My first impression was that it was just another flyfishing show. Larger than any other I had attended, but basically the same. There were plenty of vendors looking to make a buck off of flyfishing, and lots of their friendly, experienced staff manning the booths. Unlike Florida shows, the focus was definitely not on saltwater.
The IFF was advertised to be doing some educational programs but, with the exception of one individual, I saw no one I knew, and I never found the IFF booth. Possibly their program was derailed by the weather. The outside morning temperature was in the mid-20s and I doubt many would have been interested in casting lessons outside. I know the cold had a negative impact on my enthusiasm - to put it mildly.
So, I just wandered around and took it all in. I really tried to step back a bit and be a detached observer of this niche culture we call flyfishing. I attended a few workshops on different aspects of trout fishing, and I made it a point to observe a lot of casting at the ponds.
There were three casting demonstrators of significant notoriety, none of which I had watched before. All three impressed me, but not always in a good way. I learn something every time I watch someone cast, and I definitely picked up some new ideas. I also paid close attention to my fellow students in the crowd. It was obvious that some shared my disappointment when the demonstrators had their low spots.
Watching the other anglers/casters at the ponds was also interesting. Even though I assumed those trying out rods were likely trout anglers, the scenario was quite similar to any other show. There were the usual show-offs, primarily younger males, who were quite proud to blast tailing loops out past 60 feet. Then there were those who were seriously attempting to find the magic rod that would take them to the next step. I paid close attention to booth experts who were touting their particular brand while supposedly helping the potential customers cast. I am quite proud of myself as I mostly managed to bite my tongue.
I hope the above paragraphs do not sound arrogant. Watching the demonstrators and the anglers drove home just how difficult it is to really teach flycasting. Showing off, even if, or maybe especially if one is quite advanced might discourage as many students as it enlightens. The professorial showman has his place on the stage, but an oft-repeated shtick, no matter how clever or humorous, stands out when spontaneity is obviously lacking. Self-serving celebrities of marginal casting ability and less teaching ability do not do our sport any favors.
To say I was surprised when someone else vocalized my thoughts would be an understatement! I was not alone in my speculation that the level of flycasting ability of the average angler seems to be in decline, and it might have a lot to do with us, the supposed flycasting teachers. I do not know the answer, but I have a feeling there were innumerable self-proclaimed casting experts at that show. Their snake-oil promise that the silver bullet answer is made of the latest high modulus graphite can only discourage the beginner. In their minds, if they cannot cast better with the latest, greatest, and grossly expensive equipment, what chance do they have?
On a more positive note, I had one thing I definitely wanted to check out, and I was not disappointed. I had heard quite a lot about a relatively new independent rod company called Clutch. The proprietor reminded me a lot of our own Paul Arden. He hails from a casting competition background, designs his own rods, and lucky for me, he is quite into saltwater. A model that was designed as a streamer rod looks like it might be a stellar option for painting mangrove shorelines. In addition to serious hardware and fine finish, the rod is grain rated, which I find refreshing and hope will catch on. Clutch flyrods for large tarpon have garnered quite favorable reviews from a number of the younger, up and coming Keys guides. I am going to watch what happens next with interest.
I’m not sure how to mention this without sounding like some sort of fanboy, but the highlight of the show, for me, was finally meeting Mac Brown. He is the real deal.
I had planned on hanging around until Sunday morning before heading home but the weather forecasters started using strange terms I did not understand: sleet, freezing rain, and icy roads. Those things, whatever they are, were supposed to take place in the early AM, and if I survived them in the tiny Japanese go-cart I rented, I could count on driving through normal rain almost all the way home. So, I bolted on Saturday right after the last casting demo.
There might have been another subconscious motive, though: getting home early would give me some daylight on Sunday to try out the new HT6 that was in the car trunk!
The end of this week I’ll be in Crystal River at the IFF Florida meeting. I’ll have more about that and the HT next time.