Wednesday, January 31, 2024

01.31.24 Thirty days till pitchers and catchers....

      Alright not pictures and catchers but the bays and rivers in New Jersey will be open againin 30 days. I know there's a lot of winter left, but, I just have that feeling that the worst of it is past us. Yes, we'll get some more rain and snow but my gut says it'll be relatively smooth sailing going forward. 

     The Delaware River has spiked a bit from all the rain we had recently. It's moving nicely along and the water temps are decent at just around 40 degrees. That's not bad for the end of January. 

Monday, January 29, 2024

01.29.24 My, The Fly Fishing Show, 2024 recap....

      First thing I have to say about this show and all of the shows. Hats off and kudos to the people that run them, work them, volunteer at them, and attend them. No, really, that shit ain't easy. I can remember helping take nearly the entire The Fly Hatch store in Shrewsbury and loading it up into U-Haul trucks and bringing it to Somerset back in the day. That started a week or so before the show. While stores don't do it like that these days, the amount of time, labor and work is incredible. Tight Lines Fly Fishing, a shop located in north Jersey, had a big space, four booths this year, but it was mostly waders, boots, rods and a counter with reels and lines, not much for fly tying stuff like they used to do in the past. Then there's the set-up, and then the manning of the booths, and talking, or selling, and then the hangs, and the alcohol, and breaking it all down......and going to the next show! 

     Not everyone at these shows gets paid. They are volunteering for a good cause, like the local TU or fly tying and fishing clubs like the Atlantic Saltwater Flyrodders, fly fishing schools like FUDR's Canfield Fly Fishing Camp for Kids, and groups like Casting for Recovery or Project Healing Waters. It would be interesting, in gauging the crowds, if everyone working there had on a different colored outfit to differentiate them from the attendees as there are a lot of people in those crowds that are working the show that we think are attendees.

     So when I think of the show this year what comes to mind? First, it was better than last year, I think. Two, it appeared to be big and busy, but was it, really? When I got home I looked at the show map from the QR code on the pamphlet. Give or take a few, there were 245 booths and or tables. Now that doesn't mean there were 245 exhibitors. And this is where my what-was-really-there feeling may originate. Of the 245 spaces, 25 or 10% of the show was volunteer groups or clubs. 55 were from destinations both in the U.S. and abroad, that's nearly 23% of the show, so we're at a 1/3rd of the show already. If both of those aren't your thing then how much is left? There were 28 booths along the perimeter for tyers, which a few vend at, and most had someone tying, that's another say 10% of the show. 

     If we pick at the numbers some of the vendors had multiple booths, there were 14 or more that had three or more, TCO had 15 spaces, the Sportsman Collection had 7, Keogh 6, Tightlines 5, Precision 5 - so 11% of the show was occupied by these five vendors. 

     There were a ton of walk-by booths, nice people and nice stuff, but if that's not your jam, then you just smile, take a mint, and keep walking. There were 7 artist booths, 1 book store, 1 real estate office, 

1 insurance broker, 1 tattoo parlor, 1 the Irish guy that stands in the water, 1 home improvement, and the gutter guarders doubled their presence this year going from one booth to two. There were two coffee booths, one hot sauce, two jerky beefs, and one pickle booth. 

     So what was left? Let's talk the big guns. Simm's- very tiny showing. In fact they were outdone by Grunden's who came hard with a booth that appeared bigger than it was. They drew the crowds in with 

their free pick-your-press-on-logo hats. They may have drawn some crowds in with that, and it was genius, but how many are going for the $529 Gambler jacket? That is left for those that have it like that. 

Orvis? Besides Tom Rosenbauer walking around as an attendee and a few people with blow-out H3 rods under their arms that was it. How do you not have a big presence when you are launching a brand new 

rod in 13 days? The MOST accurate rod to boot. Orvis is saying the new Helios rod is 4x more accurate than the Helios-3 and 16x more accurate than the competition.....C'mon man. 

Wouldn't you want as many people as possible to see it? Maybe do a head to head at the casting pond with the Winston Air Max 2? But what do I know about marketing and business. I can't help but think a presence at the show would only have helped with the launch. And, will Orvis have a booth at The Fly Fishing Show's after the rods February 7th launch? That'll be interesting. 

     Other rod wise, and this is just me remembering, the Bear's Den and Tightlines had a bunch sticking up in the air for people to buy. TFO, T & T, R.L.Winston, with their new $1,245 Air Max 2, St. Croix, Beulah, G. Loomis, RISE, Hardy, and three tenkara rod makers, all had booths. Scott and Orvis weren't there, and Scott usually has a big space with a cast of characters manning it. On the reel front, and there were reels in many booths, but booth wise, it was Seigler, Hardy, Nautilus, and Quality. 

Fly line wise Cortland and Scientific Anglers were there. And the vice people had a nice showing, Norvise, HMH, Renzetti, and Regal, were there for a total of six booths, most having tyers on and off during the days. 

    There were a ton of presentations. I went to a few, Alan Caolo's 'Sight fishing for Striped Bass', Capt. Joe Mattioli's 'Fly Fishing the Raritan Bay and NY Bight for Striped Bass, Bluefish, and False Albacore' talk, and I also paused to watch Michael Mauri at the casting pond. 

I popped in with the crowd to see Featured Fly Tyer Jonny King. I heard Jersey boy Tim Flagler had a packed house for his 'Secrets of the Ken Lockwood Gorge' class on Friday. The "theaters" along the show floor were tough for the presenters and attendees alike as the cloth room dividers did little to 

keep the noise from the show floor separate from the "rooms" which made it hard to hear and concentrate. Caolo brought with him a small portable microphone which was a good idea. 

     So what about my show? It was, well, good. I got there Friday about 930 and the parking lot was already filled in. I missed the initial push at the Keogh discount saddle hackle bins so I had to do with what was there. Let's talk fly tying materials for a bit. We already talked vices so let's talk tying. Ahrex had a large 

display of hooks. Keogh and Cordiero had saddles. Buzzi crushed them with the bucktails, in fact he was really the only game in town, as I think the High Guys Fly Company kind of stepped it back a bit from their stronger showing last year. Of course black bucktails continue to be worth their weight in 

gold, and I was lucky to score one from an unnamed source. Renzetti had a duffle bag full of discontinued brushes they were blowing out for $4 a pack, thanks for the heads-up on that Joe. Harry Huff from Streams of Dreams had his bins out to pick through with a couple under-the-table ones with some high end exotic stuff. 

     Squimpish, well, continues with a solid growing and showing in the industry with their line of synthetics and brushes. Squimpish had tyers like August West, Jason Taylor, and Tim Flagler along with other 

members of their pro-staff tying all three days. Mixed in were some other booths which had a pick of stuff here and there. I couldn't find the elusive Krystal Flash in gold, which is just a basic staple for fly tying, in order for me to tie up some of Joe C's patterns. 

    As far as my take from the show. First, Peter Jenkins sent down a STB t-shirt down and I appreciate that a lot. Steph hit me with a Squimpish hat when I saw her. I got two Keogh saddles, two Just Add 

H2O flash blend baitfish brushes, two Squimpish boutique blends, a Squimpish hair, two Squimpish brushes, some long peacock herl, the black bucktail, and Ahrex Clouser and jig hooks. I also scored a Joe Calcevechia fly.

     I walked around, and around, and around, looking for that get or the new thing that I could hang my hat on for the 2024 show. It wasn't there, for me. Maybe, I could say that Joe Calcevechia's 3-D printer fly 

holder prototype wins Best of Show. But, he may be a tad late as most of us have been sucked into the pressed wood/wooden Fly Hub holders from PM Wood Studio that hit the shows last year. If I didn't already have over $70 in that I would have brought one from Joe. By 230 it was time to hit the beer wagon and I had a few $9 Yuengling's with some friends. As I was on my way out I saw the Hardy and Grey's booth so I walked in. When I think of Hardy and Grey's I think of John Shaner. He's been around things Upper Delaware for as long as I can remember. I always think of freshwater when I think of those companies, but they do salty stuff as well. And then the best part of my weekend happened. Bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and

the bases loaded. I looked over and saw Andy Mill. I don't know why but the kid in me came out like I was in the presence of one of the idols from my youth. So I went over and for half an hour I probably just tortured this poor guy. I have been listening to his podcast for over a year and it's just the best. He, and his son Nicky, are great at it. One of the reasons they were up was to do a Bob Popovic's podcast, which will be out in the next week or so. Bob knows I love Andy Mill. When I asked him what he was doing Thursday he said he was a doing a podcast. When I asked him who it was with and he said, "I don't remember the name". Thanks, Bob. We could have done it together, kidding, or at least I could have hid in the closet. But anyway he's a great great guy. At one point I asked him, because he asks such good questions of his guests, "Andy, gun to your head, (maybe a little strong), if you could do one last thing on you're last day, what would it be, to go skiing or fishing?". He answered, "That's a great, great question". One he couldn't answer. Go check out the Millhouse podcast, HERE. Apte, Pallot, Clouser, Sosin, and soon Popovic's are all in there for your enjoyment. 

     Luckily Theresa set me up with a room at the Sheraton but we missed the discounted show rate so it ran me like $180, but it was worth it. It's just better to stay at the show, otherwise it's a couple of cocktails without a 

room, and it's not cool, or safe, to drive. I passed on the 5-hour trip to hit Popovic's Shady Rest in Bayville, yes it would have been five hours, an hour down, a three hour hang and an hour back, and I was tired. I had some decent food and drinks with a good hang at the nicely redone bar in the lobby of the Sheraton. 

     On Saturday morning, just before the opening, I was back in the Keogh booth picking through the saddle bins and I found one I liked better. The boys were nice enough to allow me to switch it out since the one I had was still in the bag with the receipt. There didn't seem to be that initial push as there was the day before but the crowd built as the morning progressed. At one point I sat and watched the traffic. I would pick out a few guys and follow them as far as I could see them. Most just walked, and walked, and kept walking. Others did seem like they were walking 

with a purpose, to get to a presentation, to try and find a product, or get to a bathroom. But that was just the thing this year, again, for me. There was no thing. Nothing new. As far as products there was nothing new, the flies, same old same, nothing new. No one huge celebrity that you just had to see. There's a couple of big names, currently at least, out there and they weren't present at the show. And remember, these days we see and hear so much from these people all year long it's just not as big of a thing as it used to be. 

     My contribution to the show was to sit the 1230-330 shift and tie up some flies at the Squimpish booth. I can proudly say of all the trips I took around the show I was the only one tying on a PEAK vice. Most had never seen the LIRS model that I tied on. I had some friends stop by and a few watchers that I fooled into believing that I knew what I was talking about. I was able to convince them enough to step in and purchase some of the Boutique Blends 

or Squimpish Hair. While Stephanie and I stayed in the booth David was across the carpet-less aisle spinning up some brushes, which I love. He makes them in both big fly and steelhead versions. 

     Let me talk about the flies. Some real nice ties there this weekend. Most flies were for sale privately along the fly tying walls. Joe Calcevechia was really the only, and I can only speak for saltwater, production tyer there with a ton of flies for sale. I brought a guy over who was new to saltwater fly fishing and he purchased a fly or two. There was the "30 flies for $20" booth, which was busy, and as far as I can remember they were always 

at this show and busy with steady traffic. I'm not assuming, but I wouldn't be shocked if those flies weren't tied here in the United States. Joe Niscosia brought his 30+ inch Beast Fleye for

BuzFly's approval as Brad is the source for Joe's bucktail, and for the top tyers across the world as well. Ken Eukland won my award for Best in Show for a well tied Bob Popovic's style Bulkhead Deceiver 

that got the approval from the big guy himself when he made his rounds on Saturday. 

     When my shift was done I was done as well. I had had enough. I wish I had a GPS tracker on me so I could see how many times I walked aimlessly through the show halls over the last two days. The Fly Fishing Show is off to Atlanta next weekend before stops in Washington, California, and Lancaster. I wonder if Stock The Box might be better held in February as the Marlborough and Edison shows, and the Virginia Fly and Wine show, are all held in January. February looks wide open and in March there's 

the Long Island Fly Fishing Expo (They didn't use Show for a reason I'm sure) which is a small, but solid show. Luckily, Theresa's friends live near there and have promised me a bed every year if I ever need one. These small shows, well, might be the nail in the coffin for the big show one day. Why? They are small, intimate, don't fill space with a lot of filler and fluff, no leaf guards and pickles, and are laser focused and hyper-local. The celebrity guys and gals are fishy and from the neighborhood, or at least very active in the local fishery, and the fly tyers with spots at the tables have earned the right to be there. 

     For many attendance at The Fly Fishing Show is an annual must go. It's almost like we are programmed to do so. We all have great memories from years past and don't want to miss a year, even if the year before was disappointing. In fact, I was caught in a throwback moment when I turned and found Hugh behind me 

TFFS - late 1990's?

sporting a The Fly Hatch shirt from back in the day. I used to have one, and wore it in the late 1990's?  while working the show at Somerset. I texted Choinard the picture of Hugh and he got a kick out if it. It was back then when the legends were around for the whole weekend, and generally you didn't approach them when they were holding court between themselves. But most years you got to shake a hand or say hello, other years it may be your year to have a little conversation or get a pointer or two. It always left a mark on your fly fishing soul. These days, with 365/24/7 access, and most of the big guns not in attendance, for many reasons, the chances for those memory making encounters and memories don't occur. Now we walk with our buds through the show, and walk some more, and see a guy or girl that we have seen on social media. We pause and say, "Hey, that's that guy, he ties some nice flies", and when you turn around your boy isn't there because he got stopped by the gutter guard guy who wants to know if his leaves get stuck in the downspouts.