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.