Somerset Rocks


TFFS_webBy Kirk Deeter

Last weekend, I hopped a flight from Denver to Newark, New Jersey, rented a car and drove to central Jersey, and bought a three-day pass to the Fly Fishing Show.  It was one of the best “market research” trips I have been on.

Granted, I’ve made a number of trips to the Somerset show.  In fact, long before I was involved in fly fishing from the business side, I lived in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and made a point to visit Somerset every winter.  I’ve covered it a few more times since, but this was the most lively, and most vibrant I’ve seen this, despite a snowstorm on Saturday, and the storm of the decade brewing for Monday.

Kudos belong to Chuck Furimsky, who had the vision and kept with it, even when AFFTA decided several years ago that the best path to its own relevance involved screwing Chuck over and starting a competing show.  Now, much to AFFTA’s credit, that organization has its priorities in better order.  AFFTA held its board meeting on site the day before the Somerset show, and is riding the halo effect.  Heck, there’s even talk of another joint production somewhere (Atlanta?).

The fact of the matter is that Chuck’s Fly Fishing Shows do more to promote the sport of fly fishing, and serve the consumer base of fly fishing, than any events that AFFTA, or Trout Unlimited, or ASA, or Outdoor Retailer, or FFF, or anyone else does, or probably can do.

Moreover, the Fly Fishing Show, particularly the Somerset event, has become as much a happening as the trade show.  I see as much retailer-manufacturer business done there as I do at IFTD, and then there’s the consumer interaction on top of that.  Note: That’s not to knock IFTD… I’m on record in support of IFTD and the need for a trade show.  I like to see new products there, and I’m comfortable with the trajectory.  It isn’t an either-or… think of it, rather, as a two-fer.

But I’ll just say it… the “brilliance” of Somerset is that it happens in the middle of the winter when most serious anglers and fishing businesses don’t have anything else to do but think about fly fishing… and they’re obviously willing to drive through snowstorms to experience it.  That allure will never happen with any trade show in July or August, anywhere.

Another takeaway:  Somerset always reminds me that the “capital” of fly fishing in America isn’t really in Bozeman, Montana, or Boulder, Colorado, or Seattle, Washington.  Those might be capital candidates in terms of rivers and resources, or companies that make stuff.  But the capital of capital (money) still sits in the East.

The biggest takeaway of all:  It’s all looking up.  Everyone feels energy, and optimism, and has better thoughts about the current state of this market right now than I have ever noticed before, and I have never felt that stronger than I just did in Somerset.

If you have your doubts, check it out for yourself next time, especially if you come from the West.  The hard part is finding spaces—spaces to exhibit, spaces to park, spaces to eat, spaces to walk.

But who’s going to complain about those things now?

Congratulations, Chuck, and Ben, and everyone else on the team.  And thank you.



  1. Hey ho Kirk,

    From The Netherlands a small replay….yep you were on the best fly fishing show on earth. Chuck Furimsky runs it real like a man who were he is talking about. I’am tying at his november show for already 24 years and have to say : The best there is ” Cheers Theo

  2. I would agree it was great we have a booth frying pan anglers and the San Juan Angler and South platte fly shop we are located in Colorado it’s are 7 year and had the most interested crowd I can remember just the questions we had we had in the talks we gave were more educated then I can remember

  3. Gregory Walck on

    Very well said. Kudos to Chuck for doing the best shows to promote fly fishing to the general public. Having been a spectator in New Jersey to a vendor in Denver, Chuck and a participant in TU & FFF events; I have seen it all. Bang for the buck it’s Chuck.

  4. Kirk
    I really don’t want to rain on your parade, we need more positive things in our industry, and I am happy to hear about renewed excitement with consumer shows. (Congratulation Chuck)
    But there are several issues with your remarks.

    First, I was on the AFFTA board when we had several discussions with Chuck about AFFTA’s participation at his consumer shows. It was Chuck not AFFTA that drew a line in the sand. There were several problems with the show and Chuck was closed minded about working with AFFTA. At the time there was no competition with Chuck and quite frankly he had no incentive to improve the show. The reality is AFFTA doing their own show and then partnering with ISE did a lot to cause several changes with The Fly Fishing Show resulting in an improved product. The AFFTA board made some hard decisions and if asked, I believe every past board member will stand up for those decisions.

    With that said, the bar for consumer engagement is extremely low. Our Colorado Trout Unlimited brags about their youth programs where they sent 8 kids to a youth camp… Eight, very impactful. FFF is using class materials that are 20 plus years old. Both seem to focus more on raising money for their existence than making an impact with growing the sport. To be fair, TU is mostly a conservation group, and they have done a lot of great things with protecting our rivers, but in terms of increased participation they have a long ways to go to match grassroots efforts that Ducks Unlimited has shown over the past century.

    AFFTA has made some great improvements over the years, but they still have a long ways to go to fulfilling their mission statement: to promote the sustained growth of the fly fishing industry. I resigned from the AFFTA board five year ago because there seemed to be no direction to see this mission served.

    The real story here is how more and more Specialty Fly Shops have become more business minded and less, hobbyist minded. I see a maturity happening within fly shops across the USA and this is a very encouraging thing. Consumer engagement has become a more active pursuit and fly shops are reaching out to their community more and more. The hobbyist oriented fly shops, with their more passive approach are literally becoming a thing of the past. In today’s retail environment you have to engage consumers and not just wait for the doorbell to ring.

    So I applaud the enthusiasm, but the credit here goes to the team Chuck has successfully as assembled.

  5. Chuck has long been a big help in promoting the industry. His shows are professional, well run and well attended. I have done boat shows, TU/FFF and many others and by far and away his are the best. Somerset is the Super Bowl of shows and for those that have never attended, you are missing the best of the best.

    There is a terrible industry bias against the East Coast. We have more trout water, more fly shops, more fisherman and customers here than in the so called ” golden triangle ” of MT, WY, ID. We also have the bonus of saltwater and Great Lakes salmon/steelhead.

    Instead of foam hoppers and fast rods we need the industry to create tackle and flies for our markets. Traditional flies were invented here and we still use them! Actually, JUST stay home, I’ll take care of ALL the customers you can’t. We’re nasty, hard to deal with , talk funny and there is no parking and the food sucks. There are bedbugs and thugs that will rob you.

  6. Kirk,
    Thanks for the great article. Denver, Marlborough and Somerset were all great shows so far this season. We have four more locations remaining. Being at the start of the year, our shows set the pace and attitude for the the upcoming season and as you point out things are looking great. We can’t hope for anything more than for our exhibitors and our industry to enjoy a great season.

    Tight Lines,

  7. Richard Franklin on

    Kirk, Fine report and I totally agree. May I invite you to read my Tackle Review from Somerset on the North American Fly Fishing Forum under my pseudonym, sweetandsalt.

    I have some more specialized comments about the show from my PHWFF booth perspective as well. Now, I love fishing in Montana and the Bahamas too…the NYC area has three airports.

  8. John Fischer on

    Could not agree more Kirk! We have been exhibiting at Somerset for the past 10 years. Every year we attend we book 4-5 retails, on top of showing thousands of consumers our products. We have attended IFTD several times and typically net 0-2 Retailers. Furthermore, IFTD is twice the expense. We will not go back to IFTD unless there are serious proven changes.

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