoors to pursue enjoyable activities at a safe distance from others. Like hiking and camping, fishing has skyrocketed in popularity — with over three million new anglers added this year. For advocacy groups like Brown Folks Fishing, the growing number of BIPOC anglers is an opportunity to increase inclusivity in the outdoor space. We take a look at the status of fishing in the US and how BIPOC anglers, outdoor brands, and activists are working to promote diversity and conservation across the sport.
Women and BIPOC anglers are on the rise
Fishing is experiencing a boom, and not solely among the limited demographic of older white men who have until recently been marketed, inaccurately, as the face of fishing. A Special Report on Fishing by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation found that 36 percent of anglers in 2019 were women, a closer step to gender parity in fishing than the annual report had ever found.
Moreover, only 39 percent of participants were over the age of 45. Even the millennial generation, known for its short attention span and tendency toward more fast-paced recreation, made up nearly one-fifth of all anglers. Representing an even bigger percentage of the total, or over 20 percent, are BIPOC anglers.
“We know Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) historically have deep roots in fishing that are both cultural and recreational,” Tracy Nguyen-Chung, founder of Brown Folks Fishing, told Matador. “And in certain regions and specific types of fishing, can be quite visible and prominent. We also know BIPOC are a growing demographic in sport fishing.”
Yet, despite that fact that this year the cover of the special report featured Black, Latinx, and white female anglers fishing together on a pier, the industry has largely failed to reflect the sport’s diversity. “It is clear with a glance at all levels of the sport fishing industry — everywhere from boards, guides, staff, marketing, communications — that BIPOC communities at-large are grossly underrepresented,” said Nguyen-Chung. “There are systemic and structural factors at play here.”
The issues, Nguyen-Cung said, touch all aspects of recreational fishing. “Sport fishing isn’t alone in this. According to the last several Outdoor Recreation reports, all non-white groups have either stagnated or declined in participation in fly fishing. This comes at a moment when fly fishing is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.”
Finding a calling through the sport of fishing
Angelica Talan is proof that the movement is spreading. Talan is Diversity & Social Media Liaison for United Women on the Fly, an organization with chapters of women around the country that supports women’s participation in an activity that has traditionally been seen as a male sport.
Talan, who is half-Mexican, half-Black, grew up fishing traditionally but started fly-fishing two years ago when her then-10-year-old daughter wanted to try it. She fell in love with the sport, but noticed an absence of representation.
“What I was finding here in the Washington, DC, area, no matter where I go it’s pretty much a male dominated sport,” Talan told Matador. Even when she did find other anglers in the water or through the organization, those women didn’t look like Talan or her daughter.
After only a short period of time fishing with her daughter, Talan felt she needed to find and amplify more female, BIPOC anglers for her daughter to look up to. “She was looking for inspiration; she was looking to see where she belonged or who belonged in this sport,” Talan said. “And at that moment…there was something triggered in me when I was like ‘I want to connect with other BIPOC anglers and I want to make a difference somehow.’”
Through United Women on the Fly, Talan is working to identify and support female, BIPOC anglers to help them connect with others, and to use their passion to inspire a new generation of diverse anglers.
“I feel like a lot of the lady anglers of color have wanted to get out there and explore but they have been held back…What I’m hearing through my social media networks is that they don’t have anyone to look up to represent them, so all of the sudden they start feeling insecure and thinking maybe it’s not for them,” said Talan. “So my goal in being part of United Women on the Fly is definitely to change that, so that they can see themselves represented and not just in social media and not just in traditional media but in real life.”
Particularly in fly-fishing, where a first-timer might need to shell out over $1,000 just to get into the sport, access is an issue. “People are being priced out,” Talan said, adding that making the sport more financially feasible will be part of her effort to make it more diverse, and she has found the brands open to this.
“Orvis, I think, is really doing their part,” said Talan. “I found that they’re doing their part to try to make it more affordable as a sport.”
Brown Folks Fishing launches Angling for All Pledge
The work of United Women on the Fly and the broader shift in the perception of who is fishing and why is aided by advocacy organizations like Brown Folks Fishing. Nguyen-Chung founded the organization in 2018 to showcase BIPOC anglers. Brown Folks Fishing publicizes its advocacy efforts via its Instagram page and recently launched the Angling for All Pledge, seeking to address inequality in fishing and develop a framework of anglers and brands working to support fishing access for underrepresented groups.
“We believe the crises of racism and climate change are deeply intertwined, so the solutions should be as well,” Nguyen-Chung said. “There are two core goals of the pledge: to establish a benchmark for learning and a commitment to addressing racism and inequality in fishing and its industry; [and] to advance an intersectional vision across the fishing and related conservation community that is rooted in anti-racism, justice, equity, liberation, inclusion, resilience, and solidarity.”
Nguyen-Chung and her partners see diverse representation in outdoor sports as a part of the larger conversation about conservation. A major hurdle the group aims to address is the modern systemic assumptions that keep many would-be anglers from taking part in an activity that has historically crossed racial and societal boundaries.
“Tracy and the ambassador team found ourselves asking, ‘How can we get more BIPOC into conservation by using fishing as a gateway?’ said Erica Nelson, co-founder at REAL Consulting and a member of Brown Folks Fishing.
Nelson sees the ties between diverse representation in the fishing community and an increased drive toward sustainability across the sport at large. She notes that Angling for All is “creating deeper relationships with the fishing industry and BIPOC to ultimately protect lands, clean water, increase access and representation. We are also creating a directory that our team recommends to find a guide, instructors, experiences, shops, brands, and organizations from across the industry.”
Brands signing onto the pledge
In July, fishing and outdoor gear company Orvis became the first brand to sign onto the Angling for All Pledge. United Women on the Fly has since signed on, as has Patagonia and Casting for Recovery. The pledge commits signees to completing an education curriculum surrounding inclusivity and diversity in fishing; it then requires companies to outline and enact a plan of action upon completion of the training.
“We believe that the outdoors is meant for everyone, but when listening to people, we heard that not everyone sees these spaces as accessible, inviting, or even safe,” Simon Perkins, Orvis president, told Matador.
“This pledge offers the opportunity for us to recognize our blind spots unconscious biases, and to take positive steps as an organization to build a stronger and more inclusive community through increased access, resources and visibility,” added Perkins.
The hope is that more gear companies, guiding outfitters, and other major players in the angling world will commit to increasing diversity and making all feel welcome when casting a line, whether off a boat or while standing in a stream. Once obtaining the education and developing a plan for action, it’s up to the pledgers to create change in the way they best see fit.
“We believe that it is our responsibility as a committed member of the outdoor and fly-fishing communities to do this internal work if change is going to happen,” Perkins said.