Are Trade Shows a Thing of the Past?

It’s March and temperatures are slowly warming up. January and February were a whirl wind of expos. Wintertime is fly fishing show season and each year for the past twelve, Zen Tenkara has been exhibiting at many of them around the country. This year was different. Attendance was noticiably down. It felt like the first year after the world opened up after the Covid Pandemic. Aisles were often near empty and at times, it seemed like the only conversations happening were between vendors. There was only one exception, the Denver Fly Fishing Show. The vibe and energy at this event was through the roof. So why are so many other show locations lack-luster?

Atlanta Fly Fishing Show aisles are pretty empty on a Saturday afternoon

Denver is a fly fishing hub for obvious reasons. It has tons of rivers, streams, lakes, mountains and fish. Colorado has an outdoor culture that spans a broad range of demographics. From the young to the old, people get outdoors, and many people fish. Colorado is a destination for anglers through out the country. But there are plenty of other states that offer incredible fishing. In fact, the upper northeast region near the Catskills was the breeding ground for fly fishing in the US. So why are shows in this area (and other areas) not as well attended as Denver?

Some exhibitors reported that this year’s sales were down as much as 50% from previous years. That’s beyond substantial, it’s alarming. Zen continues to do very well at these events and certainly economics plays a big role, yet we couldn’t help but notice that there were simply fewer people walking around the shows. And here’s my hunch why.

Attendees are aging out in many locations. Locations that haven’t done as well as Denver to attract more young people into the sport or more women. When you walked around the Denver Fly Fishing Show there was a mix of ages from the trucker-hat, plaid and button down shirt-wearing 20 year olds, to the conservative Orvis-decked 75 year olds – and everything in between. Older women in their late 60s and early 70s walked the aisles as well as small groups of smiling 20-something young women. Fly shops and outfitters that were exhibitors had both male and female guide staff working the booths and there were many companies that offered women specific gear or women-only hosted trips and outtings. Dads decked out in Catchflo trout-print footwear did hand-over-hand casting with their 3 year olds on the casting pond nurturing an early passion for the sport. The show was noisey and busy with tons of conversations happening at booths and at the multiple fully-stocked bars setup throughout the center of the show. It was hopping.

The Denver Fly Fishing Show was busy and had a greater showing of women anglers and younger anglers

New Jersey on the other hand was quiet. Presentations were given in a dark, shadowy corner of the exhibition center separated by black curtains. Few women walked the show and those that did, mostly weren’t anglers. They were just attending with their husbands or partners. But what stuck out even more prominently was the age difference between Denver and most of these other show locations; Denver was so much younger. The average age of the Edison show attendee was probably between 60 and 65. This location lacked the 20-something or even 30-something age group, making the show slower, quieter and possibly less well attended.

So my question is, are these other locations doing as good a job at attracting young people to the sport of fly fishing? Are these states welcoming women? Why are shows in other states so much smaller than they are in Colorado? And should we be doing anything different to make changes?

When I think about grooming or nurturing young people to become fly anglers or tenkara anglers I believe through the sport we also groom and nurture conservationists. Learning to fly fishing is also learning about the environment. The sport helps people understand why protecting our environment is so important. A love of fly fishing translates into a love of the environment which is so impactful.

I pose these questions not out of a need to sell more tenkara rods but out of a desire to keep our beloved sport alive and thriving and to educate more people on why keeping our rivers and waterways clean and protected is so important. How does Colorado get so many young men and women into the sport? How has the state breathed such vitality into fly fishing in their youth? Is it simply because of the state’s outdoor culture or are there more initiatives and youth programs being offered in this location than others? These are sincere questions and wonderings and I welcome your input and thoughts.

Tight lines and happy fishing!



  1. Speaking as an old white guy, You are so right. We need to do better in getting women and young people into this sport

    • It’s interesting that Denver seems to have done or be doing better at attracting women and young people into the sport of fly fishing. How do you think Denver is doing it? Is the discrepency between locale cultural, attidudinal, funding…what?

  2. Karin, unfortunately I was not able to attend this years event in Edison as I was out of the country so I am not able to comment on the turnout but trust your observations.. The Denver area is known as a place for young, active people and many younger folks flock to the area for work and play which adds to it being a great show. I am sure it is also held in a venue that is not in the middle of nowhere. As for the Edison, NJ show it is such a weird place to host this event. It is 2 hours from the Catskills and frankly in a rather desolate location so I think that an event hosted somewhere else closer to the Delaware has a better chance at success. As for attracting younger people and more women, I think that our area in the Catskills is taking some good steps but need to continue to do better and also we need to get the word out about these shows to this group of people. As I age, I need to make sure that the youngsters can ferry me about! Tight lines!

    • Love it…investing in the future is also investing in YOUR future, lol. I agree regarding the location. The Edison event is not an ideal location. I have heard many many similar comments wishing for the show to relocate to a better located venue. Ixve heard this for several years now. The Denver show at the Gaylord is an expensive location but at leadt offers many amenities. Many vendors come from out of the country and bring their families as a vacation. It is near the airport which makes things easy but for locals it is a drive and most only came for a single day due to the drive distance. When it was in its old lacation downtown attendees often came all 3 days. zalways a trade off I suppose. But we need to do a better job at attracting younger people to the shows or I’m not sure they will continue.

  3. Eberhard Scheibe

    Hi Karin, I think this seems to be a global trend. Lots of fishers don’t think about an other kind of flyfishing. Some false informations make them uninterested to check some other techniques out. In my clubs I like to concentrate my work to showing my Tenkara or Microfishing to youg fishers and wimmen. The smile of them after mastering some points is my goal. I’m happy with that. Sometimes I think lots of fishers aren’t able to decide what they want. So I will go out and fish for myself and will take a newbe or an old friend to the way of my fishing. I’m willing to present my Tenkara-Techniques to Friends who want to learn it only.

    • Eberhand I am just having this same conversation with another angler. Particularly with newbies, tenkara makes so much sense – it keeps things simply and straight forward so a person can get immediate successful results. This refuces frustration and increaes positive results which means new anglers will “stick with it” and not give up ( which many people new to fly fishing do). But reaching young people and creating an opportunity to be introduced to the sport, is a challenge. How do we make trade shows more appealing to them? Or do we find another avenue?

  4. I love this insight. I just sent a message to see if we can work together to remedy the situation a little in my tiny piece of the world.


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