All Grown Up: The International Fly Tackle Dealer Show

by John Merwin

The International Fly Tackle Dealer Show--a fly fishing trade show--takes place in New Orleans this week, and you're going to be hearing a lot about it. Websites and blogs devoted all or in part to fly fishing will be all over it, covering new products introduced for the coming season as well as whatever industry gossip comes their way.

With that in mind, I thought I'd offer a little inside history of the whole deal, which also involves considerable personal history as well. Through the 1970s, both fly fishing itself and fly fishing media--then mostly magazines--were growing rapidly. There was no fly fishing trade association back then, nor was there any fly fishing media devoted to the trade. There was instead a general fishing-tackle trade show (formerly known as AFTMA, now called ICAST) within which the much smaller fly fishing community felt somewhat marginalized and lost.

In 1979, when I was leaving my editing job at Fly Fisherman magazine to start what became Fly Rod & Reel magazine, I was also taking part in some industry meetings aimed at possibly starting a fly fishing trade association. Scott Rods founder Harry Wilson, Scientific Anglers head Lew Jewett, and Leon Chandler from Cortland Line were in the forefront at the time--all friends of mine and all now very unfortunately deceased.

One of the things we talked about was the need for a trade magazine to sort of bind the fly fishing industry together. There being no such thing, I started one with their help--called Fly-Tackle Dealer--back in 1981, which appeared as a quarterly newsletter featuring industry-specific articles and advertising. Unique to my own entrepreneurial experience--consisting mostly of flops--this worked pretty well and actually made a bit of money. Not much, but a bit.

Within a couple of years, my business partner Kit Parker and I had sold both Fly Rod & Reel and Fly-tackle Dealer to DownEast Enterprise in Maine. (I escaped with most of the shirt on my back and not much else.) It was DownEast that used Fly-Tackle Dealer to begin the first industry trade show later in the 1980s. Fortunately, by the early 1990s, an industry trade association was also healthy and growing--AFFTA (the American Fly-Fishing Trade Association).

Unfortunately, at about the same time, DownEast and AFFTA got in a huge wrangle over trade-show administration and how to split the proceeds. That was the end of that. AFFTA took over the trade show entirely. DownEast lost out and soon folded Fly-Tackle Dealer, which without show revenue became a losing proposition. By the time this was happening, I was no longer involved in any of it, doing no more than looking on sort of sadly.

The fly fishing trade show has been very strongly maintained by AFFTA, however, and that for the industry is a very good thing. And there's a new trade magazine serving the industry, Angling Trade, published by my Field & Stream colleague and Fly Talk blogger Kirk Deeter, an obvious glutton for punishment. So now, some 30 years after the foregoing, I'll be going to that trade show with a hint of a smile. Sort of like seeing your kid grow up...