What we have to say about the recent International Fly Tackle Dealer event in Salt Lake City


By the Angling Trade Editors

It seems like we write this every year after IFTD… well, every year there is an IFTD…

People seem to get out of the event exactly what they put into it. And that’s pretty much what happened this year.

Simms Fishing Products made it clear going in that it wanted to win awards, which is exactly what happened. From the new G3 waders that won “best of show” to a full compendium of trophies across a host of other categories, Simms left no doubt as to its position as a preeminent brand in fishing, especially fly fishing.

Patagonia made what we thought was an equally powerful statement by displaying no product at all.  Instead, the company focused on issues, like public access, and sold a conscience within the fly angling community.  By the way, it took real chutz to show up in Utah to really talk about access in Utah, instead of some pseudo-boycott.

Sage and Winston split best new fly rod honors for salt and fresh, respectively.  That may be a bit of a surprise there wasn’t a sweep, but we think that has as much to say about the mood in the room as the (very few) products in the new product showcase.

Orvis and Scott rifle-shot their programs with good effect. We heard from a number of dealers that Scott and Orvis should have been acknowledged for how good they were to work with during the craziness of the pandemic.

Costa was the social hub, with YETI just across the way. Bajio supplanted the absent Smith as the other major factor in fly-fishing eyewear.  There was a “Texas Row” consisting of Sight Line Provisions, Howler Brothers, Duck Camp that showed how the geopolitical center of the fly-fishing universe might soon be in the Texas Hill Country as much as it is Bozeman, Missoula, the Front Range of Colorado, or the Catskills.

And some of the smaller companies got some well-earned attention.  Rep Your Water took home some hardware, and in what we thought the most heartwarming of all “Cody’s Fish” swept the gift items in lower and higher pricepoints.  There were many others, and we think the beauty of this show is that it was much more “accessible” for the smaller companies.

Being at this show was a leap of faith for many.  And for those who poured something in, they got something back.  Was it worth our time as a media company to be there? Sure, we got some stories out of it.  Maybe even sold a few ads.  But what was most valuable was the hand-shaking, the hugs, and looking people in the eye.

NOW… having said all that…

The IFTD trade show was tiny. It was dwarfed by the convention of dental hygienists from Utah being held down the hall.  Tiny like it was in Reno many years ago when we all wondered what the hell we needed to do to make it relevant again.

And as we met with folks, we were constantly wrapped up in conversations about whether IFTD should join back with ICAST, or IFTD should hitch wagons with Outdoor Retailer… or if there really should be an IFTD show at all.

We’re not ready to weigh in on that in detail, yet.  What we will say is that IFTD should be completely revamped.  That much is already clear.

For years and years now, it’s been positioned as a business event that had some ancillary social benefit for those who took part.  The truth is, it has morphed into a social event that may or may not have some ancillary business benefit.  It should be positioned that way, whatever it morphs into next.

Let’s call it like it is: We didn’t see or hear about anything completely new at the show, business-wise, that we didn’t already know about.

Moreover, everything in the fly business community isn’t exactly hakuna matata these days.  We were chatting with one manufacturer/exhibitor who complained aloud about the lack of retailer attendance (though the retailer event preceding the show, sponsored by Far Bank, was apparently the largest it has been), and we couldn’t help but wonder if some manufacturers spent a little more time tuning into the issues of the retailers the other 51 weeks of the year, maybe the retailers would care more about hearing all the good things you have to say about yourselves at the trade show.

And all of this points to a deeper discussion of AFFTA, where its priorities are, and more.  Our hats are off to AFFTA executive director Lucas Bissett who did yeoman’s work on spinning this event into something good (and get the organization out from under contract obligations).  And we know he has a vision for moving things forward.  But the question is whether this “industry” as a whole, is too fractured to share in a vision.

AFFTA needs to climb out from under the stigma that it’s a trade organization that’s main purpose is to organize a trade show… to generate money… to organize another trade show. Yes, sure AFFTA does great things by way of advocacy.  AFFTA has a conservation conscience.  And that will only grow.

But the reality of the day is that we’ve had millions of people drop into fly fishing lately, and nobody’s working together to figure out how to leverage that for a common good, and the long-term sustainability of the sport.

It’s like the big pinata just broke, and the whole industry’s like a bunch of kids scrambling around on the floor to scoop up whatever they can. And if we don’t coordinate, all we’re going to be left with will be a bunch of sticky fingers and candy wrappers littering the floor.

Let’s talk MORE about supply chain.

Let’s talk MORE about pro pricing.

Let’s talk MORE about margins, selling direct, and the future role of brick and mortar shops.

Let’s talk MORE about diversity in the sport; diversity in the people demographic will only happen when we diversify the fishing itself and stop having 80 percent of our eggs in the trout basket.

Let’s talk MORE about access.

Let’s talk HONESTLY about not beating the living shit out of our lakes, rivers and flats for short term profit.  Guess what? Angler pressure is as much a conservation issue as anything else these days. And while nobody in their right mind wants to tell people to stop fishing, we might need to stop catching so many.

Not to take anything away from product award winners, but when 50-80 percent of what the industry makes and markets isn’t entered in the awards, is that a statistically significant thing at all?  If we’re going to go there, let’s go there and truly evaluate ALL the products.  The thought has crossed AT’s mind…

Those are some things AFFTA can (and we think will) facilitate.  That’s where we’ll all find some real value.

Make no mistake, IFTD was a rewarding experience for us.  We were glad to connect with our friends… our fly family.  We sorely missed many of you who weren’t there.  We’ve heard from a surprising number of you who are already planning on rejoining next year.

But it’s time to have some honest, maybe hard, discussions about what “next year” and the future of IFTD—even AFFTA—really is.  Great things can happen, but it’s going to take coming together, not finding more excuses to be apart, at least philosophically.



  1. I think you hit several things right on the head in this article. As a shop that hadn’t missed an IFTD show in their history until this year, we share some of these questions. Especially the “Let’s talk MORE about margins, selling direct, and the future role of brick and mortar shops”. Brick and mortar shops are being left behind the 8-ball by many manufacturers as they continue to build their own direct sales. An example of this is the new Sage R8 Core fly rods. The planned release of these rods was strictly to benefit Sage and Farbanks and left the retailers out in the cold until the day of release, April 5th. This is by far nothing new in the recent years of fly fishing. More and more manufacturers are pushing direct sales with little to no support for those of us investing in their products for resale. Another example of this was Simms purchasing a fly shop of their own. Why did Simms need to purchase a fly shop? It’s very easy to see that this was specifically to generate more sales for themselves without having to split the margin with someone such as The Fly Shop. These are by far not the only 2 companies that are competing directly with brick and mortar shops.

    At the same time, by doing these things none of these companies are doing much to increase the number of fly fishers in the world. Instead, they are taking advantage of the shops that do generate new anglers and then taking those consumers away from the people that got them into the sport. We’ve said for years that there needs to be higher standards for fly shops and manufacturers. It’s not only the manufacturers that are doing this, but also the new found “online retailers” that strictly sell online with no brick and mortar presence. These people aren’t helping the fly fishing community, but rather scavengers to an already small audience.

    We know that your margins increase significantly if you only have to have a warehouse to stock merchandise without a store front. With that being the case, you can’t possibly educate or retain fly fishermen in the sport. Mike Michalak has said for years, falling on deaf ears, that these manufacturers could help the sport by having some simple requirements.

    In regards to, “Not to take anything away from product award winners, but when 50-80 percent of what the industry makes and markets isn’t entered in the awards, is that a statistically significant thing at all? If we’re going to go there, let’s go there and truly evaluate ALL the products. The thought has crossed AT’s mind…”, I think we have all opened our eyes to what the awards really are. They aren’t about the products, but about popularity. Many manufacturers have given up entering new gear as it is disappointing to see the same winners year after year, especially when you know that someone else should have won. Take this year for example, Simms winning an award for an improvement on a wader that has been around for years. Should that product have even been eligible for entry? In 2019 we went to the Denver show and Simms won for best new boot, but the G4 Guide boot they entered was a remake of something they already had. That isn’t a new product and Korkers River Ops boot should have easily won that award.

    I’ve always felt supporting AFFTA and IFTD are very important to our industry and we look forward to the shows as a place to see old friends as well as see the new, smaller companies goods. I hope it continues and we as a company will certainly attend the next IFTD show, as we hope others will.

  2. Many of us who are still on the fence about Covid are just not ready to venture out into the public full on in a Show. I had the event blocked off in my calendar, I really wanted to participate, but with the health issues as they still are I just couldn’t pull the trigger yet. Next year I’m hoping the situation will be better and I’ll be there!

    I like your insights about the “Show” and I believe you have a good handle on how to proceed, time , the economy, and health issues will dictate the future of the event, good luck, there are many of us eager to return.

  3. Steve Schmidt on

    As always, good stuff Kirk. I appreciate your comments about catching fewer fish. I’ve been promoting this for almost 20 yrs when I wrote a Blog titled and “Eight Fish Limit”, which is the max number of fish I’ll allow myself to indulge in. These days, it’s more like two or three. I recently had a piece published in Patagonia’s new spring catalog addressing the fact that we’ve sacrifices learning to fish for simply catching fish. I’d argue that some of the techniques we’re peddling these days for short term profits doesn’t ever resemble fly fishing, and to entice more to participate. Not to stir the pot, but we have more participants than ever and as you say, we’ve yet to address the impact we’re all having on our resources, which is significant since we’re catching more fish than ever. So, thank you for breaching the subject, once again. It’s a concern and given the impact of climate a question of sustainability.

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