A Recap on IFTD 2011


Now that the dust has settled, and all of us have returned to our routines after the International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD) trade show in New Orleans, it’s worth a brief reflection on what happened, what didn’t happen, and where this whole fly fishing trade show thing is headed.

After all, as editor of Angling Trade, for better or worse, I do this every year.  Interestingly, for the past several years at least, I come away from the trade show having heard many of the same comments:  “Man, I wish there were more retailers at the show,” or “Gee, we should change the time of year,” and “We should look at merging the fly fishing show with ICAST… or OR…”  Stuff like that.  And all opinions are certainly valid.  You know, one of the great things about the fly fishing business (and I really mean this) is that there is seldom a shortage of opinions.   Qualified, educated opinions, no less… and that’s actually a very good thing.

But let’s start with some facts, and go from there.

Those of you who know me, personally, and those of you who have read my columns over the years already understand that I am no cheerleader for AFFTA.  I believe there must be a fly fishing trade organization.  I respect the mission.  But I have never held back on criticism of AFFTA when I felt it was warranted.

That said, I think, in a nuts-and-bolts context, that AFFTA put on a helluva show.  AFFTA hired Randi Swisher as president to put muscle behind the trade show.  Randi delivered.  Gary Berlin delivered.  Mischa Jones delivered.  You can say what you want about the viability and need for a trade show, where and when it should happen, and what purpose it should serve… but if the job was to create an efficient, well-organized interesting trade expo (and I think it was), I don’t think anyone can fault the way IFTD was executed.

New Orleans… yeah… it was damn hot.  But it is a great town.  And it was a good choice, if for no other reason than to get out of the Denver rut (and I live near Denver, and Angling Trade spent a lot more money to be part of this trade show than we ever have).  And by the way…  how ‘bout them fly fishing guides in Louisiana who rallied, and busted their butts, and put so many show attendees on redfish… at the absolute toughest, most challenging part of their fishing season (it was like having a trade show in the Rockies during the peak of runoff)?

Do we wish that the show were busier?  Sure.  Does AFFTA wish it had more retailers at the show?  Of course.  For the record, by my last accounting, retailer attendance was down just over 10 percent from last year, which isn’t bad, considering the fact that there are 20-something fly shops in Colorado, and one in Louisiana.  Maybe… just maybe… losing a population of guides walking around looking for free swag at booths isn’t a bad thing, after all.

Here’s the real deal, and the real question.  Does the fly industry need its own trade show?

That, of course, depends on whom you ask.

There is no doubt that times have changed, vis a vis how products are introduced to dealers… via the Internet… through rep networks, and all of that.  It strikes me as odd, when a manufacturer complains that they “don’t write much business at the trade show” anymore, when in fact, they’ve already sent their reps to introduce new products and services, months before the trade show takes place.  Isn’t that stealing your own thunder?

Okay, I get it… in the fly world, we have so many product manufacturers who have different production cycles… rods take X to make… soft goods, that’s 3X… reels… 2X.  I don’t think we’re ever going to get all the manufacturers in the fly world on the same page, as far as timing is concerned.  Forget about it… ain’t gonna happen.  Done.

Can we integrate a fly trade show into ICAST, or OR?  Depends on whom you ask.  Sure, there’s valid rationale for putting fly fishing inside of a larger fishing arena… or a larger outdoor arena.  But the rub is, the IFTD trade show is a major source of revenue for the trade organization.  Take away the show… take away the money (unless someone figures out how to do that… and I’ve asked, but I haven’t heard any good answers).

Now, to a certain extent, yes… the money from IFTD goes to fund AFFTA… which uses the money… to make another show.    And that’s its own perpetual motion machine.

But I would contest that AFFTA has done more of late, by way of engaging in conservation causes, promoting the sport, and so on—things beyond the show that do indeed serve the interests of all in this industry, from retailer to manufacturer.  As such, I don’t think we can throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Especially, given the political climate, not now.  Fly fishing needs an entity, and a voice.

The beauty—and the curse—in all of this, is that the retailer holds the keys to all of it.  If manufacturers, and AFFTA itself, want to make a trade show that offers tangible value for retailers to attend… that’s on them.  Reno (the 2012 IFTD location) is,  in my opinion, another step in the right direction.

If retailers don’t want anything to do with AFFTA and a show… that’s a choice they make, perhaps at their own peril (perhaps not).

If we want to have a “trade show” that’s really more of a media event… a meeting of the core in the industry (dare I suggest FFF, that this is the real “conclave”)… well, we already have that.  And it’s a damn good one.

If we want something larger, we need to keep pressing, keep brainstorming, and keep working together to find it.  Maybe we do two days of industry “conclave,” and a third day open to the public (in my opinion, given the amount of business happening, and the relative silence on the show floor by 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon, that’s worth talking about).

But the finger pointing should be over.  The complaints… whatever.  We need to get together and decide what we really want, and then work together to figure out exactly how to get there.  All the right pieces are on the table.

It’s a matter of putting them in their correct places.

Kirk Deeter
Editor, Angling Trade



  1. Kirk:
    I think you said it like it really is. You pretty much laid out all of tie issues on the table as they actually exist. These issues haven’t changed in over fifteen years, and back then exactly the same complaints were being made and nothing has been done about them. We have to face a couple of facts:

    1. The fly tackle industry, particularly on the retail level, is not a professional industry. Many of those in the industry are enthusiasts who got into the industry to live out their dream and I am willing to bet that a large number of individuals in the retail arena, never had any professional retail experience before opening a fly shop. They don’t understand the benefits of being able to source new and interesting products that can be found there, that their regional reps may not yet carry or in some cases never carry. They don’t understand the benefits of doing face to face time with the owners and managers of the companies that distribute the products they buy and sell on a daily basis. The high attendance at the conventional tackle ICAST show, is driven by the fact that the individuals in that industry are professionals and know that it is an important to be there for both their personal careers and to do a better job. If the ICAST show was held in the middle of January in Minnesota, they would all show up. The fact that the fly tackle industry may have a segment within it that is somewhat lightweight on the professional side, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and maybe provides character to the industry, but it is just a fact that we need to keep in mind when we ask every year why we can’t get a wholesale fly tackle show going like it was in yesteryear.

    2. Whether or not we think the show is a worthwhile endeavor, it is going to exist from year to year simply because AFFTA can make a buck. They can probably make a profit whether or not the show is a large one or a small one and that is fine. Back in the 90s the fly tackle industry was growing exponentially and many new individuals were opening fly shops and needed to attend the shows to get a quick immersion in what products were out there and what the industry was all about. Today, most retailers are seasoned and know that they can get by year to year sitting tight and letting the products come to them. As already mentioned in Kirk’s blog, the dealers are well aware that 90% of the products they will need to buy will be shown to them by the reps. They need to have to have an incentive to attend and I don’t think there is one.

    Though I personally believe that there are many benefits to attending an annual conclave and meeting personally with those we do business with or would like to do business with, it may very well be that we have to face the fact that because we are such a small industry we will never be able to support a IFTD show, the size of years past.

  2. all valid points and of course the show must go on as it is vis a stand alone fly show-
    1 thing for us over the big pond though, perhaps 50% of visitors to IFTD New Orleans were from overseas,
    and yet overseas visitors are never considered when the show date and venue is though up;
    resulting in dates that are the most expensive weeks in the year to fly internationally, and venues that are not exactly easy to get to from overseas…………………………………………………
    just a small thought that Sept is better than August for a show that is called the “INTERNATIONAL” FTD………………………………..

  3. Shane Chung on

    Very well writen, and I really do like the idea of openning up the show to the general public on the last day.

  4. We attended 2 years ago in Denver, but, did not attend the New Orleans show. We had a good time, met a lot of great people, and saw some great products, new and old, in Denver. But, gotta say…. We are disappointed that the show is going back out west again next year, as air fair skyrockets, we most likely won’t attend the Reno show either. Show organizers need to acknowledge the east coast shops and retailers. (after all, we have the largest flyfishing show in the world right here in NJ). Is there a reason for not having a show on the east coast?

  5. Brooks Montgomery on

    New Orleans was a blast: My favorite city for the show so far. Having said that, I’m pretty certain that the majority of manufacturers that I represent did not think the show was “money well spent”.

    We (the “industry”) seem to be a circus looking for the right city and the right time, but the only customers that show up are the carnies. It’s getting to be a convention of manufacturers. And then the blame and guilt is put back on the manufacturers (“you owe it to the industry”). I know, I rallied hard for the New Orleans show, and laid plenty of guilt on my manufacturers. Said I, “you owe it to the industry”.

    The show won’t work unless the retailers show up. They won’t show up unless it’s worth the investment, worth their time, worth leaving their shops during a busy time of year.

    Whomever of you geniuses out there can figure out which date, which city, and which deal makes it so important that the dealer attendance goes up two or three fold, well. . . .you deserve a free booth, a new car. . . . a parade with you being rained on by confetti of thank you notes. Of course the timing of the parade will be contested (too early, too late), and some won’t show up out of protest.. . . . . .

  6. Paul Prentiss on

    I think the chasm between the dealers and the manufacturers continues to grow and the show put on by AFFTA is indicative of the evolving situation. I don’t see the incentive for dealer involvement. Tell me what cooperative programs are being rolled out by the Manufacturers to help dealers in a very difficult economy. Opening the show to the public makes good since since the big players in the industry seem destined to gravitate towards a direct sales model. Is the Far bank decision concerning Redington the first salvo. “We are saying that consumers can buy directly from us if they so desire and we welcome the chance to get closer to customers…….if we look down the road five or ten years, it is very likely that most brands will be selling direct and Sage and Rio could well be among them.” Marc Bale, Director of Sales at Far Bank.

  7. Mike Hogue on

    I think there is a bias by the industry into believing that only dealers in the west exist. I am in the Northeast and to travel to a dealer show would cost me about $1000 between hotel, plane tickets and food ect. It isn’t worth my time considering I have to burn up about a week to go.

    Consider this: the world’s largest fly fishing show is in New Jersey ( not Denver ) and the world’s largest fly tying show is in you guessed it New Jersey. There are more miles of trout fishing water in NY and Pa combined than the “golden triangle” in MT/WY/ID. We also have saltwater fishing, salmon, steelhead and something called smallmouth bass.

    If I could drive to this thing in say Washington DC, PA, NJ, NY or even say Ohio, I would go.

    Who schedules a show in New Orleans in August? That’s dumb. Off course it’s hot. I have family in Arkansas and I never go south from July to Sept. Move east, maybe you will see some other people. East to us is anything further away than Chicago. We call the “west” Ohio.

    People in Denver seem to think that the fly fishing world is Colorado and part of Wy and little bits of Montana. They also think the only flies are midges or pmds. Guess what? Fly fishing in the US was invented in New York and we fish big flies all the time. Sort of like the old New Yorker map of the USA. Giant city and nothing in between.

    Is it worth $1000 and a week of my time to go? Nope

    If I was a mfger, I would get a map out see where all my dealers really are. I am guessing that there are plenty of dealers in places besides Denver.

  8. Capt. Alan Jackson on

    I agree with “Greg- East Coast Fly Shop Owner” in the opinion of come on over to experience Atlanta, Savannah, Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte,etc ….
    We have water fresh and salt with culture to match. And the ticket is; the SE has a lot of potential customers who want to play less golf and fish more. Fact: everone who fished with me asks where can get a “insert object” or where do I go to catch a “insert genus of fish”. In other words, I am not opening a shop rather I remain an agent for the businesses who support the fishing business. The tide waits for no one.

  9. Kirk,
    I enjoyed the show, but thought it was slow in general. Those that seemed to suffer the most were companies that need large a large volume of dealers, such as accessory companies. The big name manufacturers seemed to do well. I think the show needs to be in locations with a high density of shops. I think Reno will do better for the West Coast shops. I also agree with Mike that there should be a show in the East. A rotation of locations would do good to support dealers nation wide.
    I am upset to hear how many folks say that it was good to not have many guides there. They are some of the front line in sales and honestly it takes more knowledge and skill to be a guide than a shop owner that anyone could be. Shop staff and guides need to be recognized and perhaps the exhibitors need to have a person on staff to address them and help with product knowledge and pro forms. With some training they could become an asset to increased sales for shops. Plus, much of this conversation wouldn’t even happen if the isles were packed.
    By the way, I did a quick count on dealers in CO and there are over 90. Perhaps your count of 20 was just for the Front Rage area.

  10. An east and west coast rotation is a great idea. As well as recognizing guides and shop staff. My guides are consistently selling product on trips and more than deserve a little free schwag. I haven’t seen reps in the shop as often as previous years and I find that unfortunate especially given the major hit our season took with runoff. We lost a month plus of fishing business and therefore need reps in house versus spending a weekend during season at the big show.

    In summary, think about rotating locations, in September of October and recognizing guides & staff perhaps on the public day.

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  12. Chet Cross on

    I agree with the very well thought out responses so far. My thoughts are: 1) have the show in the winter (when the shop is not busy and I am not fishing as much), 2) have shows both on east coast and in the western US, 3) the manufacturers dont care if I (a fly shop owner) am there or not (I have talked in person to a few of them who wont sell to me and the personal meeting and exchange has changed nothing at all), 4) the manufacturers have no idea how important the dealers are to their sales. The shop employees and guides are the experts that consumers trust and they can create the success or failure of a product. The manufacturers will find this out eventually (hopefully before they sell direct).

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