AFFTA: Now would be a good time to get real.


By the editors of Angling Trade (Kirk Deeter and Tim Romano)

The “Confluence” event held in Salt Lake City last week was tiny. The vast majority of companies that manufacture and sell fly-fishing products in America were not there. Some who sought to win awards did not exhibit, but instead paid sponsor fees, in some cases not much more than several hundred dollars. There were scant few retailers there—the most any exhibitor we spoke with said they met with was “about ten.” Only a fraction of the media that cover fly fishing were present—Angling Trade was one of them, but only in half measure.

All of this is not necessarily AFFTA’s fault. The effort was game. The sentiment was good. The people did their best, even twisting as many arms as possible to create critical mass.

The fact is that “trade shows” are going the way of printed daily newspapers, film for cameras, and land line telephones. Not many people want or need them anymore. Technology did that.

The problem isn’t that the American Fly Fishing Trade Association is inept. It’s that AFFTA is not always realistic. When you put out a press release exclaiming how the event was a “resounding success,” you damage your credibility, because everyone who was there, and the growing number of people in the industry who are hearing about what really went down, know that you’re putting lipstick on a pig.

We know that you’re privately saying that this was the last “show” but your press release touts reimagining the event for the future.

Admittedly, AFFTA took great pains to say “Confluence” wasn’t a trade show as much as it was a “gathering.” But it looked like a duck, and it quacked like a duck, indoors and outdoors… albeit a very tiny duck.

You can announce the winners of a product showcase—and no doubt, there were some tremendous products very worthy of accolades. Hopefully those companies get their money’s worth and use those awards to great promotional effect. But would we call the Olympic Games “Olympic Games” if 80 percent of the countries in the world weren’t there?

Sure, everybody has their own benchmarks for measuring success, and when you set your own low ones, it’s easy to claim victory. But to what end?

It’s time for a complete reset. A complete rebuild, not only of the “trade show” but also of AFFTA itself.

What are the priorities? Is the mission the same as it was 30 years ago, and should it be? And how is this industry going to adequately support AFFTA?

Ironically, everyone we’ve spoken with, at the show, and elsewhere sees value in a gathering. That is unanimous. It’s good to get together. Fly fishing is a community above all, and those of us who work professionally in fly fishing are like family. We care about the sport, and we care about each other. There are quibbles and quarrels and rivalries, but at the end of the day, we know we need each other. We know this sport is rooted in fragile natural resources, and we must work together to protect them.

Speaking of which… 721 miles away from Salt Lake City that same week, Trout Unlimited held its own “Cx3” (Coldwater, Community, Conservation) annual meeting in Spokane Washington. TU chose Spokane for proximity to the dams on the Lower Snake River. Those dams need to go, or 50 percent of the salmon and steelhead habitat in the Lower 48 will be gone in a generation. Kind of a big deal, something the fly industry should get behind, and thankfully, many companies are.

But TU’s trying to grow this fledgling event into something more, and while reports from Cx3 were positive and “pointed in the right direction” there’s no denying that that event was not nearly as successful as it could be—it didn’t attract a huge audience, and only a handful of valued sponsors.

Call it unfortunate. Call it selfish. Call it unwise. But it was really self-defeating for both events to happen in the same week, in their own separate worlds. Angling Trade warned against this when both events were announced a year ago.

AFFTA and TU should at least talk to each other. And while they’re at it, invite Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and Fly Fishers International, and others who have a stake in the sport, and come up with an event—a real gathering with purpose—that serves some tangible needs and puts some money in places where it can benefit the sport. That should most definitely include AFFTA.

The next Cx3 will be held in Minneapolis, same time next year. It’s an ideal location for this type of cohesive event. Great fishing, from smallmouth bass (right downtown) to the Driftless trout streams. It’s a travel hub. It’s a great time of year to be in that region.

If conservation is key to this sport, it’s time to acknowledge that HOW ANGLERS INTERACT WITH THE RESOURCES IS, IN AND OF ITSELF, ONE OF THE TOP CONSERVATION ISSUES IN FLY FISHING. From angler pressure to fish handling, and much more, NO entity is in a better position to positively affect that discussion than AFFTA is. Still.

So, to be clear, Angling Trade sees the need for AFFTA. We want a successful AFFTA. We’re members for a reason. Sometimes your critics can be your most valuable allies.

But a real path forward for AFFTA doesn’t start with a secret meeting of companies talking about mutiny (as happened after the last trade show), and on the other hand, it shouldn’t start with “lipstick on a pig” press releases.

It should start with everyone dialing back the bullshit, making a plan and working together.



  1. AFFTA claims to be a trade organization. They are not. Affta is a trade show organizer. a terrible trade show organizer. Let’s move on.

  2. AFFTA should be a uniting force for the fly fishing industry, for all stake holders large and small. It should be welcoming and supportive to small businesses and provide opportunities for all to sit equally around the table to discuss relevant issues, challenges and trends in our business….the business of fly fishing…finding ways to grow and keep anglers in a sport that balances upon a finite resource. How do we grow the industry without simultaneously destroying the very resources we depend on? How do we protect resources while marketing for more anglers? Trends are often created by the largest companies – how do small businesses play into that and what is their roll in the industry? Is there even a place for them? Or do the “Big 6” dictate it all? These are issues that should be key when “gatherings” take place.

  3. If the sentiment is that AFFTAs tradeshow is dead, but we still want to meet as an industry what do we do about it. Should AFFTA look at partnering with Fly Fishing Show and hold a day or two before or after the FFS for industry only? No one I talked with wants to or can join Icast and go to Florida in the summer. We don’t fit with Shot-Show. How do we attract buyers and brands and crowds and make the best of the limited time and resources we have as businesses and consumers?

  4. Thank you for an honest review of the event and for saying what needs to be said. Out of all things said in the article, I think the most important is for AFFTA to redefine it’s mission and understand what benefits they are providing their members. Prior to the AFFTA Confluence, they were touting TrackFly as the big draw, but I personally made 6 calls to retailers to ask them their opinions on TrackFly and 6 of 6 were not proponents of the idea. Although that is a small survey size, It feels there is a disconnect and lack of communication between AFFTA and it’s paying membership. The AFFTA vision and membership benefits, doesn’t seem to align with the membership vision and members are wondering how they benefit from membership dues. Personally, I still feel “Shows” or “Confluences” or whatever you want to call them, are still viable and have value if well executed. However, the value of attending the show (or paying membership dues) has to be clear and important to members (retailers, guides, sales reps., manufacturers, conversation groups, etc.). That has not happened in recent years.

  5. The AFFTA Industry Gatherings survey hit your inboxes today if you are a past or present member. Please fill it out. We know that we want to gather as an industry, so use your voice in the survey to be part of the future of those gatherings!

  6. Viable industry trade shows still happen, if you have an industry that sees a tangible value of a return on their investment of time and money spent in exhibiting and they believe in the organization. To simplify it here in a comment, the fly industry revolves around product, public access, clean water and relationships. The industry trade association flourishes when the manufacturers knows they are being equally represented with a platform(s) to showcase their blood sweat and tears, valuable/pertinent educational opportunities for specialty retailers, and representation at a state and federal level on trade issue, public access, habitat and clean water and clear concise open communication and the most important part of communication is listening. It’s a pretty simple formula but it needs constant attention for a thriving association.

  7. I think you have to create a reason to go. Also there needs to be some sort of value for attending. St The cost attending this thing is upwards of $1000-1200 per person to attend, ideally there ought to be discounts you can’t anywhere else. Also for some odd reason AFFTA seems to think the center of the fly fishing world is Denver or the Rocky Mountains. You could hold it in NJ, MA, Washington DC that would be a place many could drive to. How about that?

  8. Great article. I agree on most/all fronts. Perhaps AFFTA should move past trade shows? There’s a lot of other issues that could be addressed – like spey line standardization – that would be helpful. There are other organizations that run great trade shows…

  9. There are lots of good comments here, and I especially think Mike Hogue is on to something. If something more affordable, and have located someone on the East Coast, or Mid-Atlantic that would be a step in the right direction. So many more shops could drive to a location in the Mid-Atlantic and that would be quite helpful.

    The other issue is, it always seems like a small handful of companies control nearly everything. Of course, if they are footing most of the bill that is understandable but I would love to see more companies and fly shops involved.

  10. Kirk I could not agree more. Thanks for saying publicly what a lot of have said for years. Also if you want a trade show get back with ICAST. Not sure why we ever left after all your spinning, casting, bass, saltwater anglers are already fishing, that is the lowest hanging fruit around to convert to a fly angler.

  11. So there is some vague reference on Facebook that this show is dead and they it will switch to rotating round table. How about an announcement? Gee I guess that’s admitting failure. Kevin is correct in putting this back with Icast , although who WANTS to go to FLA in Jul-Aug? That’s like asking everyone to come visit NY in Feb. Ugh!

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