After joining forces in 2013, this year's concurrent ICAST and IFTD trade show co-location in Orlando will serve as the last joint effort between the conventional tackle and fly fishing industries.
After six years together, this week's arrival of ICAST and IFTD marks the final time â€“ for a while, at least â€“ that the fishing industry's conventional anglers will be gathering under the same roof as the sport's fly anglers.
ICAST (the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades annual show), put on since the late 1950s by the American Sportfishing Association, and IFTD (the International Fly Tackle Dealer show, put on by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, were separate shows for many years.
During their individual histories, ICAST has visited such places as Orlando, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Dallas over its 61-year run. Meanwhile, IFTD had its longtime home in Denver although the show eventually ventured outside the Front Range with IFTD shows in New Orleans in 2011 and Reno in 2012.
Somewhere along the way, ICAST and IFTD officials decided to try a co-location for both of their shows at the same time, settling on Las Vegas in the summer of 2013. The next summer in 2014, the joint ICAST/IFTD venture moved to Orlando's Orange County Convention Center, a location they've shared each year since.
Game & Fish at ICAST 2018
Join Game & Fish editors this week for reports on new gear and other happenings at ICAST 2018 in Orlando.
"By joining forces with ICAST and ASA to bring IFTD to Las Vegas in 2013, we are collectively creating what will truly be the largest recreational fishing show in the world," said AFFTA president and CEO Ben Bulis in a 2013 news release.
"By combining both shows in one venue, we can expand the business opportunities for both trade shows in terms of increasing international attendance as well as buyers and media located in the U.S. which will benefit both organizations," stated Mike Nussman, the longtime president and CEO of ASA, at the time.
"If an individual is on the fence about attending one show or the other or both; we've now eliminated that barrier," added Nussman, who retired from his longstanding post at the end of March 2018.
Initially, the joint effort between conventional anglers and fly-tackle enthusiasts drew rave reviews, centering attention on all facets of the fishing world in one spot each summer.
From seamless transition floor space to the energetic vibe among fishing industry attendees, holding ICAST and IFTD in Orlando at the same time seemed to be a win/win for everyone associated with fishing.
In short, it was totally cool to see B.A.S.S. fishing legends Kevin VanDam and Bill Dance strolling down one aisle, saltwater icons Mark Sosin and George Poveromo moving up another, and the late great fly fisherman Lefty Kreh and his pals Bob Clouser and Flip Pallot somewhere nearby.
At the beginning, it seemed that the effort was working as enthusiasm skyrocketed and attendance was strong in Las Vegas in 2013 and in Orlando in both 2014 and 2015. In fact, in 2016, the IFTD show reached a new benchmark as space for 232 summertime booths â€“ the largest in IFTD history â€“ sold out in early spring before mountain snow runoff had even begun.
"This is the first time in the history of IFTD that the show has sold out the first week of March," Bulis, the AFFTA president, had stated in a 2016 news release.
On the ICAST side of things, the numbers have been onward and upward too. In fact, the two shows combined in July 2017 to lure in more than 15,000 attendees into the Orlando area, including more than 1,500 people from 73 countries no less.
On the ICAST side of the convention center last year, there were some 582 exhibitors jammed into 1,982 booths that covered nearly 200,000 square feet.
But even despite that apparent success and united front in the Orlando co-location shared by the two trade shows, subtle cracks in the foundation have occurred.
For starters, there is the location in Florida, which has now grown stale for some fly anglers for whom the heart and soul of the fly fishing world generally lies in the Rocky Mountain states.
To be sure, there are certainly numerous fly fishers outside of the Rockies â€“ just think of those who ply the tarpon and permit waters of the Florida Keys, the redfish flats of Texas and the marshes of nearby Louisiana, the striped bass runs on the New England coastline, big smallmouth and muskie waters in the North Country, Ozark tailwater streams teeming with rainbows and world class brown trout, Eastern trout streams from the Appalachians northward through Pennsylvania and into New York's Adirondacks, and warmwater fly fishing locations anywhere largemouth bass and bluegills are found.
But for many others â€“ from traveling and resident anglers to local fly shop owners to regional guides to national and international fly tackle manufacturers - the epicenter of the North American fly fishing world is in the Rocky Mountain West on trout-filled rivers that look like they've tumbled straight off the cinematic screen.
The same theater screen, that is, that legendary actor and director Robert Redford used to turn author Norman Maclean's timeless tale of family and fly fishing into "The Movie," the 1992 film version of A River Runs Through It.
Next, there's the timing of the joint ICAST/IFTD trade shows, a mid-summer date on the calendar way off in Orlando, more than a thousand-mile journey for many fly anglers, shop owners, and industry insiders that occurs right at the height of the summertime trout fishing season. You know, when golden stonefly hatches in Montana trump any thoughts of a visit to see Mickey Mouse and his Magic Kingdom.
Finally, maybe there is even a slight amount of sibling-like industry tension when the two sides of the fishing world converge each year, at least where their respective trade shows are concerned. For all of the similarities that exist between conventional tackle and fly fishing anglers, there are also noticeable distinctions too as subtly shown by disproportionate booth sizes, different conservation concerns, separate On the Water Demo Day locations, split New Product Showcases, and attire that ranges from sponsor laden quarter-zip jerseys for tournament bass fishermen to the latest long-sleeve plaid snap-shirts from fly fishing companies like Simms Fishing Products, Patagonia and Howler Brothers.
With all of that noted, it wasn't a huge surprise that AFFTA announced in March 2017 that the IFTD trade show would return to its Denver roots in 2019 and 2020.
"Colorado is home to some of the top fly fishing locations in the country," said the Centennial State's Gov. John Hickenlooper in an AFFTA press release. "We welcome the American Fly Fishing Trade Association to Colorado and look forward to helping it showcase some of the more than 6,000 miles of streams in our state."
Those trout rich mountain vistas were only one facet in AFFTA's decision.
"To increase industry participation, AFFTA has decided on a shift in IFTD show timing from summer to fall," noted the Bozeman, Mont.-based organization in its news release. "The timing change is a result of feedback from exhibitors and attendees, creating an opportunity for increased visibility and attendance. Starting in 2019, the IFTD show will take place, Oct. 16 â€“ 18 at the Colorado Convention Center. Denver is easily accessible from anywhere in the U.S as well as internationally and provides excellent opportunities for accommodations and entertainment."
"The decision to move IFTD to Denver for 2019 and 2020 was based solely on the desire of our membership and what the majority wanted," said Bulis. "This was an extremely difficult decision, it's not easy to just up and move a show without weighing all possible outcomes and one being our relationship with ASA.
"Our industry thanks ASA for welcoming IFTD as a partner in our first ICAST back in 2013," Bulis added. "AFFTA is committed to making sure our relationship with ASA continues regardless of where IFTD or ICAST is located."
Let's hope so. Because in this era with increasing concerns about the health and future of our fisheries â€“ see the growing water crisis in Florida and the Everglades, access issues in Louisiana, and the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska â€“ along with a slowly dwindling and aging population of enthusiastic anglers, we all need each other, regardless of how we like to wet a line.
In the end, maybe the marriage between ICAST and IFTD wasn't perfect and was never meant to last. But it was a good thing for the fishing world while it happened, even if a trout stream never runs its way through the bass-rich waters of central Florida.