Somerset, New Jersey–The Fly Fishing Show
is no place to take anyone with an abiding fear of insects. Witness Paul Whillock’s incredibly realistic “Flies As Art”, exquisite reproductions of anatomically correct stoneflies, mayflies, caddisflies, even a frighteningly accurate praying mantis. These things will fool any trout if you’re callous enough toss one in the water. They’ve even fooled U.S. customs agents, whom I’ve always assumed are slightly smarter than your average goldfish. The evidence, though, is not encouraging. The first time Whillock, who is British, tried to bring his flies into the states, these geniuses confiscated his luggage, heroically preventing a dastardly attempt at international biological sabotage. For more on Whillock’s “Masterclass Flies”, check out his web site here.
This show is about as close to a trout stream that a poverty-stricken, Manhatten-stranded associate editor can get in the month of January. Like many northern trout anglers, I scratch the itch by hunching over a tying vise, whipping up patterns for the spring. I use an old Renzetti Traveler that has served me well for years but is getting a little worn around the jaws and doesn’t handle the small stuff like it used to. So when I saw Norm Norlander, inventor of the Nor-Vise Fly Tying System, giving a demonstration of his product, I figured I might get an idea of what I was missing. Which is apparently quite a lot. If you’re a fly tyer and have never heard of this system before you really should check out his site, or at least watch these two demonstration videos (video 1, video 2). All I can say is it’s a good thing I didn’t bring much cash with me. If I had I’d now be out 300 bucks and eating neck hackle soup for the next three months.
There were hundreds of fancy products at the show, but a refreshingly simple (and relatively inexpensive) one that struck me as noteworthy was a new line storage system designed by a Belgian named Roland Henrion. The Smartfisher attaches to your power drill and strips both fly line and backing off your reel in seconds, thus saving the reels of saltwater fly fishermen everywhere (Dad, are you reading this?). The real genius in the design lies in a soft-rubber drill bit that attaches to your reel and lets you re-spool your line in seconds. Check out the Smarfisher web site here, or watch this demonstration video if you’re interested.
Another standout was Van Staal’s new titanium-bailed spinning reel. For years the company has offered a bailless reel that’s been the industry standard for both form and function. The bailed version is just as well-crafted, and should fit the bill for more conservative buyers who aren’t comfortable with the original models. Yes, these are extraordinarily expensive. Yes, they are extraordinarilly pretty. And yes, they will outlive both you and your grandchildren. I had to stand a few feet away from the jewler’s case containing the display to avoid leaving drool on the glass.