Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

September 29, 1997

Review and Retrospect: The IFTD Show

I'm still in shock. The good news is my feet are back to normal size, I can sleep in my own bed, and my dog didn't bite me when I got back from Denver.

Our whole staff, (all four of us) recently attended the International Fly Tackle Dealers. We've been to several of these shows, sometimes as paid representatives for a fly rod company, as writers, or buyers for a fly shop.

Always there are neat new products, especially in the expanding fly tying field, sometimes a unique rod or reel, great outdoor wear, book signing, and wonderful art. You may talk to Lefty, or Chico, or Joan in person. The food in exhibition halls rarely varies from hot dogs and cold sandwiches. Except I don't recall ever seeing soft pretzels dipped in butter and then cinnamon before. But I've lived a pretty sheltered life.

Rich Ward, (nickname Mr. Wonderful - from high school days) a rep who works out of Missoula Montana, had some interesting observations. Rich sees the big sports shows as declining. In this case, "manufacturers spend a lot of money to bring in displays, people, sometimes sales reps from around the country. The shop owners or buyers come in to see the new stuff and place their orders at the show. It is not bringing in the kind of return they expect," he said.

There were empty booth spaces at this show. Two years ago when we worked the same show for a rod manufacturer, there was a waiting list. That year Orvis unveiled their Trident rod and brought in 50 people, all dressed identically to show folks the new rods. I doubt if there were 20 at this show. Some familiar faces were absent.

I'm not really sure why this particular show exists. I can understand the big Sportsman Shows. There the general public - we the consumer - get to see all the new cool stuff in one place. The IFTD show is for the shops to purchase from the manufacturers. All the manufacturers have reps. Reps call on every fly shop and sporting goods shop in the country. Reps generally work on a percentage of the sale. Tons of mailings on products are sent out to the same shops. Add to that the magazine, trade journal and television advertising and you have overkill.

Overkill may be part of a real problem.

Problem? If you didn't read it, go back and read my pick for best of the IFTD show. Especially the last paragraph.

Anyway, all the new reels, new rods, a full 80% are priced out of sight. At least out of my sight. We do mostly fish in saltwater requiring a reel that is not going to clog up and self-destroy from saltwater corrosion. That adds to the cost of any reel. Check prices. A reel that will hold 250 yards of backing, an eight weight or larger line, with any kind of a drag system, for the salt is in the $200 range minimum. Sometimes a lot more.

Rods? I looked at several very nice, smooth, well dressed new rods. In the five to eight wt. range - $400 and up. (One exception to that is in NWFly's pick of the show, Elkhorn Rods made in Loveland, Colorado.) I personally like the owner, Tom Clinkenbeards' motto, Fine, Honest FlyRods. Excellent rods, priced under $200 including a really good case. Sounds like Tom is on the right track.

It's the same with clothing. Is a fishing shirt worth $80? I've got a real problem with that too. $27 for a cotton fishing hat with a longer bill? I think I paid $25 for my first really good felt cowboy hat . . . and that was expensive!

Expensive rods, expensive reels, fly lines that cost $45 to $65 (and you have to have at least two of them, maybe 3). It's nearly obscene. A rich mans' sport? Is that what is happening to fly fishing? Are they, have we, priced new fly fishers out of the market?

And why have the prices gone up so drastically? Do some price comparisons over the last two or three years. See if you agree.

Maybe we need to let the manufacturers know that more expensive is not necessarily better. We need good, functional gear that works. Stuff the average guy can afford. Not everyone lives in Silicon Valley or earns the income of the Microsoft executives in Seattle, WA.

Fly fishermen used to be a fraternity who cared about each other, the fishery and the places the fish are found. Looks to me like what we are now is just a marketplace. They have reversed the game. The manufacturers are fishing for suckers. And we .... ~ The LadyFisher

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