Fly fishing flies with millennials

A guest at the Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club in Livingston Manor, New York, angling for fish in the hotel's private river.
A guest at the Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club in Livingston Manor, New York, angling for fish in the hotel's private river.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Step aside, goat yoga. The chic way to unwind now is fly fishing. That is right. For some of the same reasons millennials recently flocked to bird-watching, this sport - long dominated by old men - is gaining popularity with a younger set.

For those who can afford the leisure time and some rudimentary equipment, it offers a reason to be outdoors, a closer connection to nature, an avenue for environmentalism, a built-in community, an opportunity for creative expression and a lifetime's worth of niche expertise.

Fly anglers who are not vegetarian nor vegan, nor otherwise bound by the code of "catch and release", see it as an extension of the farm-to-table movement. Plus, it is very Instagrammable, even as it encourages people to put down their phones.

And where millennials go, hospitality brands follow. Guided flyfishing excursions are now offered at many trendy boutique hotels, including The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, and Sage Lodge, a new nature resort just north of Yellowstone National Park in Pray, Montona.

At the DeBruce, a boutique hotel and culinary destination in Livingston Manor, New York, the wall art, bookshelves and nine-course tasting menu have a fly-fishing theme.

The banner amenity of the hotel, where rooms start at US$449 (S$610) a night, is more than 800m of private river. Waders, rods and reels are available for rental. And in the Great Room, where elegant young couples on their honeymoon, babymoon or minimoon pass their happy hours, a full flytying station is set up in the corner.

Mr Todd Spire, 45, a digital marketer turned full-time fly guide, has built his Catskills business on this new wave of interest.

Over the past four years, his guiding outfit, Esopus Creel, grew steadily by word-of-mouth and Instagram, and earlier this year, he opened a brick-and-mortar fly shop in Phoenicia, New York.

"You have millennials who are drawn to experiences looking for authentic ways to experience this place, and you have this activity which is such a big part of both this area's history and its conservation," he said. And, he noted, the area is of historic importance to the sport.

Indeed, when clients fish in the Esopus Creek with Mr Spire, they are waist-deep in the same waters where baseball player Babe Ruth fished during the late 1930s. Decades before that, pioneering sportsmen also fished on the Neversink River.

Nearby, on the Beaverkill River, the inventor of the fishing vest, Mr Lee Wulff, perfected the use of his namesake flies, while his wife at the time, Mrs Joan Wulff, a competitive angler, brought novel poise and femininity to the craft of casting them. Mrs Wulff, in her 90s, still teaches at the 40-year-old school they founded, run out of a cabin near Livingston Manor.

"I've become completely addicted to fly fishing," said Mr Mike Kauffman, 31, a tech entrepreneur and Manhattan resident who recently bought a home in the Catskills with his girlfriend. "I find it totally meditative - the thing I never knew I needed."

When he started out this spring, he knew virtually nothing about the sport. But from his first guided outing with Mr Spire, Mr Kauffman and his girlfriend were hooked.

"We're scrolling all day thinking we're connecting with the world, but our minds aren't satisfied," he said. "Being out in that river is a deeper connection to nature I never really had."

According to the 2019 Outdoor Industry Association's Special Report On Fishing, fly fishing is the fastest-growing category of the sport. Last year, one in four anglers polled were aged 18 to 34.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'Fly fishing flies with millennials'. Print Edition | Subscribe