5 Questions with Tom Sadler: Seeing the Fly-Fishing Industry from the Inside

Tom Sadler is an angler, conservationist, writer, and advocate.
All photos courtesy Tom Sadler

For years, Tom Sadler has done important work behind the scenes in fly fishing, yet most anglers have never heard his name. Since he gave up his life as a Washington lobbyist, he has been a fishing guide, served on the board of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, and was recently named executive director of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Through his consulting firm, Middle River Group, he has provided diverse business expertise to the conservation and wildlife management community, as well as the hunting, fishing and shooting sports industries. He also writes the Tenkara Guide Blog.

Q. How, where, and with whom did you start fly fishing?

A: I was very fortunate that both of my grandfathers were fly fishermen. I started out fly fishing with them when I was eight or nine years old on Moosehead Lake near Rockwood, Maine. I wound up going there pretty much every year until I graduated from college..

After college, my dad took me fly fishing in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho; it really opened up a whole lot of new venues for me. One of the first places we fished was Three Dollar Bridge on the Madison River. That’s a special place for me—so much so that I got married there seven years ago.

Tom with a fine western cutthroat and his trusty Tenkara rod.

Q. How did you get starting working within the fly-fishing world?

A: Adventure has always been more important than money for me, and I wound up bagging corporate life in my early 40’s. I wanted to work outside, loved fly fishing, and wasn’t motivated by big bucks, so fly-fishing guide was pretty much tailor-made. I went to guide school in Jackson, came back to Virginia and had at it. I wound up working for L.L. Bean, Dusty Wissmath, and now Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. Mostly those were part-time gigs because I also wanted to work in the conservation field and now at the OWAA.

Q. What has your role with AFFTA taught you about the fly-fishing industry and where it’s going?

A: It has been both a privilege and education to serve on the AFFTA board. Time and time again I watched the industry step up and take a stand on issues that protect the venues where people fly-fish. They have embraced the “access to healthy habitat creates recreational opportunity that drives economic activity” message. The industry should be justifiably proud of that stance.

Fly fishing in the U. S. is growing. Shops that innovate, reach out to the public, and look for ways to introduce people to the sport are the ones that will be successful. One example is attending International Fly Tacle Dealer show. The networking and information transfer at IFTD is astonishing. That alone makes it worth going. The guys that own Mossy Creek Fly Fishing know that attending IFTD helps to make them a more successful shop.

Tom on his home waters in Virginia.

Q. Explain your fascination with Tenkara.

A: Tenkara is all about simplicity. A rod, a line and a fly. Make a simple cast and you are fishing. If you fish dry flies and worship at the altar of the “drag-free drift,” then tenkara will blow your mind. Because tenkara is simple and easy, it helps bring people into fly fishing, which is good for business. Tenkara puts technique and experience above gear, something that is a personal motivation and goal. I like the up-close and personal nature of fishing tenkara.

Q. Now that you’re director of OWAA, how do you envision the role of the sporting writing in the changing media landscape?

A: The digital landscape is a combination of settlements and frontiers. Blogs and the current social media applications are the settlements. OWAA has made changes in whom it accepts as members to reflect that. A category (or “section” in OWAA parlance)  for bloggers was recently created. That section will hopefully attract those who communicate about the outdoors in that format to join the OWAA. The frontier is exciting because more and more people are getting their information online or via mobile applications. We are watching how those new channels evolve and if they are suitable for outdoor communicators will see how we can embrace them.

The traditional outdoor media is still very relevant and appears to be adapting to the digital platforms at an increasing rate. What outdoor communicators are communicating about hasn’t changed, and there is a steady demand for content. OWAA offers the opportunity for outdoor communicators to hone their professional skills and increase their earning potential.


4 thoughts on “5 Questions with Tom Sadler: Seeing the Fly-Fishing Industry from the Inside”

  1. Tom Sadler is one of the unsung heroes of modern fly fishing. Kudos to Phil Monahan and Orvis for this great post.

  2. No one fights the good fight for our beloved sport, like Tom Sadler. Speak softly and Cary a big Tenkara Rod.

  3. The industry is not growing and one indicator of that is is Tenkara….It’s a fad and industries that are stagnant look to fads…. This, however, is very true “Shops that innovate, reach out to the public, and look for ways to introduce people to the sport are the ones that will be successful” In an industry that is lagging the people who are the strongest, the ones most involved, the unique ones who excel at at personal selling will survive…If the industry were truly growing innovation and personal selling wouldn’t be as important…but the industry is shrinking and another indicator of that is the consolidation seen in the rod manufacturers, lines manufacturers, fly companies etc.

  4. Pingback: Seeing the Fly-Fishing Industry from the Inside - Deeper Fishfinder Canada

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