The IFTD Show, International Fly Tackle Dealers Show, wrapped up last week in Salt Lake City. This was the shows first return after two years of cancelations due to Covid. Zen Tenkara has participated in this show in the past and was an exhibitor again this year. The show is intended for retailers and distributor. It is a who’s-who show in the fly fishing industry and is monopolized by the “big boys” – the Simms, Sage, Patagonia, Airflow, Winston kind of companies that are easily recognizable and known by all.
The idea is that retailers, outfitters, lodge owners and big-box outdoor stores attend and connect with brand reps, check out new products and place orders. It is also the time when awards are given out within the fly fishing industry for Best Products of the Year. Zen Tenkara typically stands alone as the only tenkara company present. We have entered products into the New Product Showcase each year sadly, to no avail.
Traditional Western fly anglers still don’t see the value in tenkara, so our innovations and accomplishments are rarely noticed. But here’s what I have to say about that:
This year was the first year that so many guides, outfitters and brand reps took the time to say hello, they actually recognized the brand. Many of them claimed to really want to learn more, to have friends or know people that swear by the fixed-line method. And many had heard of “…some woman landing bonefish and shark and salmon on tenkara rods…Hey, that’s YOU isn’t it?!” I had a lot of laughs. Interestingly, instead of doubting the feasibility of it, they asked questions, really listened and thought it was “so cool”. This was a huge shift in attitude from previous shows. The tides on tenkara are definitely turning.
As people walked by the Zen booth or I took a little time to walk the show, I ran into to friends and acquaintances from all over. It’s not uncommon for guides to move around from lodge to lodge. They introduced me to their angler friends and connections and “vouched” for my accomplishments and for the Zen brand and what we’re doing in the industry. Again, people were curious and for the first time at an industry event, tenkara wasn’t such an ugly duckling but more of an exotic bird being observed. It was different and it felt good.
One day I would hope that a tenkara product could walk away from an IFTD New Product Showcase with a trophy of recognition. Even better, a Zen Tenkara product. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won’t. But, from conversations from several years ago, the IFTD did create a “Specialty Rod” category – not tenkara specific, but still, some place that tenkara rods could be entered under. It’s a milestone. The conversation was the start. Baby steps still get you to where you want to be, just at a slower rate. And that’s fine by me.