Gordy is Brad's dog. He's a cross between a hair curling kit and a Brillo pad. He watches from his perch by the window and announces my arrival. It takes a minute for him to warm up to me but before we leave he’s stopped acting like he wants to eat my shoes.
It's going to be about a four hour drive, maybe more considering the weather. Brad got a call from our buddy Austin that the roads were icy and that traffic was horrific. At moments during the drive, the wind would shove at the truck and I'd think about the semis that we'd seen in the ditch looking like some bent and twisted child's toy. Brad stared out the window, running ten below the limit as the wind and snow buffeted the truck. Not once during the drive did the thought occur, "Well this is just nuts."
There are those that say, "It's not an adventure till something goes wrong." However the truth is, it's an adventure when there is the possibility for something to go terribly wrong.
We arrived safely, found the hotel, checked in and headed for the bar. It's easy to find a group of fly fishers, although the two drift boats in the parking lot gave it away. However if you see a group of people huddled over their drinks, all wearing baseball caps with either a fish logo or their sponsor's logo and people are wearing fishing shirts, cargo pants and there's some guy waving his arms and telling a fish story, or phones are being showed around and there's a picture of guy with a fish, yep you're at the right place. Brad and I found the crew, drank a couple of beers and my age caught up to me.
The next day we checked out of the hotel and headed for the show.
The fairgrounds are near the hotel and parking is five bucks.
We find the building and head in. One day pass is ten bucks.
We find Austin and stow our gear at his booth.
I pull out a camera, load in a couple of CF cards and roll with a 70-200. Brad goes with his 24-105. A part of me kicks myself for not bringing the 100mm macro. But for the most part I'm there just to document the show and meet people. (Also to find some good smallmouth fishing spots and steal fly tying ideas.)
The show is like any fly fishing show: tables, booths, displays, casting area, special guest, this year Bob Clouser, and presentations. What makes any show fun is a couple of things: looking for the people that seem slightly out of place or at their first show, making new friends, talking to the local fly tiers about their patterns and asking about good places to go fishing.
For me, what made my day great was getting to know one of the coolest couples I'd ever met, Wendy Williams and Larry Mann, owners of the Hayward Fly Fishing Company. We'd just met the night before in the bar and I'd asked Wendy, "Why do you fish?"
When I came by their booth she told me she'd been thinking about that question, "I love fishing because I love beginners, especially that person who’s never caught a fish. We get them to cast enough to get the fly out there and then work our butts off to get them a fish and when they do, it's all chaos and craziness. Just knowing that I'll be part of that memory is an honor for me. Look, it's not about numbers or size, it's about being out there, about the fun and joy of fishing. And I just love it." So for me that was the highlight of the show and if you're thinking about smallmouth bass, or musky and you want to spend some time with someone who "loves being out there" check them out: haywardflyfishingcompany.com, I know you won't be disappointed.
I also met another couple, they're retired and they run the Yountsville Mill and Inn which is located on Sugar Creek, a well-known smallmouth bass fishery. She is an artist and her husband a pianist and there they sat, looking a bit out of sorts with no logo wear, so I sat with them and learned about the restoration of the mill that was built around 1864 and I look forward to spring when I promised I’d return to visit them, fish Sugar Creek and try out their gourmet breakfast. You can check them out at: yountsvillemill.com, it's a reasonable drive from Chicago and as much as I like going north, going south might prove to be just as much fun. Yountsville Mill Facebook
As it is a most shows, I caught up with some old buddies, the boys from Tightlines, who will celebrate their 15th year, Tim and the gang were there with their own brand of craziness as well as new flies and new stories of drifting some of the prime waters in Wisconsin. If you’re reading this, you probably already know his website: www.tightlinesflyshop.com
I stopped by a booth where a guy had some of the neatest little foam flies that I'd seen. Jack Harford had a fly he called Harford house fly which I took some pictures of and he was kind enough to give me a copy of the pattern and I'm certainly going to tie this pattern with the group. This was his first show and he's getting his feet wet selling flies and furled leaders. I like the leaders by the way, he skips the tippet ring and makes a loop for a loop to loop connection with tippet material. Heck of a nice guy, and anybody who’s got a Jack Gartside story to tell is my brand new best friend. There's no website yet but if you drop him an email, he'll get right back to you. Check out some of his flies in the photos. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
They also sponsor Jay Anglin of Anglin Outdoors. Jay is always fun and if you can’t find him you can find his wife. Jay is one of the best largemouth bass anglers that I know of but he’s not bad at steelhead, or smallmouth bass either. And if you want to go musky hunting, he’ll go there too. And here’s what I like best, one of the best storytellers I know. He’s a fine guide too. You can check out his website: www.anglinoutdoors.com
I had a good time with the boys from Stealth Craft, who build sleds and drift boats and are just good guys from Michigan. You might not be in the market for a drift boat or a sled but if you're thinking about a boat here's their site: www.stealthcraftboats.com.
I got to visit with Matt from Driftless Angler ( www.driftlessangler.com ) who always has an interesting selection of fishing related stuff from custom mugs to recycled wader bags and the ubiquitous stuffed pink squirrel. Yep, there's a photo of that in here as well. You would be ill equipped if you fished the driftless region without a dozen pink squirrels.
I took a break and sat at Austin Adduci's booth and tied flies and made believe that for a moment I was a guide. Sorry Austin! I handed out his business cards and explained that all I did for Austin was wash the boat. However I talked about the hot lunch, the great fishing and pointed out that the table covering was what Austin is best known for, carp fishing. He also fishes the Kankakee for smallmouth. I'm prejudiced because Austin is a friend of mine and he's on the water every day that he can but there's more to a person than can they fish. So if you have one of his cards and are thinking, "I'd like to go to Beaver Island, or maybe fish the Kankakee," then go visit his site, Grab Your Fly Charters and check out the photos and stories.
My friend Paul Transue, now the owner of Schmidt's Outfitters, was there and if you're looking for a place that has it all: lodge, fly shop, casting pond, guides, Bob Clouser's fly fishing class and so on, then check them out at: Schmidt's Outfitters . I know Paul and his crew and I guarantee you a good time and if you bring your wife, she’ll have a good time to as there is more to do than just go fishing.
Near the end of the show I visited with Tony Ferrie and his wife Kim at the Simms booth, it's always good to see them and talk about the new products that Simms is introducing. My one complaint about the show came while standing there because they turned the lights off so that the screens being used for the presentations could be seen. It's hard to take pictures in the dark and even more difficult to show off your products in the dark. But I got to look at the boot and wader line and the new line up of women's products, and I was very impressed. I came back when the lights were on and tried on the sling pack and looked at their new line of fishing shirts. As always, with Simms the quality is top notch and they’ve got some flip flops that I’m going to get for summer.
I wound up at Kevin Feenstra's booth near the end of the day. He was running the video of his new DVD, Striking Steel, and I had a chance to strike up a conversation with him, not so much about fishing but about camera gear and shooting video. This was my first time meeting him and first impression is: good guy, savvy about media and a very knowledgeable fisherman and innovative fly tier. I am looking forward to fishing with him and making sure that my cameras are secure! www.feenstraguideservice.com
There are a lot of people that I met that day, Jim Shulin, partner in Temple Fork Outfitters, who'd come to the show from Dallas and showed me their new prototype fiberglass rod and talked about the growth of the company and the people who work there. www.tforods.com
Greg Senyo tied up one of his minnow patterns and I had hoped to spend more time but was impressed when he handed it off to a teenager who'd just started tying. In fact I was even more impressed by the number of teenagers that I saw at the show. www.steelheadalleyflytying.blogspot.com
If you throw big streamers, you’ll want to visit www.anglerschoiceflies.com, some of nicest looking streamers I’ve seen come from the vise of Mike Schmidt. All of his flies are custom tied and if you have a pattern and can’t find it, call Mike. If you’re also looking for wet flies, call Mike. Saltwater, yep, call Mike.
Like most shows, if you were new to fly fishing, you could get a good idea of what you’d need to get started as well as learn about casting and fly tying. If you’re an experienced fisher, than it was a good place to sit and watch presentations, talk to guides, book a trip, cast a rod, buy tying materials or equipment at show specials and see where fly fishing is going. There are those who predict that it’s in dire straits, at this show, it looked just opposite and everyone talked about what a good year, in spite of the weather, that they’d had.
While the show wasn't wall to wall people, it was well attended and the facilities were adequate. My only complaint was the lights being turned off and some of the vendors being in the dark. I think they'll figure that out next year. And hopefully the weather will be better.
Saturday was a good day to drive home. Gordy was waiting for us at his guard post in the window.