For Kyle Shaefer of Kittery, protecting the environment is as important as catching fish.

Meet the world’s first carbon neutral fly fishing guide

For Kyle Shaefer of Kittery, protecting the environment is as important as catching fish.

Photograph by Joe Klementovich
By Katherine Englishman

Issue: September 2021

Captain Kyle Schaefer’s world is more like a galaxy. Founder of Soul Fly Outfitters in Kittery and the recently opened Soul Fly Lodge in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas, Schaefer is a fly fishing guide, writer, environmentalist and entrepreneur. Most notably, he became the first fly fishing guide in the world to become carbon neutral; over the past two years, his company has offset as much carbon dioxide as it emitted into the atmosphere.

On a record-breaking Monday morning in Kittery, I stood barefoot on the deck of the SW 16 Skiff de Schaefer, the Laney, as he patiently coaches me in my first attempts to throw a fly fishing rod in the hopes of snagging one of the area’s most prized striped bass. Schaefer is an encouraging, calm and observant guide. However, his placid air does not hide his passion for fly fishing, especially for these fish from the North Atlantic.

Captain Kyle Schaefer stands on the deck of his skiff, the Laney, sight fishing for striped bass in the brackish waters of the mouth of the Piscataqua River at Kittery Point.
Captain Kyle Schaefer stands on the deck of his skiff, the Laney, sight fishing for striped bass in the brackish waters of the mouth of the Piscataqua River at Kittery Point.

The boat rocks when the winds turn, blowing the line opposite to where I want it to go. I overcompensate and force him forward with sharp, jerky movements rather than following Schaefer’s instructions to maintain a fluid motion that transmits energy from my arm to the rod. Simple, but not easy. Noticing the disconnection, Schaefer stops me for a moment and says, “I’m not using this example with everyone, but while you’re launching, consider extending it. You know how the universe is always expanding, and so is your line. Something in this metaphysical metaphor helps everything click, and all of a sudden, the decoy descends 30 feet into the soft, rippling blue water. “Soft!” exclaims Schaefer. He has a big smile on his face.

As a conservationist and outdoor enthusiast, Schaefer has a sense of connectedness that goes far beyond guiding, though sharing his passion and purpose is both heartbeat and the connective tissue of his mission at Soul Fly. Asked about the meaning of the name, he replies, “Soul Fly embodies the idea that this is a moving activity.” there is no doubt. It doesn’t take long to realize that learning to fly fishing with Schaefer isn’t just about dropping a line and hooking a big one; it’s a lesson in what it means to be a small part of a large and complex ecosystem that hangs in a delicate balance – a role that, in Schaefer’s world, is crucial in preventing it from all shattering. ‘collapse.

Schaefer has the ability to tackle complex problems easily. As a board member of the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA), an organization dedicated to sustainable marine businesses and conservation, he has long been an advocate for the environment. He lobbied Washington DC to create stricter federal fishing laws and allow his clients to become responsible anglers.

Kyle Schaefer accompanies the writer in her first attempts to throw with the fly.
Schaefer trains the writer through his first attempts to throw a fly.

In 2019, through a friend of a friend, Schaefer got wind of like-minded business owners in the fishing industry who were going carbon neutral. “I got great insight into its value, how it’s part of the solution and it might not be very difficult,” Schaefer explains. So he joined the Fly Fishing Climate Alliance, a group of business owners and guides who are all committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. With the help of Emerging Strategies, a consulting firm in a sustainable business, he became the world’s first climate neutral fly fisherman. guide in 2020.

He explains the carbon neutral process with the clarity of his signature: “It really comes down to three things: quantify, reduce and compensate,” says Schaefer. “You need to look at your carbon footprint and take inventory of the greenhouse gases your business emits. From there you look at what you can reduce. What you cannot reduce, you offset with revolving credits. Schaefer maintains a low carbon footprint by reducing energy consumption and eliminating single-use plastic, among other environmentally friendly practices. In 2020, his company reported 12.1 tonnes of carbon emissions, which is lower than the 16 to 20 tonnes the average American emits per year. To be transparent, it details its carbon emissions report in a blog post on its website.

Carefully release a striped bass into the water.  Maine regulations require that a striped bass measure between 28 and 35 inches in length from the lower jaw to the tip of the tail to be a keeper.
Carefully release a striped bass into the water. Maine regulations require that a striped bass measure between 28 and 35 inches in length from the lower jaw to the tip of the tail to be a keeper.

As a company, Soul Fly has hired experts to go carbon neutral, but Schaefer says anyone can calculate their carbon footprint through online resources – there’s one from climate advocacy group Protect. Our Winters, and another from Nature Conservancy, for example. “It’s really affordable. In the past two years, I haven’t spent more than $ 300 on revolving credits. For context, my ride from Scarborough to Kittery and back in a Subaru Crosstrek would only cost me $ 1.80 to $ 2.40 in revolving credits, depending on the offsets I purchased. (The cost of carbon fluctuates depending on political and economic factors.) Schaefer buys carbon offsets from Cool Effect, a non-profit organization that funds carbon dioxide reduction projects around the world. Its carbon offset purchases fund a project in Colorado that preserves native grasslands from agricultural development; grasses absorb greenhouse gases. “Choose these offsets wisely,” Schaefer explains, “because that’s the essence of what we do. This money must finance a project that makes sense.

While his job is to teach others how to catch fish, Schaefer’s lessons are also a gateway to learning how to protect these natural resources. This is more important than ever, especially in the Gulf of Maine, where the waters are warming faster than anywhere else in the world, threatening to alter the migratory patterns of striped bass, among other fish, and disrupt the health of any. marine life. . However, there is room for improvement all around. There is an incredibly high mortality rate caused by recreational fishermen fishing for striped bass. The most recent Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission striped bass stock assessment in 2019 estimated that 3.4 million striped bass unintentionally die from improper handling, even during capture and release. ‘water. As a result, many guides have taken up the principles of a movement called Keep Fish Wet, a fishing community like Schaefer, which promotes scientific practices for successful capture and release.

All of this motivates Schaefer to make changes that are both personal, such as reducing and offsetting carbon emissions, and universal. “I’m trying to make it magnetic,” Schaefer says. “It’s a more holistic and sustainable approach to keep doing what we want to keep doing. ” It works. Last April, it saw more than 3,000 anglers (a historic number), including some of its guide clients, take direct action to demand better legislation during the public comment period on the amendment to the Charter. striped bass fishery management plan. Their goal was to hold the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the group responsible for the management of fisheries resources, accountable for enabling unsustainable striped bass fishing; they also wanted the audience to make their voices heard. Collectively, they have created a ripple effect that continues to spread throughout the fishing community.

Kyle Schaefer untangles a line with a laugh and a smile.
Schaefer untangles a line with a laugh and a smile.

In a fun way, Schaefer shares the same traits he sees in his beloved striped bass – “resilient and opportunistic” – and wholeheartedly believes that things can and will change for the better as long as we can change our trajectory. Maybe that’s because he knows all too well that the exhilarating sensation of catching a fish is enough to get anyone hooked. It’s a time to become one with the wild elements that surround us and that cannot be recreated without everything being in its place. To put it fleetingly, as Schaefer might do, catching a fish feels like a time when all the stars align.

Click here to read more stories from Katherine Englishman

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