Every year, I look forward to the Denver Flyfishing Show as eagerly as an impatient kid awaits Christmas. I usually go every year but missed the last two years so I was especially excited to return and see what’s new. And I’ll spoil the ending by telling you there wasn’t much.
As usual, there were all the same big-name vendors like Sage, Umpqua, Hardy, Orvis, etc..–not one of which really had anything new to showcase. I often complain about a lack of innovation in the fly fishing industry and this year’s show only further proved my contention.
The industry just isn’t doing anything exciting. Gear they tout as innovative and “revolutionary” are basically last year’s models with new lipstick. I didn’t see anything from the big boys that made me stop and look. But, as I’ve learned, that’s par for the course.
This of course is no fault of the people who put on the show–the execution, as usual, was actually very well done. As someone who has worked in the events industry, I especially appreciate the complexity that comes with making a show like this run smoothly.
Rather, it’s the fault of the gear manufacturers who (apparently) are just out of ideas. They take an existing rod, ever so slightly tweak it, give it a new paint job and BAM! New Product! (oh, with a $200 increase on the price tag).
For these reasons, I’m not going to do a more comprehensive recap like I normally do (actually, what I just said above pretty much covers it). Instead, I just want to focus on a few highlights of things that I thought were noteworthy and might be of interest to other tenkara anglers.
This year was a new venue for the show: The Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center. This place was HUGE! It’s a resort/hotel/events center all in one with multiple restaurants, exhibit halls, shops, playgrounds, waterslides, gyms, cafes, and even an indoor stream!
One thing I kept thinking about is why they didn’t use the indoor stream for demos and presentations. This would have been really neat but I’m sure they couldn’t because of some policy or safety regulation.
It’s almost a self-sustaining city. Some vendors complained that the venue was a little cramped and I don’t know if that’s because the exhibit hall was smaller or because more people were in attendance but it was definitely shoulder-to-shoulder a lot of times.
At any rate, I liked the new choice in venue and even got a great grain salad at the cavernous Mountain Pass Sports Bar & Grill.
Much better than your typical “convention food”.
As I said above, I go to these shows with a tenkara lens and this year, I just didn’t feel the same tenkara vibe as I have in previous years.
There were only 3 tenkara-dedicated companies there (one brand new) and the absence of Tenkara USA was definitely noticeable. For me, they always gave the show a backbone for tenkara and it just wasn’t there this time.
That said, there was a handful of products that were worth mentioning …
As always, Luong Tam from Tenkara Tanuki was there in full force with his non-stop energy and enthusiasm. I almost didn’t recognize him because instead of his signature orange ensemble, he was all about yellow that day.
I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to with him because he was so busy with customers and teaching classes but I did get to see a few things in person that I’ve wanted to for a while now, including the Bare Bones Nymphing Rod, and the new Pocket Ninja rods and kits.
The new rods are pretty much the same as the much-loved original, but with a choice of unique graphics from various artists including Anthony Naples and Luong himself.
I have one of the older Pocket Ninjas which I still carry everywhere in my sling pack as a backup rod or my secret weapon if I find myself in tight spots so I’m already familiar with how it fishes. But the new graphics were a little “out there” compared to what I’m used to. I’m pretty plain Jane when it comes to tackle and tend to not like anything flashy. But seeing these in person was a lot different than seeing them online.
For one thing, they’re more elegant and less gaudy that I imagined. The graphics are bold, but not “in your face”–just enough bling to make the rod stand out from the crowd. The model I was drawn to was the Headwaters whose art was designed by Luong. He gave me one as well as his entire kit sytem which includes a box full of tenkara flies, a line, and a silicone tenkara spool. all packed into a really compact and slick travel case.
I’ve never really been a “kit” person. Usually, kits come with a lot of extraneous gear slapped together to give the impression of value (quantity over quality, perceived value over practicality and utility).
But when I held the kit in my hands, it actually “got it”. Like the Pocket Ninja Rods, it’s very sleek and modern looking with well thought-out pockets and ergonomics. A minimalist could easily carry a couple of rods and all the tackle they need in a package that almost fits in your glove box. And the cool thing is that all of the Pocket Ninja Series rods fit into the case.
This is a kit I could actually see myself using. I think others would really like it too so keep and eye out for my review and a video of Luong demonstrating the kit soon.
I was really impressed with the Bare Bones Nymphing Rod as it wasn’t what I thought at all. I imagined a fairly stiff rod, but it actually has a soft tip that loads easily. It’s designed to be sensitive for strike detection and I suspect this is due more to the stiffer backbone of the lower segments rather than the tip.
In a way, it reminded me of the Tenkara USA Ito with its length, strength, and softer tip. While I don’t really nymph fish in the traditional sense, I can see why people into things like Euro nymphing would like this rod.
One booth that did stop me in my tracks was company called ESZ. I’d never heard of them before and their rods looked interested so I stopped by to see what they’re all about.
When I approached the booth, a young Chinese man approached me as I fondled one of their rods and asked, “Hello, have you ever tried tenkara?”
I said, “Well, I’ve heard of it”. I pulled out my Tenkara Talk Business card to give to him when his father (the owner and founder of the company) saw my logo, recognized it, and immediately jumped into the conversation. He told me he loves my blog and seemed really excited to see me so we got to talking. It turns out they literally just launched a couple of weeks ago!
His name is Ethan and he’s come up with a line of rods which (at first) I thought were “me too” rods, but quickly realized they actually weren’t.
He explained the theory behind his designs to me and it all seemed very solid. He graciously gave me a 10′ 6:4 River Master rod to review (this was the model I really gravitated toward) and I even got to spin their “wheel of fortune” and won a free line spool, LOL.
When Ethan talks about his rods and all the new ideas he has for the company, his passion really comes through. I can tell he’s not only a genuine tenkara angler, but knows what he’s talking about in terms of design. I spent more time at that booth than I did at any others because it was so interesting to hear his ideas.
The rods aren’t earth-shattering, but they are different enough to warrant mention. The one I got is very light and crisp with a fast-recovery tip and a small, straight handle. I actually really like the handle as I have smaller hands than most and the rod just felt natural in my hand–las if I were already familiar with it.
I’ll have a more in depth writeup once I get to test the rod, but I have a feeling that ESZ will be a name we’ll be hearing more and more in the tenkara conversation.
I always look forward to seeing Karin from Zen Tenkara but we kept missing each other. Over the years, I’ve watched Karin rise to rockstar status at the shows. Her presentations are like high-energy TED Talks that fill the room and lead to interesting follow-up conversations on big-fish tenkara and some of her other unconventional and esoteric ideas. Her enthusiasm for tenkara is absolutely contagious
And I’ve always said that the Zen Tenkara booth is the most eye catching at every show. I stopped by a few times and it was active, but Karin was always off teaching a class somewhere so my timing just wasn’t right. Hopefully, it won’t be another year before I see her!
Finest Fly Tying Benches of Colorado
If you’ve ever read my coverage of previous shows, you’ve probably seen my posts about Dave Burchette and his gorgeous woodcraft. I’ve known Dave for many years and back when I owned my online tenkara store, he made all of the wooden fly boxes and accessories for me.
Dave is a true artist with a diverse range of designs that sometimes cross classic, Rockwellian aesthetics with the ultra-modern. Case in point … he now has a whole series of boxes that feature a Japanese anime-style fishing robot on the lid and an “alien” insect on the base. And they’re made from nostalgic woods with old-school craftsmanship. Who else is doing anything so radically anachronistic that would appeal to us quirky, Japanofile tenkara anglers? No one!
So while I always admire Dave’s more traditional boxes, these were real stand-outs at the show for me.
Another interesting thing was the foam he’s using. Rather than the ubiquitous slotted foam on modern boxes, he’s using a sheet foam with small pill-shaped punch outs. There’s no slit to slide the hook bend into–you place the hook in the cutout and then slide the point forward to embed it into the foam.
This is the first time I’ve seen this type of foam insert and I’m not sure what (if any) advantages it has over other designs, but it was noteworthy nonetheless.
If you haven’t heard of them before, Flyvines is an interesting company. They upcycle used fly lines to create a wide variety of products such as lanyards, bracelets, dog leashes, keychains, eyewear retainers, and many other useful EDC items.
I’m a big proponent of upcycling over recycling and think they’ve come up with a very clever business model as well as some great gear. It seems they’ve figured out how to make a profit while making a difference and without losing sight of their grass roots.
In addition, everyone there seems really friendly and laid back–a fun, relaxed (but earnest) company culture. I got into a cheeky disagreement with the Flyvines girls about whose booth was the most eye catching. I voted for Zen Tenkara, but of course, they thought theirs was (and it was a beautiful booth). We left it as a toss up. 🙂
Anyway, I believe in supporting companies that promote sustainability so if you’re looking for a small gift or stocking stuffer that’s as unique as it is practical, I’d encourage you to take a look around the Flyvines website where you’ll be sure to find something any outdoorsy person would appreciate.
The Bug Watch
I’m not sure how I feel about this one. But it did make me stop to take a closer look.
The concept is a small fly box you wear like a wristwatch. The band is some kind of rubber which right now fastens with peg but they’re planning on redesigning it to have a magnetic closure which sounds like a significant improvement.
The Bug Watch is about as minimal as you can get. There are different sizes but any of them will probably hold more flies than you’ll likely use in a day.
My first thought was, “GIMMICK!”–just pandering to the minimal/ultralight fly fishing niche. But, the more I thought about it, the more I could see its applications.
Being limited to such a “small” selection of flies might horrify many conventional fly fishers (the ones whose vests are stuffed with 20 different boxes with every stage of every aquatic insect known to man) but I don’t think it’s so much of a reach for tenkara anglers.
We’re accustomed to carrying fewer flies and even the unfathomable notion of “one fly” is ingrained in our culture. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Bug Watch appealing to tenkara anglers.
But I was also thinking of other situations where all I want is to have a few flies on me and not carry a pack or other gear: flats fishing, pond fishing, a ready-to-go car kit, backpacking, etc..
What do you think of this idea? Would you use it? Let us know in the comments section below.
Wayward Wood Shop
Wayward Trading Post had a small booth with their wares, among which were some wood burnings I found interesting. I asked how much they were and was told $5, so I got 2 small plaques and a beautiful wood-cut coaster for my fly tying desk.
As soon as the transaction was complete, I told the woman I now felt comfortable telling her she could easily charge double or triple. She seemed appreciative, but not so much interested in profit margins as art (an amiable disposition).
Anyway, they’re nice little touches to my desk and an upgrade from my old cardboard coasted I’ve been using. 🙂 And they have a lot of items that would make great, unique gifts for any fly angler.
The fly tying row was as strong as usual with many of the staple heavy hitters like Phil Iwane, Steve Schweitzer, and Rick Takahashi but I was mostly interested in talking to Jonathan Antunez and Jane Rutherford, both of whom I haven’t seen in ages.
In between the stream of onlookers, I did get a few minutes with each of them and it was a breath of fresh air to talk to some real tenkara people.
Jon & His Flies
Jane & Her Flies
The young, up-and-coming tyer Ahn Thai was also there but I didn’t get a chance to meet her.
Oh, and there was a live chicken their whose raison d’etre was apparently to provide the feathers for knock-off Pistol Petes.
It was a pretty small haul this year: a couple of rods, a Fulling Mill fly box, some crafts, spools, stickers, a bamboo bodkin (you’ll see), and some other random swag. I was hoping to find some show deals on hackle but unfortunately, they had every color except the ones I was looking for. So I didn’t end up buying much.
I never have high expectations for the gear at the shows, but I go to see certain people. And I just didn’t get that this year. I remember walking through the show and in one aisle, you could walk by Gary Borger, John Gierach, and 3 or 4 other fly fishing celebrities. I did see Borger, but it just didn’t seem like the star-studded cast I remember.
That combined with the relatively small tenkara presence just made for a lackluster show for me. Maybe I attended on the wrong day or came at the wrong time, but something was missing. I couldn’t help but reflect on my friend Dennis’s recent article on the zeitgeist in the tenkara community.
Will I go again next year? Probably. Because you never know which companies will pop up that might actually have true innovation and this is the place to see it.
Plus, the show is a form of entertainment–kind of like Shark Tank. I like to make predictions on which products will survive long enough to make it back next year. I have my bets down!
Anyway, this was by no means a comprehensive report on the show. I’ll leave that up to the mainstream fly fishing media. I just wanted to point out a few things I found interesting as a tenkara angler and share.