The Fly Fishing Retailer World Trade Expo passed through Denver last week, and everyone I spoke with felt that this trade show was undoubtedly smaller in scope. I saw fewer exhibitors, fewer attendees, and fewer new products coming your way in the coming year.

But I’m not ready to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. In fact, to be perfectly blunt, I saw a lot less “dead wood” at FFR this year. In years past, sorting through the array of new product for things that I thought offered some real potential was like looking for needles in a haystack. This year, I got the impression that the companies had taken the reality check of current economic times seriously… there was more deliberate focus on the R&D side. I didn’t see companies throwing spaghetti against the wall. Instead, I saw fewer, better products that answered specific market needs. For example, the price of quality is coming down. Women anglers will have more good, functional product designed for them (beyond pink rods, as Mr. Merwin alluded to in his recent post on the Honest Angler). The environmental conscience is growing (and yes, Ramcatt, part of that is marketing) in what I feel is a positive direction.

Here’s who I think made a positive splash at FFR 2009:

Scientific Anglers developed streamer-specific lines (Sharkskin Streamer Express)… a smart concept, because when you think about the crossover market, and newbies taking up the sport, the easiest learning curve isn’t about hatches and small tippet… it’s chucking streamers.

Sage introduced an Xi3 saltwater rod that I cast, and felt was easily one of the best-action saltwater rods I’ve thrown. Not fast for the sake of fast. This action has purpose and effect.

Ross Evolution 2 reels will make a positive impression.

Redington has a great array of intelligent clothing options for women.

Smith Optics impressed me with its Touchstone Techlite polarized glass lenses. Oakley is also going large in the fly world.

Orvis introduced the “Hydros” rod series… basically the same blanks as the Helios, which I’m on record for saying nice things about… minus $200 in price by way of less fancy reel seats, guides, etc. They’ve added fractional weight to the rod, but at $200 savings, that’s a trade I think people will make.

Patagonia showed us some highly functional insulation products I think will do very well.

I liked a pair of pliers from StreamWorks that retail for under a hundred bucks.

I also like the $89 vest I saw from fishpond, as well as a handful of good options in the wader and jacket line from Cloudveil.

Simms came out with a line of bug-resistant clothes (No Fly Zone) which I’m eager to test; I think the best take-away for me from the show might be the box of HardBite Cleat Studs, I screwed into my wading boots and fished on Saturday… there is no need, in my mind, to fish felt now.

Tim and I shot a series of videos which we’ll be showing here, so you can see some of these products for yourself in the coming days.

To the questions:

Nobody thinks rubber is the answer to invasive species in and of itself. Inspect, clean, etc. But rubber is a start. I think there are a variety of factors that led to rubber soles (Orvis is now in too–Wags–with one model priced @ $100), and marketing is one of them… but I am satisfied that the rationale away from felt is reasonable. See Merwin’s post below on studs… I agree wholeheartedly with what he has to say.

No serious talk on the taboo of warranties.

I think a lot of companies are acting on warmwater potential… most notably St. Croix, Sage, Redington, and SA.

I don’t see PVC being in the mix for rain gear in a serious way… the fabrics are trending toward lighter and better.

Loomis is out of the blanks for building rods business… best to Google options, I’m not seeing any push on this front at the retail level.

Tenkara is a niche… an interesting niche… but we’ll see if there’s any real marketing push in 2010.

A lot of companies (Patagonia, Simms, Orvis) are involved on the conservation side… the real question is who is ponying up to support TU, which is tackling some serious issues now (public land drill leases, Bristol Bay/Pebble Mine, etc.). I think the company that bonds with TU is supporting what matters most for 80% or more of the core market… trout fishing.

There is serious talk about doing more for working guides. It’s up to guides to outline the type of help they want. I’ll push this agenda.

The industry as a whole is going to aggressively make instructional resources available to shops and angler prospects in coming months… the industry is finally realizing that it’s more important to convince new people to fly fish in the first place, than to sell the same old folks more and more technical product they may or may not really need.

Many companies are also looking at pricepointing lower, especially on rods and reels.

One way that is happening is through overseas manufacturing, which I saw (and expect to see) more and more.

I think it’s well below 50% odds that the show returns to Denver next year. I think connecting to another trade show is a likely scenario.