The Denver Fly Fishing Show – Beers, Bobbins, & Beards

John Geirach was just cruising around the massive showroom floor like a wise old brown trout, being very selective about what he might want to take home. He looked haggard. Like he just drove straight to the show after mouse fishing all night.  But he’s John Geirach and doesn’t give a shit. Curiously enough, like most celebrities, he blended right in with the rest of the bearded sunbaked fishy looking characters like he’s not a legend. But like the biggest fish in the pool, the others stared out the side of their eyes, watching his every move. What flies caught his eye? Is he going to buy a Clackacraft? Will he sign my book if I don’t spook him? He, like most easy going writers is just as nice as his writings portray, and if you wait a minute he’ll be cordial about taking the time to John Henry your copy of his books.

I have to wonder though, as I’m not a published writer, when someone asks you to sign their book which you wrote, is there a feeling that this autograph is being requested beyond your years? Like a Micky Mantle card, that will have more value once you’re gone? Kind of morbid to think about, but I think there might be some truth there as creepy as it might be.

As a courtesy, all the writers have set aside some time to perch at a special booth for a while signing their works, so unless you just have to talk to any of them, it won’t cut into their shopping time if you can catch them at their allotted time.

Every year, I take my daughters on what we call a Sticker Quest. Every vendor and guide keeps a hefty stack of their custom stickers at their booth and since I’m there to spend money I haven’t made yet, and my girls don’t want to buy anything but a new Down River Raft we can’t afford, a sticker scavenger hunt is the best way to keep them interested. They collect stickers like they are on a mission to cover our entire truck.

It takes a fair amount of self control to refrain from buying gear for the sake of gear. Like walking into a fly shop for hooks and coming out with a new Scott Rod. Self control must be exercised. I recall in the movie Tin Cup when Kevin Costner loses his mojo and buys all those self-help gimmicks to find his swing again. Do I need a rod holster or the newest knot-tying tool? No, but when inundated with miles of the latest gear, fighting off the purchasing endorphins is a very real struggle.

The best fly tiers in the country congregate at this show stacked up like pearls on a string, tying perfected versions of every fly you can imagine, and then some that you can’t imagine a fish not falling all over itself to inhale. These legends of the craft sit hunched over fancy vises lit up like an operating room while their mouths and noses appear wasp-stung swollen through huge magnifying glasses. Staring too long as they effortlessly loop in fur and feathers could be described by a novice fly tier like myself as “dreamy”.

In this very diverse crowd, one look that never fails to impress is the bushy facial hair. The diversity of beards reflects biblical times, or a craft brew fest. One could pivot from bird watching to beard watching in such a crowd. Fishiness is somehow assumed by the length and scraggliness of the face salad. The longer the scruff, the more Permit to hand such a guy is likely to have tallied. The clean shaven must surely be weekend warriors and wannabe guides.

Once because I had tickets for all three days, I brought my lovely non-fishing wife along hoping she and I would find a connection through trout-spotted attire. After weaving our way through the first few yards of the crowd all she said was, “Lots of swinging dicks.” I laughed, but then took her to the Women’s Exhibit which has continued (thankfully) to grow through the years. As far as 50/50 on the water, there are still some things left to be desired, but the numbers are trending upwards thanks to such groups as United Women on the Fly, Damsel Fly Fishing, and Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures, and a growing number of vendors targeting the female crew who can no doubt out-fish most of the guys.

Upon entry, I always find myself signing my life away for a chance at a trip of a lifetime. If an all expenses paid trip to Patagonia requires my social security number, I’m not batting an eye while carelessly throwing those numbers out into the universe. Mother’s maiden name? Info for my third grade teacher? Here you go. (Sorry Mrs. Webster)

Every year since my fishing buddies and I have visited the show we end up talking very seriously for an hour about a new boat.  And they have them here.  Down River has displays of sixteen footers just waiting to be smashed against a boulder.  Visualizing myself rowing down the Arkansas while two of my friends are doubled up on twenty-inch browns is easy when you are surrounded by enormous printed images of fat colorful fish and gear beyond one’s wildest imagination.

In the end I sulk home and re-work the gunwales on my eleven-foot liability of a raft.  Besides, it was free, and I like the character of the baling wire and duct tape.  Add a few new Abel Reels stickers to the frame and it looks like it’s seen some times. And it has.  Last year on the Bighorn River in Montana, on what was the last day of tough fishing and worse weather, Cory rowed us backwards into a bank just before takeout.  The three glorious homemade PVC electrical conduit rod tubes jammed into the dirt taking the full weight of the loaded boat.  Two of the three snapped instantly.  The one that did not was the only one with a rod in it at the time so thanks goes up to the fishing gods.  Currently I’m working on a new design that includes slightly more duct tape.

I found myself chatting up long time donor to my river cleanup Garrison Doctor of Rep Your Water about the obese rainbows of Jurassic Lake I’d seen him on “the Gram” hoisting out of the water. When I mentioned Jurassic Lake he forgot he was there to peddle his wares and eagerly jumped feet first into how that lake is like nothing on the planet. I stood there smiling, wearing one of his hats, nearly salivating with envy. But that’s how fishermen are. Once the topic of such magical places are brought up, there’s no stopping them from reliving the whole experience.

Dave and Emily Whitlock are always busy signing books and incredible paintings, but genuinely enjoy chatting with everyone who stops by their booth.  I’ve never seen two people who smile that much. 

This year all these characters are congregating for the 2022 Fly Fishing Show at the Gaylord of the Rockies Convention center February 11-13. It’s going to feel like getting a guide for a single day in the Seychelles knowing this is your only shot at glory, and in this case, amazing deals on a bunch of gear you may or may not even need. So fun, regardless.

Published by willbarch78

I grew up in the middle of nowhere Texas. The nearest Walmart was a full two hours away. My family still runs a ranch back home that I grew up on, but at some point in my treasured youth I hung up the idea of becoming a cowboy, and pursued my passion for architecture. Today I still find myself trying to fit in to a life that has treated me with the average ups and downs one can expect after a certain number of years. My wife and I moved to Denver after attending Texas Tech School of Architecture in Lubbock as we needed a grade change from the Llano Estacado. We camp with our three growing girls all summer and into the fall while I write and create and fly fish to maintain sanity. Life is moving fast as our careers and children progress in all areas, so being outdoors with each other keeps us mostly grounded.

2 thoughts on “The Denver Fly Fishing Show – Beers, Bobbins, & Beards

  1. U sound like me when I get to go to the George R Brown convention center n Houston in November for the international quilt festival. It is literally the largest attended event there every year. Everyone needs a hobby they salivate over.


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