by Scott Sadil
Like gardeners poring over their winter catalogues, fly fishers share the opportunity each winter to attend shows, both big and small, that can help them pump some blood into plans for the coming year. Whether you’re looking for new gear, a new destination lodge, or simply a chance to hobnob with some of the sport’s most interesting personalities, fly fishing shows offer all of us the chance to get out of the house, get away from our screens, and, as we used to say as surfers, get a little stoke on.
It’s not every day you can hear the lowdown on fishing for golden dorado in Bolivia, get a casting lesson from Brian O’Keefe, watch Landon Mayer tie a new fly, or have John Gierach sign your copy of his latest book.
Or maybe you just want to stroll around and kick a few tires.
Or buy some Crocs, painted to look like brook trout, for your Aunt Mudge.
These shows come in all shapes and sizes, from the big-top feel of last weekend’s Denver extravaganza, to the down-home, county-fair atmosphere of regional gatherings of pros and famous amateurs and teenage hobbyists alike. For many of us, short the price of a plane ticket, these smaller venues might be our only chance to watch professional-level fly tyers and casters perform in person. Unless you hang out with guides, shop staff, or grizzled veterans experienced in the nuances of your local waters, a day at your county fairgrounds could be your best chance not only to watch a Real Guy or Real Gal cast or tie, but to actually carry on a one-on-one conversation with an angler of blue-ribbon skills.
One of my favorite shows has always been the Northwest Fly Tyer & Fly Fishing Expo, held each winter or early spring at the Linn County Fairgrounds near Albany, Oregon. I don’t want to make any unsubstantiated claims, but out West, anyway, there’s not a state that doesn’t hold some sort of show like this: enough tables to fill a high school cafeteria, all of them with tyers taking turns at the vise, concocting everything from midges to mice to mayflies and musky patterns, the latter large enough to wear, perhaps, as your next toupee should you find yourself without your favorite John Deere ball cap.
Somewhere around the perimeter of the auditorium, there’s nearly always a casting pool, long enough to air out the belly of a new Spey line, as well as booths set up for local fly shops and other regional and sometimes even national vendors. Best of all, if you’re a real stickler about this sort of thing, there’s also usually somebody with bins and bins full of, say, deer hair and elk hair or necks of hen hackle, the kind of product you need to get your hands on as you try to select just the right feel for those little flymphs or soft-hackled duns that do so well each evening in June on the famous Mother Dog hole.
I can’t recommend enough a visit to these shows. Think what you might, fly fishing can’t be discovered or learned in any meaningful way without experiences gained firsthand through all of our senses. The whole point of the sport has always seemed to me to bring us closer and closer to some unattainable point where we fully understand the fish and their environment, to learn the skills and craftwork that help us reach a point of intimacy where we can touch, if only for a moment, the same wild energy that moves a fish to eat the fly.
Gray’s angling editor, Scott Sadil, has always loved a circus. He was halfway out the door when a friend suggested he should probably stay and finish school rather than hitch-hike up to Oregon and join Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.