I would say that the most impressive aspect of the show was the turnout. On Saturday, it was difficult, many times, to simply move from one booth to the next. It felt like the number of attendees more than doubled from the previous year. The venue, a major convention center, was not small, but they may need to consider alternate accommodations for next year, if possible. It would seem that fly fishing is alive and well, at least in the SE USA.
Thankfully, I got up there early and the first day, during the workweek, it was not so crowded. My main goal was to cast and compare the top rods from the major rod makers and I found ample time on the casting ponds to do just that. I sampled Scott, Sage, Orvis, Loomis and others. From some of them I tried two different models. I brought my own reel and line (a seven weight GT125) and I used it to compare rods labeled as 8. To my surprise, all of them felt comfortable with that line. I had feared that maybe some rods would feel under lined. When I mentioned that to the reps in the booth a few said they designed the rods to cast standard weight lines and openly blamed the line manufacturers for the current confusion.
I also tried a few tarpon weight rods, as that is what I am currently in the market for, but those results were almost worthless. I did not bring my own line, and many of the reels supplied by the vendors were outfitted with aggressive tapers on plus weight lines. Testing a 10 weight rod with a permit line and a piece of yarn on the end of a short leader is simply a stupid waste of time.
To my hand, amongst the 8 weight rods, there was one that stood apart – the Scott Sector – although most were very nice in their own way. A number of them would be an obvious improvement over my current rods, and I kinda wish I had never tried them! The Sector was different in that I could get feedback throughout the entire blank, from butt to tip, while other blanks had ghost zones – for lack of a more technical term. They all were amazingly light, again, at least, compared to what I am currently fishing.
One model from a top brand that I will not name, shocked me when I kept missing the hoop to the right. Of course, I first thought it must be me, but up until that point I was not at all embarrassed with my accuracy casting, even in public. Just to be sure I immediately tested another model and the fly once again went straight to the hoop. I find it interesting that an expensive model of a top brand would have a glaring error on a specifically chosen demo rod. So… it must have been me.
Probably the most enjoyable part of the show, for me, was getting an insight into how to cast a 10 foot 3 weight trout rod. Talk about trying something way off my radar screen! For someone who really gets off on the act of casting in itself, that was a true delight. Comparing that to the ugly reality of search casting with a tarpon rod easily highlights the fact that one size does not fit all. While the mechanics of fly casting may have some things in common, there are definitely different ends to the spectrum!
One small product I picked up as a freebie might be of interest here on SL. The stuff is called MICROslick and was available at the Monic flyline booth. It is a light flyline lube that comes in a spray bottle. I am guessing it is silicone based on how it feels on my fingers. When I can get out on the practice field again I will give a complete report.
The last observation I will share is once again about the show attendees. I would say the vast majority were serious fly anglers. The level of casting on display at the ponds was somewhat better than what I remember seeing at previous shows. The fact that almost all attendees were very similar in age, gender, and color, however, was also glaringly apparent. There were very few female or younger anglers and the lack of ethnic diversity was somewhat shocking.
A few years back, there was a concern that most fly anglers had grey hair and that the sport was in danger of dying off. That does not seem to be the case anymore. Or has it become OK to “touch up” that grey with a bit of dye?
Personally, I think grey hair is a badge of honor.