There are good fly fishing companies and there are fly fishing companies that do good. Fishing the Good Fight falls under both categories. They not only produce high quality flies at a reasonable price, but they also donate 100% of those proceeds to benefit men’s mental health efforts. Founder, Jennings Hester, started Fishing the Good Fight with the idea that there needs to be more awareness and less stigma around men's mental illness and that the therapeutic powers behind fly fishing can help bridge that gap.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with Jennings on a number of efforts and it’s clear that he has a wealth of fly fishing knowledge and a passion for helping others. To help spread the word about Fishing the Good Fight and tap into Jennings’ bank of fly fishing and fly tying knowledge, we put him in the hot seat and asked our most pressing questions.
FlyCast: What attracted you to fly fishing and how did you get started?
Jennings: I grew up in Georgia, which doesn’t have a big fly fishing scene. I went a few times growing up, but it wasn’t until I developed my love for nature that I began fly fishing seriously. I got into hiking and camping and decided to start bringing a rod. My girlfriend’s brother, who is a saltwater fly fishing guide, loaned me a reel and I was instantly hooked. Like most who are just staring, I had no clue what I was doing. I’d catch one small fish for every six hours spent fishing, but still couldn’t get enough.
FlyCast: What motivated you to start Fishing the Good Fight?
Jennings: I struggled with undiagnosed depression and anxiety for over a decade before seeking help and drastically improving my quality of life. Like many men, the concept of having a condition that could be treated never crossed my mind. I assumed what I was experiencing was the same as everyone else.
I grew up as a competitive athlete and went on to play college football. That environment is not one that welcomes any kind of ‘weakness’. You tough everything out until you hit a breaking point.
After hitting that breaking point and finally seeking the help I needed, fly fishing and tying became a massive therapeutic outlet. The mindfulness, sense of accomplishment and escape from the everyday stressors are something we wanted to help others experience.
We wanted to find a way to bring awareness to mental illness, let men know that it’s, “ok to not be ok” and provide resources to help men take action.
FlyCast: What has been your greatest achievement thus far with Fishing The Good Fight?
Jennings: Our greatest achievement has been the ability to make quarterly donations in our first year. Our purpose is to 1) Reduce the Stigma 2) Provide Resources to Help Men Take Action and 3) Subsidize Mental Health Costs.
Our funds go to each of these three purposes. Our first donation went to Mantherapy.org. We ran a targeted national campaign to reach men at risk for depression and/ or suicide. Over 300 men took the ‘Head Inspection Test’, which helps identify any potential illnesses and then put them in contact with therapists that work with men.
Our second donation went to an Affordable Therapy provider in Denver, Colorado – People House. They have a scholarship fund for individuals who cannot afford therapy. Those funds will pay for 50-100 sessions for those in need.
FlyCast: There are a lot of small fly manufacturers out there but not all produce high quality flies. What do you do to produce high-quality flies?
Jennings: When it comes to fly quality, there are some key components. The first is the materials we use. We only use the highest caliber Umpua hooks, which we have independently tested for strength. The second is accuracy and consistency. We tie every fly to the designer’s standards. More often than not, commercial patterns vary from the designer’s intentions to save on cost. If you look at our patterns compared to the originals, you’ll see they are identical. Along those lines, the profile of a fly is arguably the most important component. You’ll notice that many low-quality fly providers sell bugs that are way too bulky and simply will not work. The last piece is durability. Every fly is inspected before it ships. No UV resin in the hook eye, no profile deficiencies and much more.
FlyCast: What are the most popular patterns that you sell?
Jennings: The top patterns certainly vary based on the season, but our biggest sellers are the Foam Wing Emerger and Rainbow Warrior. Both can be fished year-round. The Foam Wing Emerger is arguably the top producing Baetis/ BWO imitation ever designed and the Rainbow Warrior is one of the best attractors, replicating a variety of bugs. They are equally effective on the country’s toughest tailwaters and freestones.
FlyCast: If you could only fish two flies the rest of your life, what would they be and why?
Jennings: That has to be a Tungsten Pheasant Tail and a Juju Bee Midge. Over 80% of a trout’s diet is sub-surface, which is why we selected two nymphs. These are also patterns that work everywhere. The Pheasant Tail is a great attractor on any stream as it can imitate almost any Mayfly or Stoneflly species based on the size and color. The tungsten variation helps to get it down in the feeding zone.
The Jujubee Midge is a must have. Midges are found in any body of water, and it’s hard to find a more versatile midge pattern. It can triple as larva, pupa or an emerger. It has an extremely slim profile, great segmentation and can be tied in every color you’d ever need.
FlyCast: What’s the biggest mistake you think anglers make when selecting flies while on the river?
Jennings: The biggest mistake regarding fly selection, hands down, is rigging up before getting on the water. If you don’t take the time to pay attention to trout behavior and hatch activity, it’s going to be a rough day
But when it comes to fly selection mistakes on the water, I’d have to say it’s going to ‘confidence flies’. Everyone makes this mistake more than we realize. When it’s slow and you aren’t getting takes on the patterns you think match the hatch, many anglers just flip to what has worked in the past. In fly fishing, what has worked in the past has nothing to do with what will work an hour later, much less now.
FlyCast: If you see trout refuse your flies, what adjustments do you make?
Jennings: When it comes to refusals, the first step is always sizing down the fly and/ or tippet. The fact that you got their attention, and it followed your fly means you are close. Most anglers don’t realize that bugs size down throughout their metamorphosis. A size 22 adult will be a size 20 emerger/ pupa and a size 18 larva. Keep that in mind when picking the right size. Trout are most selective when it comes to mayfly imitations. If you are off by one size, it will be denied. In terms of importance, it goes profile – size – color.
FlyCast: What’s one thing that you’ve learned fly fishing that you think everyone should know?
Jennings: The biggest thing I’ve learned from fly fishing is to be present. This carries over to all aspects of life. If you can’t put 100% of your attention towards fly fishing, you’re going to have a tough day on the water. This should carry over to everything in life. Don’t think about what you will post on social media, the number of fish you caught or anything besides your next cast and drift. The mindfulness required in fly fishing is one of the biggest reasons I love the sport.
FlyCast: What’s your favorite Colorado river/creek to fish?
Jennings: Without a doubt, my favorite fishery in Colorado is Cheesman Canyon. It’s absolutely stunning and isolated. Regardless of how many anglers are there on any given day, you can find your own space. You’re facing some of the smartest trout in the world in one of the most beautiful canyons. Hard to beat!
FlyCast: What are the different ways to support Fishing the Good Fight?
Jennings: There are a variety of ways to support Fishing the Good Fight. It can be as simple as sharing our story to friends. Our organization can make the greatest impact through donations, but we have a large e-commerce shop and membership plans as well. Donating, buying some flies or becoming an annual member are all great ways to support the organization. All of these avenues are easily accessible on our website, fishingthegoodfight.org.