A perennial fixture of the fly fishing scene, the winter shows featuring vendors, tyers, and outfitters are highlights for anglers enduring the winter doldrums. With the premier expo holding events at seven locations across the country, and numerous other shows put on by sportsman’s groups and Trout Unlimited chapters, anglers from virtually anywhere can spend a day or weekend immersed in the culture of fly fishing.
I was able to attend the Fly Fishing Show at Marlborough, Massachusetts this year. Although it was barely 20 degrees outside, men, women, and children filled up the Royal Plaza Trade Center. I spent most of the day walking the hall, talking to exhibitors, and watching demonstrations.
From being in this community for a while, I’m aware that different anglers attend shows for different reasons. Personally, I love to meet and listen to people who are passionate about what they make/sell/do. History, anecdotes, and hands-on demonstrations communicate value more than flashy displays. The difference between a booth being popular or barren usually has to do with those staffing it, and I really respect and appreciate those who do it well.
Throughout the course of the day, I had a chance to speak to a significant number of people. By and large, everyone was pleasant and engaging. There were a few disappointments, which is to be expected. For the life of me I can’t imagine why someone would spend money to sit at a show, try to sell or promote something, and not be willing to strike up a conversation with a potential customer. Thankfully, there were only a couple of these interactions.
That being said, I’d like to highlight a handful of booths that I feel did a great job engaging patrons at the show. I decided to just focus on vendors, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some great tyers and expeditions present. The following companies’ booths were, in my opinion, in the top tier of exhibitors on the day I attended:
Cheeky Fishing I could talk a lot about the guts it takes to display spinning reels prominently at a fly fishing show, but I’d be making a bigger deal out of it that it deserves. Cheeky is definitely a major player in New England, and they’re spreading across the country quickly. Thanks to social media and partnerships with organizations like Trout Unlimited, this company’s bright reels are making waves. I’m partial to the Ambush 375: a gold and green 5 to 7-weight large arbor that would be the perfect match for big river trout, all-around smallmouth, or carping pursuits. With three series of fly reels, some top-notch plyers, and a line of belts/dog collars/key fobs, these guys are doing what they do and doing it well. And they make nice spinning reels, too.
Douglas Outdoors I mentioned that I’m drawn to exhibitors that tell a story about their product or company. The reps of Douglas must have been able to read me pretty well, because they told me everything I wanted to know about the history of the brand. What drew me in was the classic styling of their Argus fly reels. Precise and pretty, with about as perfect of a sound as you can get, these reels are definitely worth any traditionalist’s attention. I also got to cast one of their Upstream rods. Incredibly light – both in ounces and “in hand.” The 3-weight I played with was a pleasure to cast, and reeling in the Argus when I was done was about as much fun.
3-Tand Reels definitely got my attention at the show, and 3-Tand’s TF line blew me away when I picked them up. Immediately there was some kind of cognitive disconnect. How could something so light also feel so solid at the same time? Attention to detail, a completely sealed drag, and a very reasonable price ($179-$209) make the TF series perhaps the most compelling disc-drag reels for fresh and light saltwater applications. The booth was simple and straightforward: touch our reels. If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to go to a shop that carries 3-Tand and play with one for yourself.
HMH Vises The HMH booth was technically in the fly tyers section at the show, but they were peddling their superb vises and their tube fly system. With everything from the actual tubes, to accessories, to a tool that can be attached to any vise to turn it into a tube fly vise, HMH can outfit anyone to begin tying these great flies. The guys walked me through their starter pack (the “HMH Universal Tube Fly Kit”) and explained how easy adding these patterns to my repertoire could be. The bottom line is that anyone who fishes for steelhead, salmon, or even large trout and bass should look into tube flies and some of the benefits of this type of fishing. For under $55, HMH will supply you with everything you need to make it happen.
J:son If you think that flies should be tied with nothing but the things one gathers from dead critters, then the materials and flies that J:son makes are going to be outlandish. However, if foam and plastics don’t offend your sensibilities, this brand is worth checking out. Incredibly lifelike, and presumably high-floating, mayflies, caddisflies, and grasshoppers were eye-catching. The mayflies in particular are very elegant. Even if you are perfectly content in the way you tie, perusing the J:son catalog might provide you with a solution to a problem that you’ve been attempting to solve at the vise.
Souplefly These guys probably gave the best product demo all day. “Hey man, have you seen this before? No? Okay – well check this out.” The simplicity of the Bug Visor meant that the demonstration didn’t take long. The Bug Visor is the flagship product of Souplefly, who also make some trendy and functional hats and shirts. The visor holds and protects hemostats, flotant, nippers, tippet, and flies. It can be worn around the neck, and then velcroed to your car’s visor or boat’s console. For the minimalist angler, or the fly fisher who wants just a few things for a quick couple of casts, this product is probably perfect. Plus, these guys had the coolest camper of the show.
TenkaraBum A recent survey published by Field & Stream claims that half of the guides they survey think that Tenkara is just a fad. That might be true, but there are a lot of “fads” that stay very viable and relevant among their devotees long after they fade from the limelight. Tenkara’s popularity may change, but Chris Stewart will always be at the center of the American wing of the Japanese technique. “A lot of guys get a starter rod from somewhere else,” Stewart says, “but once they get into it and want to get serious they come to me.” The number of rods in his booth was staggering. Dozens of lengths, actions, and applications were available. Some of the manufactures are recognizable to American anglers (Daiwa, Shimano), others are smaller and more specialized. If you fish Tenkara, I highly suggest a trip to TenkaraBum’s website to see a broader picture of this facet of angling.
Again, the preceding list of booths was just a selection of the great exhibitors attending the Marlborough show. I’d encourage you to click on the links above and check out their websites, and take the opportunity to see them in person if you’re planning on attending a show in the next few months. Additionally, if you’re not able to go to a show, head over to the Fly Fishing Show website and browse the full list of companies and individuals that have made the effort to meet the angling community.
Fly fishing shows and general outdoor expos are great for social, educational, and bargain hunting purposes. Meeting the men and women who are behind the flies, books, and gear enhances the total experience of the sport. Many are just as excited to meet their fellow anglers, and are happy to take the time to hear your stories. These events are great for supporting our community by raising awareness and generating commerce. But they also touch on something deeper: strengthening those friendships and networks that enrich the pursuit of fly fishing.