How social media can be good for the sporting world
Social media is a hugely powerful tool, not only for meeting folk across the world but also for promoting our sport, writes Guy Maddocks
We are not talking about a clandestine romantic liaison here. Oh no, this is about hooking up online with like-minded sporting folk through the power of the internet with these incredible smartphone devices we all carry in our pockets.
Back in 2021, I had spent the day fly-fishing on the River Taw in North Devon and posted a few pictures on Instagram, as I do. A chap who was following me commented on the image and asked where it was. I was of course cagey with my answer, not being too precise about the location as you just never know. He came back and wrote, “I knew it, I know exactly where that is,” and added that he’d love to come fish it with me one day when he was in the area.
Some years ago I had a surf business, and in the early days of Twitter and Instagram we used these platforms to market our products with some success. It gave me an insight into the power of these platforms and the ease with which you can make contact with any like-minded people and potential clients you wish to target. That venture has long since gone, but I continue to communicate through Facebook and Instagram and keep in touch with friends and contacts I have made over the years. I love it and enjoy seeing other people’s adventures and experiences.
The beauty of Instagram is that you can scan through a profile and gain a fair amount of insight into the person behind it. The chap who commented on my post was Tim; his Instagram profile was all about food and wine with a fair bit of shooting and fly-fishing thrown in for good measure. What’s not to like about that?
Tim and I got chatting and it turned out that he was a North Devon local who had moved away to make his fortune and was now in the process of returning home to the Shire. Tim is an experienced angler, having been lucky enough to fish some of the best rivers the world has to offer, from the blue ribbon rivers of Montana and Iceland to Peru, so I invited him along for a day’s fishing with me on the Taw.
His experience fishing in the US has since opened my eyes somewhat. I’d say 95% of my fishing is on the dry-fly, but when Tim pulled out this strange-looking streamer he’d gotten from a guy in Montana and cast it upstream on a stoney run on the Taw, I think the wry smile on my face said it all. To my astonishment, within two casts he was into a good fish and rewarded with a stunning 15in brownie. I had to know more, and so we talked at length about stateside fly-fishing techniques that day.
That contact two years ago led to Tim and myself becoming firm friends. We fish together whenever we can — we try to get out at least once a week, both having a love for our local wild rivers that produce stunning, hard-fighting wild brownies just like on the River Lyn. These rivers are definitely not easy to fish — boulder hopping in waders with a few hundred quid’s worth of tackle in your hand is not for the unfit or faint-hearted — but the results more than make up for the effort and risks involved. Tim rates the Lyn as being up there among the best in the world.
As well as fishing, Tim has since joined my wild bird syndicate and we shoot together often both on the syndicate and at other locations. We share a passion for wild, testing quarry as opposed to large-bag days and love nothing more than a day chasing snipe.
We usually message one another a few days before an outing and often end up with a full menu for the excursion. I’ll bring a game pie, Tim a nice local cheese and an obscure sherry or a local organic wine he has found on his travels. I’m still waiting to try one of his partners’ fabled sourdough loaves but it’s yet to appear. It really is great fun and would most likely never have happened had it not been for Instagram.
I have another ‘Insta friend’ — as I like to call them — who as a young man would visit North Devon to buy surfboards from my shop for years. He has now moved down here and owns his own surf shop in the area.
I have since introduced him to clay shooting and had him out on his first game shooting day, the highlight of which was taking him on his first evening flight at ducks, an experience he described as one of the best evenings of his life. He is now an avid shooter and game shot.
Friend and fellow contributor Jonathan McGee says that most of the shooting and fishing friends he now has have come from internet introductions. The great thing about internet introductions is that you can clearly see if the person has similar views and ethics to your own before you even meet them.
So what I am saying is this; although the internet can be detrimental to our sport, and the ease with which antis can use mobile devices and the internet to post images or film to damage our fieldsports image is alarming, it’s not all bad. In some ways, is it not a good thing that the small minority of more ‘unsavoury’ characters that we all know exist among us are being outed? The mere fact that this can happen ensures that our standards are kept high — a kind of self-policing, if you like.
It is up to us to promote our sport in a good, healthy and wholesome way. Tim and many others of my internet friends are often amazed at the posts I put up regarding my game shooting antics; there is nothing wrong or offensive about the posts of course, it is just not what the general public is accustomed to.
Many, for want of a better word, ‘townies’ are not used to seeing dead birds in the feather — certainly not since they vanished from being a common sight in the local butcher shop window — but I am proud to be a game shot and a countryman and I am careful to keep my posts tasteful and as unoffensive as possible. I will not shy away from promoting the sport I love in a good light. Of my 2,500 or so Instagram followers, only one person has ever vented a dislike for my game shooting and, as I told him, he is free to have his opinion and to unfollow me at any time.
I know of a fellow Gun who has made internet friends with Guns in Germany and Austria and has been invited over to Europe to shoot wild boar. He returns the favour by hosting his European guests here in the UK to shoot pheasant, snipe and woodcock. These are opportunities that would have been out of the question 10 or so years ago — or at least less likely to happen.
Far and wide
I love the internet, the way it has opened up the world to us all, introducing us to people far and wide, keeping in contact with old friends and creating new ones. Yes, it can enrage you too but we all have the power to block or delete.
It doesn’t come much better than spending a day fishing with a good buddy on a river like the Lyn. Casting a fly into these deep rocky pools in search of a wild brownie is something I will never tire of. Days like these are magical, and long may they continue.
Game shots such as Jonathan McGee and Rachel Carrie do not shy away from using the internet in promoting what we do and neither should you. Be proud, be honest and use the internet to advocate for our sport in a positive way. If we hide behind apron strings, we leave ourselves wide open to criticism and it just looks like desperation when we suddenly appear on the internet screaming foul.
Embrace the internet and social media; you never know, you just might make some lifelong friends. I know I certainly have.