The American Sportfishing Association this week announced a plan “to significantly enhance the fly fishing sector” at the next International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, planned for July 11-14, 2023, in Orlando.
“At ASA, our goal is to represent the entire recreational fishing community and fly fishing plays a key role in reaching a specific audience of anglers,” an ASA announcement of the new development reads. “Most issues related to access, clean water and abundant fisheries overlap both conventional and fly fishing with ASA providing a powerful voice that is heard and respected by the administration, on Capitol Hill and around the country.”
It’s true. ASA is a powerful lobby in D.C., and it does have significant political clout. But it has, generally speaking, always been a representative of the conventional angling industry — the fly fishing industry has always kind of been on the outside looking in at the annual ICAST show.
But, with the public push to be more inclusive of fly fishing at ICAST in 2023, ASA appears genuinely interested in appealing to fly-fishing gear manufacturers and others in the industry. This hasn’t always been the case, even when ASA and AFFTA worked together to put on a joint show for a few years prior to 2019. Fly fishing has always kind of been the forgotten sibling among ASA circles — it was segregated from the rest of the ICAST show, and the two segments of the industry often didn’t consort over the course of an exposition.
In the press release earlier this week, ASA asserted that fly fishing would be included in the annual convention as a “main category,” and have its own New Product Showcase and its own awards for new products. Additionally, the “FLYCASTing Pond will be situated next to the ICASTing pond at the 2023 convention — the ponds will kind of mark the “boundary” between the fly fishing portion of the show and the traditional gear section — Swango said the location is considered to be “prime real estate” at ICAST, and hopes it encourages the fly and gear folks to mingle a bit more.
The overt move to promote ASA’s interest in fly fishing might be construed as a “shot across the bow” of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, which, since 2019, has twice hosted its own trade show — the International Fly Tackle Dealer convention — apart from ICAST. The COVID-19 pandemic squashed IFTD in 2020 and 2021, but the fly-fishing industry gathered in Denver in 2019 and again in Salt Lake City in March of 2022 for a somewhat subdued post-COVID convention.
But, according to Blake Swango, ASA’s trade show and membership vice president, that intent of the announcement wasn’t to be hostile to AFFTA.
“I’ve had conversations with our board and our staff for a few years now,” Swango said during a phone interview. “The goal is to be as inclusive as possible, and give fly fishing manufacturers the opportunity to get in front of thousands of dealers and in front of a significant media presence.”
That said, there was no prior communication with AFFTA before the announcement, Swango said.
And the awards? Certainly that’s an incentive for fly fishing brands to participate in the annual ICAST show, Swango said. Past expositions have included a limited number of awards for fly fishing manufacturers, like “best new fly rod,” or “best new fly reel.” But the 2023 show will feature a larger slate of awards for fly-specific gear. Awards categories include:
- Fly fishing rods
- Fly fishing reels
- Fly fishing waders and wading boots
- Fly fishing lines, leaders, tippet and line accessories
- Fly fishing packs, bags and luggage
- Fly fishing technical apparel and accessories
“We wanted to expand our emphasis a little bit,” Swango said. “It will give fly-fishing manufacturers the chance to raise their profiles a bit, and we’re seeing several fly fishing brands already committing to attending the 2023 ICAST.”
Off the top of his head, Swango noted, Cortland, Simms and NRS have committed to ICAST in 2023, and several “crossover” brands will attend the Orlando show, too.
Regardless of the ASA announcement, AFFTA is planning to put on a convention in 2023. Lucas Bissett, AFFTA’s executive director, said the fly-fishing industry trade show is planned in late September for Salt Lake City. The exact dates haven’t been determined, but the show will take place sometime between Sept. 25 and Sept. 29.
Bissett declined to comment on ASA’s seemingly purposeful reach into the fly fishing space, noting instead that the presence of the fly fishing industry at ICAST is nothing new — a number of fly fishing manufacturers attend the ASA show every year, and he doesn’t expect that to change.
But, he said, there will be some changes to IFTD when it goes off next fall.
“We’re working on some new concepts,” he said. “I’ve spent some time talking to people in the industry, and we’ll have those traditional trade-show components, but there will be some new content, too.”
According to Bissett, the pandemic changed everything, and kind of threw the traditional IFTD model on its ear.
“It forced us to look at other options and be a bit more creative and flexible,” he said. That’s why, in part, AFFTA is hosting a full-on “industry summit” in Charleston, S.C., Oct. 16-19, 2022, Bissett said. What used to be the “dealer summit,” and was largely focused on retailers and dealers, is now open to manufacturers, retailers, dealers, guides and outfitters … everyone involved in the fly fishing space.
“AFFTA is still the conduit for the industry to come together and talk about the ‘big picture’ of fly fishing,” Bissett said. “And we have a lot to talk about. Our members are dealing with supply chain issues that are still lingering from COVID, and we still need to address trade opportunities, tariffs and other issues that impact fly fishing.”
And, Bissett said, AFFTA is in a good place, even after having to deal with the pandemic.
“We’re good,” he said. “From a financial standpoint, we weathered COVID better than most industry organizations, and we’re cash positive. We have the ability to be flexible — we’re not tied to a giant trade show in order to make money.”
Instead, according to Bissett, AFFTA is directing its resources helping its members develop better business tools. In the coming months, it will take a “census” of fly fishing retailers, where it will gather anonymous data and use it to help the fly-fishing industry meet its needs in a generally new, post-pandemic landscape.
And, he said, it all starts with next month’s industry summit in Charleston, where he hopes participants will not only take part in high-level training and business seminars in a more relaxed “non-convention” atmosphere, but also “allow us to find out how they want to see the industry move forward.”
It might seem more sensible to cede the “trade show” real estate to ASA and ICAST, but Bissett pointed out that summer isn’t the ideal time for the fly-fishing industry to gather. For most fly-fishing retailers in North America, it’s right in the middle of the fishing season, and taking a week off, especially for retailers and guides, to head to Florida (traditionally in July), is a tough sell, especially if the goal is to bring manufacturers, dealers and retailers together to do business.
So the IFTD show — in one form or another (and Bissett even hinted that the annual convention might not bear the IFTD moniker moving forward) — will happen in September 2023, after the height of the fishing season has passed.
And, as noted, it might not look as much like a traditional convention, either. Bissett seems set on the notion that a smaller setting (which, IFTD, compared to ICAST, certainly is) makes it easier for industry representatives to “have more meaningful conversations” about the craft and the business of the craft.
It’ll take some time, he said, and there will be some evolution involved. But the motivation — to bring all facets of the fly fishing industry together, from manufacturers to retailers —remains the same.
“It might look a little different,” he said, “but there will be parts that will be recognizable.”
The fly fishing industry, Bissett said, “has a unique voice. The industry needs its own event, because we really do have a different mindset … a different ethos.”
And he’s right about one thing. Regardless of the “state of the industry,” the IFTD show never seems to go away — it just keeps coming back for more. As Bissett suggests, the industry recognizes that the IFTD, in one form or another, is necessary.
“In the past,” Bissett, who’s been on the job for about a year now, “the shows were just too big to change. I think COVID dissolved that. Now’s the time to make a change. And in 2022, we had to do a show. In 2023, we want to do a show.”