In various popular fly fishing magazines several authors have agonized over the present state of "fly fishing."
It seems that the traditional form of fly fishing (fly rod, single action reel, floating fly line and floating or near-floating flies) have been subverted by well-meaning but misled innovators. Some anglers who like to fish with the fly rod and/or flies have devised techniques and methods somewhat foreign and even antagonistic, in some fly fishers' minds, to the simple and beautiful top water fishing.
The complaints from traditionalists generally find fault with one or more of the following "perversions:" sinking fly lines, weighted flies, lead on the leader, strike indicators (floats, bobbers, stickons, yarn, etc.) and fishing flies variously on the spinning rod.
Coming in for special vituperation are the nymph fishers, who not only employ most of the above aberrations, but frequently skulk slowly upstream, seemingly catching every fish in the stream. Some few even stoop to use monofilament in place of regular fly line. And perhaps worst of all, the new so-called flies are really just feathered lures or the unsporting glo-bugs and the San Juan worms (ugh!).
Those who yearn for the preservation of the traditional sometimes appeal to an organization such as the Federation of Fly Fishers for a definition of fly fishing, to set a standard against which techniques and methods can be measured. Perhaps even a fly fishing pope or prophet could issue a mandate to keep the infidels at bay. However, such should give heed to the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:38-39). Fortunately, all efforts at codifying fly fishing have failed.
While I do have some sympathy for those who want to preserve the integrity of the sport, I believe that entrenchment is not the way. From the beginnings of fly fishing change has been resisted; but nevertheless change is inevitable.
Even the purest of today's equipment only faintly resembles the tools of yesteryear, and methods evolve as well. One doesn't see too many greenheart rods, horsehair leaders, line tied to the tip of a 14-foot reelless rod with the angler dabbing and skittering the fly today.
Not that it matters to anyone else, but I'm all for advancements and improvements in fly fishing. Some in the angling fraternity miss the main point. The idea is to have fun. It's OK to be serious about the sport, but after all it is a sport, not a religion. Passion for the sport is commendable, but intolerance of others and their methods is not, so long as they are legal and ethical.
Personally, I'm a renegade. My commitment is to the fly, not the fly rod or any particular method. I'll use any delivery system that is legal to get the fly in the right place. My preference is the fly rod as a tool, but I have used spinning equipment and hand lines to present my flies. If some new system is developed, I'll be among the first to give it a try. Thus far I haven't used a downrigger, but in the right situation I might.
One of the frustrated authors mentioned in the opening sentence of this commentary said, "It is not the tackle used that classifies fly fishing, but the circumstances in which it is used." Although he undoubtedly didn't have unconventional tackle in mind, I completely agree with him.