Who would have guessed that old-fashioned fly fishing would captivate a whole new generation? But it’s true: the Zen-like practice is attracting millennials by the boatload.
There are many nicknames for the generation born between 1980 and 2000; they include Digital Natives, the Boomerang Generation, or simply millennials. From coffee to clothing, marketers track their passions closely, watching the buying habits of more than 83 million individuals. But recently, there was a trend that no one saw coming.
Fishing, specifically fly fishing, was partly an answer to social distancing prompted by COVID-19. Due in part to the younger generation’s enthusiasm, TVA’s public lands, and waters saw a substantial uptick in use in 2020. Suddenly, these individuals, known for coveting computer games and cell phones, were craving hiking, biking, and the perfect cast.
In reality, this trend had been growing for a while, and why not? Fly fishing is a terrific fit for a peer group that appreciates authenticity and loves a good cause. Did we mention they put the “social” in social media?
The Beauty of the Sport
Millennials also are described as being multitaskers who are achievement-oriented. Fly fisherman Bryant Sissom, falls into that category.
Sissom, who is just shy of 30, says, “The appeal of fly fishing is the number of subjects you can study, including the science of the fish themselves, their food and habitat. In addition, there’s the art of fly tying, fly casting, and presentation.”
Jonah Duran’s love of the sport began with a free fly-casting class at a local outfitter. “I learned a little about casting, bought a combo, and asked where to go try it out, he says. Duran, then 27, headed to Tremont (known as the Middle Prong of the Little River, near Townsend, Tennessee) and pulled in his first trout—an exciting experience.
But the adrenaline rush is not the only thing that has millennials excited.
“I like the beauty of trout fishing,” Duran says. “I’ve always enjoyed hiking, but fly fishing offers what I call ‘water hiking’ in the streams.” His favorite places are up in the mountains where brook trout, Tennessee’s only native trout, reside.
Both of these anglers appreciate mountain streams, but for great fishing with even larger fish, they head to the tailwaters, located below the dams. Sissom has logged a personal record on the South Holston River, and he’s not alone.
How TVA Helps Make it Possible
The tailwaters below TVA’s South Holston Dam promote a world-class, fly fishing environment, thanks in part to oxygen-rich waters promoted by an aerating labyrinth weir. A series of concrete barriers causes oxygen to infuse and enrich the water as it tumbles over the hurdles and ripples downstream.
“TVA supports fisheries by maintaining cool water temperatures and sustaining minimum water flows. These create great habitat for the fish and their food sources,” explains TVA Water Resource Specialist Shannon O’Quinn.
In the 1990s, about the time the oldest millennials were headed into middle school, TVA was making tailwater improvements at 11 dams, setting the stage for extraordinary fly fishing. Today, these waters get an enthusiastic thumbs up from the fly fishing community. Duran’s favorites are the Holston River (below Cherokee Dam) and the Clinch River (below Norris Dam). A full list of these celebrated areas, plus fly fishing tips can be found here.
Thankfully, millennials are known for giving back. Both Sissom and Duran use catch-and-release conservation practices. They are members of Trout Unlimited chapters, whose mission is to protect cold-water fisheries and their watersheds.
Millennials already are inspiring others to try the sport. Their encouragement, along with social media posts of gorgeous streams and stunning trout, is good news for the fish, their watery habitat, and the Tennessee Valley’s recreational economy.