Puget Sound Fly Fishing Fair

One of the great things about fly-fishing is the amazing amount of information there is about fish, the fisheries, and casting. There is always something more to learn.

Books, magazine articles, videos, and knowledgeable friends can provide a good deal of that information. But there is something very special about gatherings where experts share their knowledge in an environment of energy and enthusiasm with large numbers of fly fishers.

Yesterday Puget Sound Fly Fishers provided such a forum at the Puget Sound Fly Fishing Fair at Environmental Services Building in University Place. Sponsored by Fly Fishers International (FFI), this was a fun and informative day for those who attended.

Activities included fly-casting instruction, fly tying demonstrations, silent auctions, a local authors table, and vendor and fly shop booths. And then there were the presentations.

The challenge was choosing among the speakers and topics as simultaneous presentations were going on in two rooms. It was an excess of riches.

I chose to attend presentations by Carol Ann Morris, Leland Miyawaki, and April Vokey.

Carol Ann’s presentation was on improving one’s nature and fishing photographs. I believe photography is another area in which there’s always something more to learn.

Given my planned trip to Henry’s Fork in late September, I thought this would be a good refresher. And it was, as Carol showed mistakes in her photographs over the years and how she corrected them. A key tip was not including too much sky when it’s not needed for the focus of the photograph.

Leland of Orvis Bellevue gave another funny presentation on top water fishing for sea run cutthroat trout. I’ve heard him talk about using his popper before, but there was elegance to the way he described how he’s reduced his fishing in his choices in gear and focus on the fish he loves so much. As he said, he works in a fly shop and still basically uses only one rod setup all year.

One thing I was impressed with was when talking about where to go for information on locations, he mentioned both Puget Sound Fly Company and Gig Harbor Fly Shop. Both had booths at the fair and it was a simple but gracious act to recognize them.

And then there was April Vokey’s talk on steelhead.

I had seen photographs and articles about her for years, and had listened to her podcast. But this was the first time I heard her in person. Her talk on steelhead was the most informative I’ve heard. For someone only 34 years old, she’s forgotten more than I will ever know. Her obvious interest in others and her commitment to preservation of the natural world were evident throughout her talk.

She did exact a promise from the audience that when chasing steelhead people should catch two and then call it a day. The days of catching and stressing large numbers of those fish should be long gone as these fisheries are under pressure. The same could be said most fisheries due to population growth, pollution, and climate change.

While a number of the local fly shops conduct events and seminars and there is the annual FFI Fair in Ellensburg, this was the first event of this scope and size in Puget Sound that I can recall. The credit is due to Puget Sound Fly Fishers who planned and staffed the event.

I can only hope given the large numbers who attended yesterday that more events like this will be held in future years.

A Shared Demo Day – Cooperation as a Model

Puget Sound Fly Company Demo Day

Walk into any fly shop, even one loaded with high-end gear, and you’re looking at a very small business. The industry itself is very small.

Field and Stream’s Fly Talk blog (see link) reported last year that a study done for  American Fly Fishing Trade Association found that sales for the entire industry were only about $750 million – less than some brands of candy bars.

And do you know what sells the most?  The study found it was flies. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. I noted in a recent post (see here) that the highest percentage of sales in May/June 2013 was flies, followed by tippet.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to a shop I may buy three each of three or four patterns.  Even for the saltwater patterns, that’s looking at a total purchase of less than $60.  And I’ve seen plenty of people walk in, look around, and leave. I don’t always buy. Sometimes it’s nice to just go in, listen and see what’s new.

My point in the above is that every fly shop is hungry for customers – lots of customers. Because for every  $800 Orvis, Sage, or Winston rod they sell, they’re looking at lots of sales at less than $100 – often much less.

Fly shops have to compete with each other implicitly whether they want to or not. When a customer can buy the same rod in two or three places (or from an online retailer) a fly shop wants that rod to be sold at their shop.  Brands carried, events, classes, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a loyal customer base are needed to survive. And it is survival – with rent and utilities to pay, salaries for the hardworking but underpaid staff, and maybe being able to stash some money for one’s growing family.

So why do I bring all this up? It’s because of the event I attended today.

Many fly shops hold demo days – events where manufacturers reps are on hand, rods are available for casting, and everyone talks fly-fishing. Many times there are giveaways and prizes. And sometimes there’s even free food!

But not every shop hosts an event that includes other fly shops. Often fly shops will be at the same event that’s hosted by some other organization. But an event where a fly shop invites other fly shops, that’s something unique. And maybe it’s something we need more of in this increasingly hyper competitive society.

Puget Sound Fly Company (Tacoma Washington) hosted a demo day today with two other fly shops invited. When I got there later in the day, Orvis was still there along with Puget Sound Fly Company.

The shop owner from Puget Sound Fly Company (Anil Srivastava) was there. Orvis was ably represented by the beach fishing legend, Leland Miyawaki, and Jason Cotta, their fly fishing manager.

So here’s a couple of fly shops, admittedly separated by 40+ miles, still sharing an event and demonstrating that one can be friends with other people you’re competing against. The thing about it is that the only way all shops will survive is to promote fly fishing. It may mean a lost sale, but the more fly fishers there are, the more all will thrive.

On a planet of diminishing resources, two fly shops in the Seattle / Tacoma  demonstrate the wisdom of cooperation in which all win or all lose.  As individual, regions, and countries that might be a good lesson for us all.