by Scott Sadil
A year ago, almost to the day, I proclaimed, along with others, how good it was to hear that after a year of disruption caused by 12 months of pandemic restrictions, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) had announced the return of its annual International Fly Tackle Dealer show in October, 2021.
Little did we know, we still had a long way to go.
But last week, I’m happy to report, it finally happened: IFTD gave industry faces, old and new alike, the chance to gather and share their wares, an opportunity nobody would have thought of as anything more than business as usual had we not all been through the past two years of Covid isolation, ignorance, and intrigue.
What an industry trade show has to do with you and me — and anyone else who is just glad to get out on the water — may or may not seem obvious to the reader. And I’ll be the first to admit that the business of fly fishing is a lot less interesting to me than stalking wild waters for wild fish, far removed from the prickly details of market strategies, supply-chain disruptions, e-commerce, apps, and innovations that appear, in some cases, to point back to gear and fashions I recall from my first tentative steps in the sport, 50 years ago.
Then again, if someone couldn’t make a living designing and building rods, experimenting with and developing new materials and technologies and manufacturing techniques, we would no doubt have a much tougher time placing a fly, just so, to turn and fool a feeding roosterfish.
And you really will want some fairly sophisticated equipment to stop that beast and manage it, if luck holds, through the frothy surf.
The thing that impresses me most about many of the companies, and the people behind them, at a gathering of fly-fishing manufacturers, is just how clever and insightful they are in addressing the unending challenges of the sport.
There’s the notion, of course, of creating a successful, profitable business – the same principles that go into making and selling phones, cars, drones, soccer franchises, pogo sticks, and widgets. But then there are those minds in the sport that seem to spend their creative juices on nothing more, nor less, than the simple aim of elevating the angling experience.
I’m not going to name any names. Not here, at least. I don’t want to sound like a shill. But here and there throughout the sport you find the spirit of, say, the old-time boat designer whose deepest motivation was to build a boat to catch more fish, or go the fastest, or handle the challenges of specific water, rather than devising a plan that made economic sense or met the metrics or matrices of some mathematically sound business model.
No doubt mine are romantic ideals. I’m a writer, after all. Yet now and then an elegant marriage between form and function brings us a product that makes a genuine difference, either on or off the water, while also generating enough income for the artist or artisan to continue pursuing his or her craft.
Luckily for anglers, sprinkled throughout the fly-fishing industry are individuals who seem driven to devise better ways to cast to and catch fish rather than new and improved strategies for turning a profit.
One doesn’t necessarily exclude the other – but you can bet, in most cases, behind the gear you like best to fish with are some fired-up folks who feel just as passionate about chasing and catching fish as you do.
It makes sense to give them some business.
Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil feels most successful when he stops trying to figure out how to make a living.