September 01, 2021
By Lynn Burkhead
Thanks to the rising specter of the Delta variant of COVID-19, a river doesn’t run through it, this fall at least.
That much became apparent to the fly fishing industry on Tuesday, August 31, when a news release was e-mailed from the Board of Directors with the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, a release that announced that the 2021 International Fly Tackle Dealer (IFTD ) show has been canceled for this year.
Slated to take place in Salt Lake City from October 20-22, 2021, the upcoming show cancellation becomes the second high-profile outdoors event to fall victim to the new wave of COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. Recently, 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.
The news about the fly fishing trade show cancellation in Utah later this fall also marks the second year in a row that the IFTD show has been canceled due to the ongoing pandemic. In 2020, AFFTA officials pulled the plug on the 2020 show months in advance as the coronavirus scourge began to spread across the globe.
As with the NRA’s decision to cancel their 2021 event, 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 supply to critically low numbers in many states across the country.
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 the 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 cancellation 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 to the fly fishing industry trying to find its way forward out of the pandemic’s dark shadows.
First, the pandemic shuttered the 2020 IFTD Show a year ago and 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 begin recovering this year as travel began to carefully resume, fly shops slowly increased inventory against ongoing supply issues, and the industry as a whole began to try and figure out 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 outdoor recreational pursuits like fly fishing that some observers have compared the wave of new interest to what was experienced after the 1992 release of the Robert Redford-directed 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 in late July, 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 cancellation 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 Category 4 Hurricane Ida in the heart of Louisiana’s big redfish country—is left wondering what happens next.
That’s a fair question as the Delta variant surges, new variants are discovered in other parts of the world, and vaccination rates lag across many parts of America.
On a broader level, the twin cancellations also brings into sharp focus whether or not other national outdoor industry gatherings this fall and winter will be able to safely take place, namely the January 7-9, 2022, ATA Archery Trade Show in Louisville, and the January 18-21, 2022 SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
It also brings into question whether more cancellations are looming in the fly fishing industry as the wintertime consumer show season looks forward to rebooting across the country. Already, many regular fly fishing shows from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast have announced plans to hold shows in early 2022, plans that are now 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.”
In the aftermath of the recent news that the 2021 IFTD Show was being canceled, 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 cancellation, the move of the show to 2022, and a whole lot more as the fly fishing industry looks for more promising conditions in the days ahead.
Maybe then, the industry’s proverbial river will finally flow unfettered and free once again.