Navigating Waters with Generation Z

Photos by Chase White

At age 45, and with 25 years in the fishing business under my belt, I am certainly plugged into the old school OG category. Even using the term OG (Original Gangsta) dates me. My grey hair, incessant chatter about the old days, and jittery finger that always aims to get the station back to classic rock defines me accurately. I have worked with hundreds of staff though my years in the lodge business. Between this experience and my time spent guiding Baby Boomers on the water, I am quite studied in the personalities of our many generations, and how that translates to angling.

Lately, I have waded into hiring a group of young adults who are members of Generation Z. The dynamic is always an interesting one in the fishing world. Just as Gen X guided all the Baby Boomers for so many years, soon the torch will be passed for Gen Z to guide the aging millennials. Generation Z are going to take our industry in a different direction, just as every generation has before. Whether you call them Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials, these youngsters are getting into swinging flies and are popping up on all our favourite Spey systems. Here’s what you need to know.

Gen Z are a realistic, pragmatic, and adventurous group of anglers. The famously documented short attention spans of Millennials fully translates to how they fish. If you sit back and watch a pontoon hatch on the Kispiox, you will see countless millennial anglers racing down the river making five or six casts in each run. Known as “Next Run-Itis,” it is classic Millennial behavior. Unfortunately, this is not the modus operandi of iGen. The new generation is ultra-focused because they are the most marketed-to children of all time. Their computer-like brains have a sophisticated filter to help them find relevant information faster and more accurately than any generation before them. This makes them a real threat on the water. Are you concerned yet?

If you still think you will be fine out there competing with them for your favorite fish, let me fill you in a bit more. The latest data shows iGen teens don’t drink as much, are less likely to have had sex, and rarely go out partying compared to teens of the previous three generations. Think of how much better at Spey fishing you would be if you grew up sober, not dating, and had stayed out of bars. Yes, Spey Anglers, you should be concerned. Your fish catch rates are about to plummet.

My philosophy has always been if you can’t beat them, join them. I have gone out and hired a new guide team of amped up, jacked up Gen Zers. I like to think of our lodges as an academy to help mentor this new generation of Spey fishermen. Think along the lines of Top Gun, and the ultimate changes Maverick went through before graduation. Yes, I recognize that I’m dating myself again. (It is also possible that I am too excited for the remake of Top Gun to come out next year, so my vision is a bit skewed). Someday, Gen Z is going to completely transform the Spey world both on and off the water; this is just a fact of life.

The reality is that fly-fishing is the fastest-growing category in the sport of fishing (or hobby if you don’t like calling it a sport). We all know that single-hand fly fishing is a gateway drug. You start off popping sunfish and smallies on dries and before you know it, you’re chest-deep in 32- degree water on your third day of a steelhead bender trying to get a pull. All these new Gen Z fly fisherman will eventually make their way to our world of Spey. With them will come a completely new era. They are a competitive bunch. Their generation saw the downfall of the economy, they saw their parents struggle, and this motivated them. They don’t just want to catch more fish than you—they want to get one behind you and then tag you in the IG post. They are committed to it. As this generation grows, we would be wise to keep a collective eye on the direction it is going to take.

In 2018, 1 in 4 fishermen surveyed were in the 18-to-34 age range, so let’s be clear: things are certainly going to move fast. Obviously, the digital era is what is influencing our youth the most. Coming under the influence of these digital masterminds is going to greatly alter the landscape of our Spey fishing world.

The fishing community on Instagram is for the most part very supportive of each other, and it is growing fast. Social media has helped increase the sport’s popularity, and it has also become more accessible thanks to classes all across the world.

With all this coming soon to a river near you, our best bet is to engage with this new generation. The millennials may have ruined a lot of fisheries with their addiction to openly posting on social media, but they have undeniably brought a lot of heart back into fishing. Growing up engrossed in the news cycle has made millennials hyper-aware of environmental issues. Millennials made it quite clear that if you are going to enjoy the resources of Mother Nature, you better stand up to protect it. This is now the gold standard for any Spey angler: if you are going to talk the conservation talk, you better walk the conservation walk.

Millennials make a point of booking fishing trips with clear missions, ones that partner with watershed conservation, or engage in local communities, or attempt to “go green.” Millennials took to Spey fishing because they are drawn to experiences, and they are looking for authentic ways to connect with nature.

We Old School anglers can learn a lot from the younger generation. At the same time, we can share our past experiences to help pave a strategic, unified future. When all four of these generations unite for common causes, we see real change happen. This unification is what it will take to stop the pebble mine, or to protect last frontier watersheds like the Skeena.

I see a great future in the world of Spey fishing by working generationally with all anglers who share a passion for the fish, the rivers, and the complete ecosystems that encompass everything that we love. I am truly proud to have spent so many years with Baby Boomers learning from the pioneers of fly fishing. However, I have been constantly blown away by the passion Millennials have for our rivers, and how they have been the enforcers invoking environmental protection. They let it be known: if you swing for anadromous fish, you need to Gen Zers have been immersed in tech since they were old enough to hold a device. They are the first generation to be truly digital. Spey fishing is super Instagram-worthy, and it provides an experience that cannot be replicated. We need to understand that the game is changing, and we need to understand how to change along with it.

be on the front lines fighting for them because no one else will. Now I am beyond excited to see the traits Generation Z already has instilled in them. When the time comes, I will stand by their side when the rally calls are made. The Ocean is in dire need of change. The politics behind it all are constantly being exposed, and one day the entire system will collapse. I am truly optimistic that the passing of the torch to the next generation will greatly improve how we manage the resource. I just hope it is not too late.

2 thoughts on “Navigating Waters with Generation Z

  1. Hi Derek,
    Have my air, first deposit & dates (Jan 15-22, 2022) secured.
    A 1941 model, 5’10”, 170# no longer sure what generation. Still marginally trainable. Fished the Babine~20 years & Dean~10+ years.
    Wanted to know your line/rod/reel recommendations. Saw The Fly Shop comments on web: 11-12’6″ rod, Skagit short or Skagit switch, MOW tips T-11 & 14 from 2.5 to 12.5 ft. Have a 7 wt switch and others. However, I want to fish what YOU want me to fish. Will be with Robert Roy, another DVM. Looking forward to fishing with you. the best, Jon

  2. Great article Derek. I would love to chat some more and possbily feature you in Boater Magazine (a digital publication I’m launching in the next couple of weeks or so).

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