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Show proves fly-fishing popularity

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There are nearly 11 million men, women and children in America who get a lot of pleasure throwing something that resembles a grasshopper, though made of thread, feathers and colored yarn.

And if you doubt those numbers, walking the aisle of the fourth annual Fly-Fishing Retailers World Trade Expo at the Salt Palace will prove there's reason for doubt.

There's got to be more.

Aisle after aisle is packed with manufacturers displaying a thousand and one good reasons to take up fly-fishing.

Such things as waders that breathe, fishing vests with zip-out sleeves, gold-handled scissors, blue camouflage clothing to fool fish, a fly rod small enough to be used for practice in the office, instead of the putting green, and fly line that glows in the dark for night fishing.

The show opened Thursday and will close today.

There are approximately 300 exhibitors displaying their products in more than 650 booths. Over the three days, more than 3,000 retail buyers from around the world are expected to attend.

Jeff Blumenfeld, of Blumenfeld and Associates, said attendance is expected to be up for this year's show.

"The number of active members in the American Fly Fishing Trade Association is up this year. Also, what we're seeing is more interest in fly fishing. In 1998, retail sales for fly-fishing, and this includes rods, reels, line, flies and other accessories, was $572 million," he said.

"Last year it was $678 million. That's an 18 percent growth, which is pretty impressive. There are roughly 10.9 million active fly fishermen in the United States."

Two weeks ago, as part of a push to broaden exposure for the sport, Blumenfeld said the association put on a fly-fishing demonstration near the cosmetic section at two Bloomingdales stores in Chicago.

"We had more than 2,000 people stop, and more than 300 of them came and asked questions," he noted. "They were genuinely interested in fly-fishing."

If there was a trend surfacing in the Salt Lake show, it focused on comfort.

Manufacturers of such things as clothing, footwear and waders were on hand to prove there's no need to be uncomfortable, no matter the weather conditions.

With waders, for example, the move over the years has been from rubber to canvas to neoprene to new breathable materials such as Gore-Tex.

What that means, said one manufacturer, is that waders no longer need to be bulky, hard to walk in and uncomfortable when weather conditions are extreme — very hot or very cold.

With the new breathable waders, fishermen, like skiers, can layer their attire. That is, put on underwear when it's cold and put on shorts when it's warm.

The unfortunate part of the show is that it is open to retail buyers only and not to scores of avid fly anglers. They will have to wait until the new line of products show up on the shelves of their favorite tackle shop.

But judging from the products on display, there will be lots to choose from.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com