Some real questions we should be addressing at IFTD and beyond…


By the editors of Angling Trade

Fly fishing is at a crossroads.

Sure, there has been a massive influx of people who want to fish. We’ve seen more “participation” since the onset of the pandemic since anyone can remember.

But is that ultimately a good thing? What does that matter to a retail business when the supply chain remains broken?

We’ve heard from so many upset dealers… “I can’t get hooks, or half of what I ordered”… “I ordered 20 rods, and got 4”… “I made a preorder for last spring, and didn’t see anything delivered until fall, after the fishing season (but I still got the bill).”

We know some retailers want more answers, but we don’t know what else to tell you other than you’re not alone.

“How relevant are sales reps in all of this?”  Are they taking the fall? Who needs the middle man?

Nobody hides the fact that manufacturers are more keen on selling direct than ever.  A new wader company enters the market with only a handful of retailers in one region of the country. This isn’t coincidence. Direct-to-consumer is big money.

To qualify as a “pro” these days requires only a couple things—an email address and a pulse.  And everyone wants a pro deal.  What does this look like for retailers now and three years from now?

It used to be that the fly shop was safe harbor, because it was the last bastion of the greatest commodity of all—information.  If someone wants to know how to fish, where to fish, and what to use, they go to the fly shop. But now, they can watch a YouTube video. That’s just as good, right?

“Guiding is what has saved our bacon these last couple years when we couldn’t get all the product we wanted to sell.”  We’ve heard that one over and over.

“I’ve never seen angling pressure like this. The rivers are so choked with guides, and day trippers, it’s an absolute circus… a joke… disgusting.” We hear that one over and over also.

Maybe that’s just a cycle, and things will equalize, but we know for a fact that fish populations are declining on some rivers as angler days go up.  How are we going to figure a solution out?

How do we manage the crowding issue?  Ah, sure… public access.  Now there’s one we can all agree on… or can we? Private water is worth a lot now, and people will pay to get away from the masses.

How about diversity?  Diversity in terms of a consumers starts with diversity of fly-fishing opportunity, and right now 75 percent of the fly world (e.g. product SKUs) still revolves on an axis of trout.

These are the best of times… and the worst of times.  The degree to which we work together, maybe think a little beyond every interest for itself, will ultimately dictate which way this sport heads.  And it will determine the future viability of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

AFFTA’s executive director Lucas Bissett is keenly aware of that.  Our next story is a chat with Lucas… stay tuned. And stay tuned for the straight skinny from the show floor.



  1. You nailed it. Interesting to see this article right now–last week, once again some idiot walked in to try on a pair of waders just so his buddy could order them for him through his pro account. I started writing a letter to Lucas about how these very issues need to be addressed at the dealer summit, but I ditched the letter because I didn’t want to sound bitter. I attended the first dealer summit in Aspen years ago, where dealers were given much more than the one hour that looks to be allotted to dealers being allotted this year to discuss industry issues and manufacturer issues and practices that have changed so much since then.

    The gorilla in the room is manufacturers more aggressively selling direct than ever before, with almost daily e-mails ending up in the boxes of our customers. Now we also have manufacturers also making Amazon themselves a dealer, which is a completely despicable business practice that hurts manufacturers just as much as it does shops and reps. Dealers selling on there is one thing–to make Amazon themselves a dealer is ignorant, greedy, disingenuous, and helps Jeff Bezos kill yet another sector of retail.

    Yes, we’re all to blame for the massive crowds we see out on the water—and some of us a lot more to blame than others. The Instagram and Facebook generation has done more harm to our sport than anything–filling it with a narcissism and atmosphere of constant, shameless self promotion that did not exist when I entered the business almost 30 years ago.

    As our available habitat declines and becomes even more crowded, it’s more obvious than ever that our level of marketing fly fishing–as dealers, guides, and manufacturers–is not helping the sustainability of fly fishing. Upper management needs to stop chasing limitless year-over-year growth and try to regain the soul that fly fishing once had, instead of applying metrics that some of these folks have used at outdoor gear corporations before they took salaried positions in fly fishing companies.

    It would be great if IFTD allowed more time for candid discussions between dealers and manufacturers on these issues. I seem to go through more frequent bouts of feeling jaded and pessimistic about the future of our industry than ever before—and I’m sure there are many others like me out there.

  2. Yes in 2020 there were serious issues with supply chain and it hurt our little shop. Last season (2021). We adapted by ordering from both distributors and direct from manufacturers for large quantity items. We saw way fewer empty pegs as season went on. We actually had our best year sales wise in 2021 due to the influx of so many new to fly fishing. So far 2022 we are nearly at full product levels as of March 25th. There is one shop here that just closed up it’s brick and mortar shop for online only -guide services. Blamed Covid and supply chain for down turn but it’s most likely do to owners attitude and lack of quality shop staff. We have had people drive 2 hours to our place or another shop nearly a hour away just to avoid shopping there. As for on line direct sales and pro deals those are really out of our control. We see it a lot people come in try a rod or palm a reel, test fit waders then buy them on line. Being the only actual fly shop for a big chunk of area does mean they eventually come in realize the added value of the staff.

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