August 31, 2021
Earlier this summer, as diverse outdoor groups ranging from bass fisherman to duck hunters to archery enthusiasts gathered for national events for the first time in months, it was tempting.
Tempting to believe, that is, that maybe, just maybe, the worst was over for the outdoors industry when it came to the deadly specter of COVID-19 and its effect on meetings, trade shows, consumer shows, and more that so often serve as part of the economic lifeblood of pursuits grounded in the great outdoors.
But now, as the Delta variant of the deadly virus surges, all of that looks like nothing more than a mirage as the ongoing reality of a pandemic that will not go away continues to dominate headlines, outdoors and otherwise.
The latest such disappointing headline came on Tuesday morning, Aug. 31, 2021, when the board of directors with the American Fly Fishing Trade Association announced that the 2021 International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD ) show has been canceled for this year due to increasing concerns over the coronavirus variant.
Slated to take place in Salt Lake City from Oct. 20-22, the upcoming show cancelation becomes the second high-profile outdoors event to fall victim to the new wave of COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns within the past week.
Readers of Game & Fish Magazine will recall it was only a few days ago when the National Rifle Association suddenly canceled the organization's 2021 Annual Meetings in Houston only a week and a half out as virus conditions in Texas began to spiral in the wrong direction.
First NRA, Now IFTD Show
The fly-fishing trade show is the second major industry event to shutter its doors in 2021 in as many weeks. It's also the second year in a row that the IFTD show has been called off due to the pandemic.
That's because in April 2020, AFFTA officials pulled the plug on the show months in advance as the coronavirus scourge began to spread across the globe and let everyone know that life would be quite a bit different for a good while to come.
As with the NRA's decision last week, IFTD officials cited concerns of the rapid spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which has led to sharp spikes in case numbers and hospitalizations, pushing hospital capacity and ICU bed supplies to critically low numbers in many states.
In the end, that was too much for the 2021 IFTD show to safely push on, leading to the announcement from AFFTA Chair of the Board Jim Bartschi and the organization's recently hired executive director Luke Bissett.
"While I am disappointed we are not getting together as an industry this year, I am confident we are going to bring our membership together with an even better industry gathering in 2022," said Bartschi in an AFFTA news release. "The Board unanimously made the difficult but correct decision to postpone IFTD 2021, as the safety of our members is paramount. Under our new Executive Director's leadership and vision, the future looks bright, and we are excited to get everyone's input on what gatherings look like moving forward."
The cancelation of the 2021 fly-fishing trade event for manufacturers, buyers, shop owners, and media might be the correct decision in light of current headlines, but it also brings keen disappointment in an industry trying to find its way forward out of the pandemic's dark shadows.
Impact on Fly-Fishing Industry
First, the pandemic shuttered the 2020 IFTD Show and also ground to a halt the continental and international travel that leads fly fishers to fishing hotspots worldwide. Next, local quarantines and business lockdowns last spring and summer also put the hurt on many fly shops and guide operations, causing some to go out of business for good.
Things had looked to be recovering this year as travel began to carefully resume. Fly shops slowly increased inventory against ongoing supply issues. The industry as a whole began working on how to capitalize on the wave of new participation that 2020 delivered, as millions looked for new opportunities in the outdoors and bought licenses and new gear in increasing fashion across the U.S.
So robust was the surge of new participation into pursuits like fly fishing that some observers have compared to what was experienced after the 1992 release of the Robert Redford movie, A River Runs Through It.
Unfortunately, the Delta variant began to spread prolifically after events like the Ducks Unlimited Expo, the Pope and Young Club convention, and the ICAST fishing trade show, were all held successfully earlier this summer with thousands in attendance.
But late last month, shortly after the ICAST show successfully pulled the curtain down on the 2021 trade event in Orlando, the virus news began to worsen again. In fact, at least a handful of professional bass anglers made headlines after the mid-summer fishing trade show concluded, being sickened with COVID-19 in the aftermath.
Now, in light of the IFTD cancelation and pushback of the show to 2022, the tight-knit fly-fishing industry—which has also endured closed trout fisheries due to drought conditions, massive forest fires in some parts of the American West, and this weekend’s Category 4 Hurricane Ida in the heart of Louisiana's big redfish country—is left wondering what happens next.
What's Ahead as Delta Variant Rages?
That's a fair question as the Delta variant surges, new variants are discovered in other parts of the world, and vaccination rates still lag across many parts of America.
On a broader level, the twin cancelations of the past week also bring into sharp focus whether or not other national outdoor industry gatherings this fall and winter will be able to safely take place, namely the Jan. 7-9, 2022 ATA Archery Trade Show in Louisville and the Jan. 18-21, 2022 SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
It also brings into question whether more cancelations are looming in the fly-fishing industry as the wintertime consumer show season looks forward to rebooting across the country in a few months. Already, many regular fly-fishing shows from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast have announced plans to hold shows early next year, plans that are now possibly in jeopardy once again.
What does not appear to be in jeopardy right now are the plans of the AFFTA board of directors and the organization's new executive director to put on an IFTD Show and in-person gathering sometime next year.
"I am beyond excited by the show AFFTA, and our show director Kenneth Andres, put together," said Bissett, who was hired to his executive director post earlier this year. "There is a real buzz around the show, and we are proud of the almost 100 exhibitors we partnered with to join us in Salt Lake City this year.
"We were looking to strike a balance between safely gathering and providing an exciting, educational, and productive show," he continued. "We had the latter, but safely gathering was getting harder and harder due to the spread of the unpredictable Delta variant."
AFFTA noted in its news release that the organization plans a follow up e-mail within the week. That e-mail will address questions about the decision, the move of the show to 2022, and more as the fly-fishing industry looks for more promising conditions in the days ahead.
One can only hope that when that 2022 IFTD Show reboot occurs, that the fly-fishing industry and the rest of the outdoors world is finally seeing the worst of the pandemic retreating into the rearview mirror.
We can always hope and pray for that, right?