The American Sportfishing Association this week announced a plan “to dramatically improve the fly fishing industry” at the upcoming International Sport Fishing Allied Trades Convention, scheduled 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 angler audience,” reads an ASA announcement about the new development. “Most of the issues of access, clean water and abundant catch overlap both conventional fishing and fly fishing, with the ASA providing a powerful voice that is heard and respected by the administration, on Capitol Hill and across the country.”
It’s true. The ASA is a powerful lobby in DC, and it carries significant political clout. But, generally speaking, he has always been a representative of the conventional angling industry – the fly fishing industry has always been sort of on the outside looking at the annual show ICAST.
But, with public pressure to be more inclusive in fly fishing at ICAST in 2023, ASA seems genuinely interested in bringing in fly fishing gear manufacturers and other industry players. industry. That hasn’t always been the case, even when the ASA and AFFTA worked together to put on a joint show for a few years before 2019. Fly fishing has always been kind of the forgotten brother among circles. ASA – it was separate from the rest of the ICAST show, and the two industry segments often did not come together during an exhibition.
In the press release issued earlier this week, ASA claimed that fly fishing would be included in the annual convention as a “main category” and would have its own new product showcase and new product awards. Additionally, the “FLYCASTing Pond will be located next to the ICASTing Pond during the 2023 convention – the ponds will sort of mark the “boundary” between the fly fishing part of the show and the traditional gear section – Swango has said the location is considered to be “prime real estate” at ICAST, and hopes it will encourage fly and gear people to mingle a bit more.
The overt decision to promote ASA’s interest in fly fishing could be interpreted as a “punch” from the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, which since 2019 has twice held its own show – the International Fly Tackle Dealer convention – apart from ICAST. The COVID-19 pandemic crushed the IFTD in 2020 and 2021, but the fly fishing industry came together in Denver in 2019 and again in Salt Lake City in March 2022 for a post-COVID convention somewhat moderate.
But, according to Blake Swango, ASA Vice President of Trade Show and Membership, this announcement was not intended to be hostile to AFFTA.
“I’ve had conversations with our board and staff for a few years now,” Swango said in a phone interview. “The goal is to be as inclusive as possible and give fly fishing manufacturers the opportunity to present themselves in front of thousands of dealers and in front of a significant media presence.”
That said, there was no prior communication with the AFFTA prior to the announcement, Swango said.
And the rewards? It’s certainly an incentive for fly fishing brands to attend the annual ICAST show, Swango said. Past shows have included a limited number of awards for fly fishing manufacturers, such as “best new fly rod” or “best new fly reel”. But the 2023 show will feature a bigger list of awards for fly-specific gear. Award categories include:
- Fly fishing rods
- Fly fishing reels
- Fly fishing waders and boots
- Fly Fishing Lines, Rigs, Rigs and Line Accessories
- Fly Fishing Packs, Bags & Luggage
- Technical clothing and fly fishing accessories
“We wanted to broaden our focus a bit,” Swango said. “This will give fly fishing manufacturers the chance to raise their profile a bit, and we are seeing several fly fishing brands already committing to ICAST 2023.”
Off the top of its head, Swango noted, Cortland, Simms and NRS have committed to ICAST in 2023, and several “crossover” brands will also attend the Orlando show.
Regardless of the ASA announcement, AFFTA plans to hold a convention in 2023. AFFTA Executive Director Lucas Bissett said the fly fishing industry show is scheduled for late September in Salt Lake City. Exact dates have not been determined, but the show will take place between September 25 and 29.
Bissett declined to comment on the ASA’s seemingly deliberate reach into the fly fishing space, noting instead that the fly fishing industry’s presence at ICAST is nothing short of NEW – A number of fly fishing manufacturers attend the ASA show every year, and it’s not expected to change.
But, he said, there will be some changes to the IFTD when it kicks off next fall.
“We are working on new concepts,” he said. “I’ve spent time talking to people in the industry, and we’ll have those traditional trade show components, but there will be new content as well.”
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 little more creative and flexible,” he said. That’s why, in part, AFFTA is hosting a full “industry summit” in Charleston, South Carolina, October 16-19, 2022, Bissett said. What was once the “Dealer Summit”, and was largely focused on retailers and resellers, is now open to makers, retailers, resellers, guides and outfitters… anyone involved in the angling space. fly.
“AFFTA is still the channel for the industry to come together and talk about the ‘big picture’ of fly fishing,” Bissett said. “And we have a lot to tell each other. Our members are facing supply chain issues that still persist due to COVID, and we have yet to address business opportunities, pricing, 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 are good,” he said. “From a financial perspective, we have weathered COVID better than most organizations in the industry, and we are cash positive. We have the ability to be flexible – we are not tied to a giant salon to make money.
Instead, according to Bissett, AFFTA directs its resources to 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 post-fishing landscape. generally new pandemic.
And, he said, it all starts with next month’s industry summit in Charleston, where he hopes attendees will not only take part in high-level training and business seminars in an atmosphere unconventional” more relaxed, but also “will allow us to discover how they want to see the industry moving forward.
It may seem wiser to turn over the “trade show” real estate to the ASA and ICAST, but Bissett pointed out that summer is not the ideal time for the fishing industry to fly gathers. For most fly fishing retailers in North America, it’s right in the middle of fishing season, and taking a week off, especially for retailers and guides, to travel 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 has even hinted that the annual convention may not carry the IFTD moniker in the future) – will take place in September 2023, after the fishing season ends. .
And, as noted, it might not look so much like a traditional convention either. Bissett seems convinced that a smaller framework (which, IFTD, compared to ICAST, it certainly is) makes it easier for industry representatives to have “more meaningful conversations” about craft and business. craftsmanship.
It will take time, he said, and there will be some evolution involved. But the motivation – bringing together all facets of the fly fishing industry, 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 have a different mindset… a different philosophy.
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 needed.
“In the past,” Bissett, who has been working for about a year now, “shows were just too big to change. I think COVID dissolved that. Now is the time to make a change. And in 2022, we had put on a show. In 2023, we want to put on a show. »