Last month I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD) show at the Denver Convention Center with DUN Magazine for the first time. The sheer volume of people to talk to and things to see was overwhelming, but I had the chance to speak with a lot of fantastic people and observe the scenery, so to speak. Here are some of the things I enjoyed most from my one-day journey.
These signs adorned the entrance to the exhibition hall, announcing that IFTD was a plastic-free event. All attendees received a water bottle with registration, and water stations were set up throughout the show to help avoid plastic bottles. How awesome! I’m not going to say that I saw absolutely no plastic at IFTD (it seems like somehow this insidious material always manages to sneak its way in, whether it’s in the form of a straw or a beer cup), but the noticeable effort to reduce plastic waste was definitely a win.
Orvis 50/50 On The Water Photo Booth
The ladies at Orvis have done it again! The Orvis 50/50 booth asked attendees to take a photo of themselves holding a paper “thought bubble,” where they wrote what they were committed to doing to help encourage women in fly fishing. They posted the photos on a column next to the booth. I loved seeing the enthusiasm for this cause from both men and women and the range of offerings, “teach my daughter to fish” perhaps being my favorite.
Ok, so she wasn’t actually there in person, but boy was she there in spirit. One of the best moments of the show was at the IFTD 2019 awards ceremony when Joan Wulff received the Lefty Kreh Industry Leadership Award. United Women On The Fly’s Heather Hodson accepted the award on Joan’s behalf and read a speech that Joan had prepared. Joan spoke of her journey in the fly fishing industry over the last 67 years, describing her trajectory from doing tackle demos and tournament casting (making very little money) to working for Winston, to eventually having her own fly fishing school along with her husband Lee. She described “an especially full and wonderful life,” intertwined with fly fishing and the fly fishing community. I was moved to see the recognition of her extraordinary achievements so fully embraced by everyone present in the room. “Standing on the shoulders of giants” is the phrase that came to my mind at the time, and I think or at least I hope that we all felt that in some way.
The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program
Did you know that every time you buy fly fishing gear, from any manufacturer, money goes to support state fish and wildlife programs? I had the good fortune of meeting Kayla Barrett and Amanda Horvath at the show, fish and wildlife biologists from Denver who work for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. They were there to share information and answer questions about programs funded through the Federal Government’s 10% excise tax on angling equipment (shooting and archery equipment and recreational motorboat fuel are taxed similarly). Prior to meeting them, I was unaware that all fly fishing gear manufacturers, producers, and importers pay a tax of 10% on the retail cost of the products they sell, and this money goes to state fish and wildlife resource agencies for research, conservation, stream education, hatcheries, and public access (depending on the state). How’s that for encouragement to visit your local fly shop!
Fish Art by Michael Williams (Green Bus Designs) and Ty Hallock (Ty Hallock Studios)
I have to hand it to these guys, their setup at the Vedavoo booth was one of the most fun things I saw at the show (and perhaps one of the most well-attended). They were drawing with sharpies and paint pens in real-time, and it was a blast to watch them work. From taimen to tarpon, they’ve got you covered, and they make images to adorn just about anything. Got a new, snazzy cooler? Sure, they can spice that up for you. Need to add some bling to your big streamer box? Yup, they do that too. They were super-generous in taking the time to chat with me and show me their work. Check out some of their images at greenbusdesigns.com and tyoutdoors.com.
Fly Fishing Businesswomen: They are NOT unicorns!
Sometimes I get the sense from the press that women are “up and coming” in the world of fly fishing, and while I know this is true numbers-wise (to be sure, the vast majority of show attendees had Y chromosomes), female businesswomen and influencers had a solid presence. From rods to flies, to apparel and gear, women continue to make their mark (and clearly have been doing so for a long time). I had the pleasure of speaking with multiple female business owners (and I’m happy to say there were too many to cover in just one blog post!). Some, like April Archer of SaraBella Fishing and Linda Leary of FisheWear, are part of a growing movement within the industry to address the gaping need for women-specific products. April has taken on the challenge of creating fly rods designed with women in mind (lightweight, smaller cork grips, customizable), and Linda has made waves in the industry by producing colorful, functional, and effortlessly cool women’s fishing apparel.
Others, like Karin Miller of Zen Tenkara, are using their unique perspective and passion to push boundaries. Karin fell in love with Tenkara-style, fixed-line fishing but wanted to develop rods that were more versatile and could be used for a broader range of applications (for saltwater or for larger species, for example). Still, other women I spoke with have worked persistently and quietly over many years to grow larger scale businesses with wide distribution. Ellen Clark, co-owner with Rainy Riding of Rainy’s Inc., spoke with me about their multi-national company that manufactures high-quality flies and has been female-owned for over 40 years. Rainy founded the company in 1971 after developing a passion for fly tying. She designed many of the flies in their extensive catalog and according to their website has over 850 patterns to her name. I have to give all of these ladies a hand. Y’all rock.
The Double Haul for Dorian Relief Coalition
Dillon Gruber, Associate Director of Yellow Dog Community & Conservation Foundation, a non-profit organization associated with Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures that supports communities and conservation in the locations where anglers fish with Yellow Dog, spoke with me about the efforts of the Double Haul for Dorian Relief Coalition. It’s a group of fly fishing businesses that have collaborated to assist the angling communities of Grand Bahama Island and Abaco Island in response to the devastation of Hurricane Dorian in September. According to the literature that Dillon provided me, the Coalition has raised over $350,000 (and counting); arranged for charter flights to deliver critical supplies; assisted lodge staff, guides, and their families in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane; shipped in-kind donations, and sponsored two medical trips to deliver antibiotics. They continue to raise funds for these efforts. Dillon described how rapidly the angling community here in the U.S. responded after the hurricane to assist their brothers and sisters in the Bahamas. If I learned one thing at IFTD, it’s that the world of fly fishing is small, almost like a quirky extended family. Families take care of each other, and apparently, this one is no different. For more information about the Double Haul for Dorian Relief Coalition or to make a donation, please visit www.ydccf.org/bahamas
Ok, well that’s a wrap. Many thanks to all those who took the time to speak with me at the show. Your love for and dedication to all things fishing is infectious. See you next year!