Angling Trade on AFFTA’s Decision to “Co-Locate” the IFTD Trade Show with ICAST


The American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) recently announced that its IFTD trade show would happen next July in concert with the “all-fishing” ICAST trade show, organized by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), in Las Vegas.

I think that’s a good move.  (Hang in there and hear me out, those of you who disagree with the ICAST partnership).

Of course, I also acknowledge that there are many manufacturers and retailers in this industry who would have preferred IFTD hitching its wagon to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Outdoor Retailer Summer Market event that happens in Salt Lake City a few weeks later next summer.  If I had a dollar for every time someone bent my ear about why AFFTA should join with ASA, or why AFFTA should join with OIA, suffice it to say that I’d be sipping rum punches adjacent to a bonefish flat right now instead of cranking out another E-newsletter for Angling Trade.  But I don’t.  So here I am, and here’s my opinion.

It’s all good.  Or, at least, it’s all better.

Let’s face it.  IFTD as a stand-alone entity was a one-way street that pointed toward a dead end.  The fact that the AFFTA board recognized this, and didn’t try to pump us all up about doing the same thing the same way, was a move in the right direction.

So now they’re going to put fly fishing back in fishing.  I can’t argue with that logic.

Of course, the “hitching of wagons” thing is nothing new.  Fly fishing has, throughout recent history, been attached at the hip with “all fishing,” then with “outdoor sports,” then on its own, and now it’s back with ASA.  Who knows where it will be 10 years from now?

Here’s the most positive thing to come out of this most recent decision.  By moving away from a stand-alone trade show entity, AFFTA has also moved itself out of the mold of a trade organization that exists almost entirely to make a trade show… and then apply the money it makes from that trade show to making another trade show.

Let’s be brutally honest.  Is this going to allow AFFTA to get about the mission of  “growing the sport?”  Probably not with much more direct effect than it already does.  You can’t hunt bears with a stick, and even with the trade show revenues and membership dues it collects, AFFTA simply doesn’t have the resources to implement anything meaningful in a grassroots, national marketing context.

If you think AFFTA is going to “grow the sport” on its own, you’re misguided.  For better or worse, it’s on retailers and manufacturers to grow the sport, just like it always has been.  It’s clearly on AFFTA, however, to do a better job in helping retailers and manufacturers do just that.  And I think it’s reasonable to expect that much from AFFTA.

I can’t help but think that AFFTA is better positioned now to lean on ASA to make some of that organization’s significant resources shine a brighter spotlight on fly.  For that matter, I also can’t help but think that AFFTA is in a better position now to encourage and help OIA do more to expand its effect on the fly market.

OIA president Frank Hugelmeyer—himself a die-hard fly angler, who happened to be steelhead fishing in British Columbia when this whole deal started to shake out—has a right to be disappointed that AFFTA decided to go to the prom with ICAST, at least for next year.  But he took the high road in conversations I’ve had with him, and even wrote an eloquent op.ed. on the topic, which is published in its entirety next in this newsletter, and will also appear in the next printed issue of Angling Trade.

His point is that there’s more than one “honey hole” to fish if you’re a retailer or a manufacturer.   He’s absolutely right.  It’s a dynamic market with evolving opportunities.

Put it this way.  If you think your business is an “outdoor” business (whether you’re a manufacturer or a retailer), you should go to the “outdoor” trade show.  And AFFTA should do its damndest to make that show a better fly experience for those interests, whether it carries an official IFTD partnership or not.

If you’d describe your business as a “fishing” business, you should go to the “fishing” trade show.  And AFFTA should do its damndest to not be a tag-along, rather a featured act at ICAST.  (For the record, I know that ASA brass, many of whom are also die-hard fly anglers personally, have also indicated a willingness to make that happen, which is exactly why AFFTA went that direction in the first place.)

If you think your business is a bit of both, maybe you should go to both.  Okay, I read some of you loud and clear that finances limit your options, and you can’t be flitting about to trade shows when you should be minding the store.  But that’s your call.

Heck, it’s already been going that way for the past few years with retailers attending ICAST and/or OR, and manufacturers exhibiting at one show or another (or both), based on what their business models and plans have told them to do.

My point is that it doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive deal.  Why can’t we have it all?  Why can’t we work to develop fly fishing’s prominence within “all fishing” as well as the “outdoor” realm with equal impact?

By deciding not to maroon itself on “fly fishing island,” AFFTA has already done plenty to inspire meaningful conversation, and hopefully action.  If AFFTA plays its cards right, works as facilitator, negotiator, and representative of a powerful lobby interest within both “all fishing” and “outdoor,” it will continue to be a viable and effective trade organization.

In closing, I’ll digress a bit here, but I think it’s with good reason, and I know many of you will understand.  My late mentor, Charlie Meyers of the Denver Post always reminded me that, in the context of writing columns, making magazines and books, and all that, “It’s a marathon, and not a sprint.”  He warned me that, over the course of my writing career, I was going to piss some people off, and endear myself to others.  And if I lasted long enough, and wrote honestly enough, it was quite likely that some who liked me would inevitably become upset with me, and yet, some who were angry with me would eventually come around.  It’s all about respect.  And respect is earned through effort, and willingness to take risks, and keeping your focus on a larger end goal.

In that light, as you know, I have been a vocal critic of AFFTA in the past.   But in this particular instance, I cannot help but respect the decision AFFTA has made, just like I will respect your individual decisions regarding where you go, and what you do in the trade show context.

I do think the options and opportunities are much better now than they were even a few months ago.   We have a uniquely wonderful and interesting sport.

I think it’s moving forward.




  1. Since 1975 International Sportsmen’s Expositions (ISE) has been doing just what AFFTA will soon do: mix it up. Ed Rice, ISE’s visionary founder, and a true outdoorsman, brought his sporting passions to a show floor. Business followed. What Rice knew in his bones is now, yet again, supported by OIA research, which Hugelmeyer notes: “eight out of 10 Americans already active in an outdoor leisure or sport activity want to try a new one.” The challenge has always been, and remains, to provide outdoor enthusiasts with choices at a time and place convenient and productive for them. ISE does that with five huge expos, each containing features, contests, seminars and various exhibitor categories side-by-side or, at least, in the same show venue. For the past five years AFFTA has been a partner with ISE because they understood the strategy. Perhaps, now, more factories will support this reality. Then, everybody would benefit even more!

  2. I realize that AFFTA had its back against the wall and the options were limited. Will coat-tailing ICAST be a good move? I think that the results will be mixed. Retailers will be able to look at a wider array of products and some manufacturers that have the ability to cross over into the general fishing category will see some new business. But I think that the more a company is tied to flyfishing, the less opportunity for an expanded market into general fishing.
    Three years ago when we decided that the IFTD was dying, we gave ICAST a try when it was located in Orlando. To say that we felt out of place is an understatement. At noon the first day it was obvious that we wouldn’t see much traffic. Wood frame nets just weren’t a product that the general fishing market wanted.
    Could we re-invent ourselves and makes nets that would appeal to general fishing? Certainly. Would it be a smart business decision? Probably not.
    So I am interested in hearing from AFFTA how this show is going to work for those of us who have no desire to cross over, which I suspect is all but some of the larger manufacturers. As much as I would like to see Las Vegas in July, I need a good reason to go. The bottom line for us is the same as before- how many flyfishing specialty shops will attend?

  3. I applaud AFFTA’s decision to make some sort of positive move but I can’t for the life of me understand why they never, ever moved the show to the east coast in the last 10 years or so.
    I haven’t met one manufacturer that didn’t want to meet new dealers. Having the show in say Philly, Baltimore, near Wash DC in Virginia would have put the show within easy driving distance of hundreds of small to medium fly shops that may never go West to a show.

    Moving the show “east” to New Orleans was not very effective, and with what…..3 fly shops in all of Louisiana who could possibly have driven there easily?

    I hope AFFTA is keeping its options to go to other locations open since I have little to no desire to see Las Vegas for any reason. Still, I’ll give them their due they did make a decision to move forward in some way and I respect that. I’ll be in Las Vegas next year, I just hope the vendors aren’t there playing cards becasue there are no shop owners to see.

  4. Chris Brodin says:

    “…As much as I would like to see Las Vegas in July, I need a good reason to go. The bottom line for us is the same as before- how many flyfishing specialty shops will attend?”

    Brodin nails it. Changing locations, and trying to tag on to another show, still don’t really address the central question critical for retailer attendance (purportedly who this show is for), and for which I have yet to see a good answer – “Why should I, as a retailer, make the effort in the middle of my busiest part of the season, and absorb the expense, of going to IFTD?”

    I have honestly not yet seen a compelling answer to this fundamental question. Until AFFTA can answer this (both for themselves, and for us), I don’t really see anything changing, despite the renewed optimism. And specifics, and an explanation of ROI, please – not the usual vague, feel-good blah blah about “it’s important to attend in order to show support for the industry.” I don’t need to go just to attend a big party, and I already support the “industry” in many ways – I would love to go if I’m gaining valuable information I wouldn’t get otherwise.

  5. Why did it take so long for AFTTA to make a move like this? We have seen IFTD dying on the vine for many years. I personally have protested the Denver location for many years, stating that they needed to put the show in Reno or Vegas. Denver is just to expensive for most manufactures to show up.

    When they did just that this year, I had to put my money where my mouth was (so to speak). So we went and Reno this year was a major disappointment! We as a shop, are looking for the manufactures that are under-represented. Meaning, that we want to find the smaller companies that don’t have sales reps.

    We will be more likely to attend a show that supports the outdoor industry as a whole, because most of our customers consider themselves to be “Outdoors” people. The only way to judge if ICAST or OR is the right choice is to try them both.

    For us, it looks like we’ll be headed to Vegas in July. That said, a shout out to all the smaller manufacturers, WE NEED TO SEE YOU THERE!!! Yes, Chris, even you….

  6. “I would love to go if I’m gaining valuable information I wouldn’t get otherwise”

    Smithhammer, how do you know you’re not gaining valuable information if you’re not going? I was in Reno for all three days, and I can say that there was great value, information, and overall appeal for me as a retailer. I find it comical that the loudest critics of the show are the ones who never come. This makes it hard to find any credibility in your criticism when you can’t back it up with relevant experience (and I’m not talking about “I went to the show when it was in Denver”).

    Jack, I’d be interested to know what you found disappointing about the Reno show, as well as what you thought was done well. AFFTA is making every effort to make the 2013 show as good and valuable as possible, so any constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated.

    • I think you’re missing my point, Tucker – the responsibility is upon AFFTA (not the retailers you’re trying to attract), and I believe it is absolutely essential to the survival of IFTD, to do a far better job of convincing retailers that it is worth the horrible timing, and not inconsiderable expense. And unless you/they can do that, and do it compellingly, then IFTD’s days will continue to be numbered.

      And believe me – I’ve talked to numerous people who attended Reno, and New Orleans before that (and Denver before that…), and despite all the valiant attempts at positive spin, no on was able to tell me that it was anything other than a fun party, and possibly some networking. No one – not a single person in the industry that I talked to who attended either show, could say that they gained ANY information valuable to their business they couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

      So again, Tucker, I’ll ask you directly – why should my shop go to IFTD, and what sort of return on our investment will we get that that makes it worth it? Make the case and make it well – and we’ll be there. But the responsibility for convincing me lies first and foremost with you, and the rest of the AFFTA board, not with me “going to find out whether its worth it or not” when nothing to date has convinced me otherwise.

      • Smithhammer, again you are speaking about a show you know nothing about since you do not come. For every retailer who tells you IFTD in Reno or NOLA was not worth their time and money, I can provide you with another that said it was a great and a very worthwhile experience. This is my point to you, come to the table, actually make an effort to experience the show and all it has to offer, and your voice and opinion will carry a lot more weight. I don’t think it’s fair on your part to be such a harsh critic of an event you haven’t actually participated in. You say “No one – not a single person in the industry that I talked to who attended either show, could say that they gained ANY information valuable to their business they couldn’t have gotten otherwise.” Well obviously you are talking to different people that I, and I would imagine that given your negative vibe towards the show it’s apparent that you are looking for negative feedback. Reno had a very positive vibe, and every retailer, guide, manufacturer and press person that I spoke with (remember I was actually there) had great things to say about the experience.

        Regarding timing, remember who ultimately pays to make IFTD happen, the exhibitors. These are the folks shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to exhibit at IFTD, and most of them want the show earlier for ordering purposes. If the show is later in the year, many of the manufacturer purchasing large spaces have indicated that they WILL NOT come. Tell me, what sort of value will this add to the retailers in attendance? The reality is that timing will never work for everybody, so AFFTA is just trying to make an effort to appease the masses as best we can.

        To your last point, the show is what you and every other fly shop across the globe wants to make of it. But to better answer your question, here a layout of why the show is worth your investment, time and energy:

        1. We have the top manufacturers in attendance, in addition to many smaller companies that don’t get exposure through the standard repping force. This is a great opportunity to meet owners, presidents, CEO’s, Sales Managers, etc. and be able to put a face to a name. The value of networking with the companies you work closely with is immeasurable, and you can’t see how it can positively effect your business until you do it.

        2. There were countless seminars and round table discussion that covered everything from direct sales, to better business practices, to environmental issues. These are great opportunities to understand how you can run your business better, smarter and more profitably, as well as get a better understanding of other issues confronting our industry.

        3. We offered a day long business seminar hosted by Robbie Brown, that was entirely geared towards teaching retailers how to better run their businesses. Every single shop owner that I spoke with that went to Robbie’s seminar had nothing but great things to say about it. I went two years ago, and I can’t tell you how much it benefited me to learn how to run my shop like a business!

        4. There were many show specials offered that when utilized can help offset the cost of the show. The unfortunate thing is that if you don’t go to the show, you don’t get access to these deals, and you will never know about them.

        5. Networking. The number of people I met through attending the show the last 7 years is amazing, and how these folks have benefited my business is immeasurable. But the reality is if I hadn’t gone to the show, these relationships would never be built. I think that this would be a point that many others who attend would agree with.

        6. Let’s not beat around the bush, it’s a party! We all work our asses off throughout the year, so a little reprieve with our industry brethren can be a nice relief. And let’s face it, whether OR (winter or summer), ICAST, INTERBIKE, or any other industry trade show for that matter, it’s all about connecting with your industry and having a good time.

        7. Support your industry and your industry will support you. AFFTA makes a majority of our money through IFTD. The other major income stream is through membership. Without money, AFFTA is seriously limited in what we can do to help sustain and build our industry. You want AFFTA to do more for you, well you need to support us at the same time. Coming to the show supports our industry, which will help support our sport and industry into the future, which will be good for you and every other fly shop.

        In the end Smithhammer, attending the show over the past 2 years has allowed my business to grow in ways that wouldn’t be possible had I not attended. Having guys like you sit on the sidelines and complain has only benefitted me, and many other retailers across the country who make the effort to come. So while I would like to see you remain complacent and stubborn about our industry show, I know deep down that that isn’t good for our industry in the long run. A large majority of the most successful retailers in the country were in Reno, I don’t find much of a coincidence in this fact.

        • Tucker –

          I appreciate you taking the time for such a lengthy response. However, responding with yet another, equally lengthy response hardly seems productive. Suffice to say that I am far from a stubborn curmudgeon attached to old school ways of doing things (or wishing for the demise of IFTD, for that matter) – far from it, actually, and anyone who knows me would likely back that up. I also happen to work for one of the most successful fly shop/outfitters in our area (we saw outfitting revenue alone more than double this year, and retail sales have been through the roof).

          To say that I “know nothing” about IFTD because I haven’t attended (recently) is hardly the case. Regardless, I look forward to having a beer with you at some point and continuing this conversation in person. Till then, all the best.

  7. The show is a great time and a good value for retailers looking to network and meet the suppliers which they deal with and meet new ones, but that being said, does affta really expect retailers to leave there shops for 2 or 3 plus travel time in July. July is by far our busiest month of the year and it is hard for us to let both the owner and manager leave at this time. This seems to be the largest complaint I hear from fellow dealers here in the Rockies. I have been to the show for the last 5 years excluding Reno and have loved being able to attend seminars and meet industry leaders. I think AFFTA did need to think outside the box but moving the show to July will only make it harder for dealers to go, not easier. When the show was in September, our Owners, managers and a few employees were able to attend, but in July we are all hands on deck guiding and working.

  8. Fly Fishing is the greatest of all Angling sports, with a long, rich and vibrant history. Yet time and again it stands off to the side like the skinny, awkward kid kicking the dust on the ground, wondering if it will ever just “grow up”.
    The IFTD needs to re-invent itself, Fly Fishing should not have to be attached “at the hip” with anyone. The street that some would percieve as being a “dead end” just needs proper development to help it better evolve further into the “community” it already is.
    I have attended and worked “many” Fly Fishing/Sport/Outdoor etc. related Trade Shows. I’ll be willing to bet that Reno or Vegas or Nawlins ain’t much different. You can’t tweek the show model that much, it is what it is.
    That said, you can hook as many AAFTA/IFTD/OIA/ICAST wagons you want together, but that’s not the answer.
    This great sport needs to step away from the “worry stone” of dependence on others and become it”s own person.
    Pictures of Retail Reps with Feather festooned Show Girls??…. Really? I mean, is that the message were trying to send here? This venue is NOT a good fit…period.
    Someone made mention of a “desert island”.Instead of sitting around with a “boo hoo…poor me” attitude, waiting around for the next bait chucker to give us “another” ride, we should be out scouting the flats and making plans for the next “Turneffe”.
    If everybody believes that it can’t be done, then it won’t ever be.

  9. Andrew Metzger on

    What’s the number of fly anglers who fish with other gear styles? If I remember right, it’s a pretty decent number. I can only see positives coming from pairing these shows for the fly shops who treat fishermen like fishermen instead of catering to a world of fly anglers that only exist in THE movie.

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