For a Week, Flathead as the World’s Angling Hub

By Beacon Staff

For five days, Whitefish will be the fly fishing capital of the world.

The 43rd Annual International Fly Fishing Show and Conclave is coming to Whitefish High School on July 22 and will run through July 26. Put on by the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF), it is the premier event in the sport of fly fishing.

The conclave will feature nearly 150 fly tying demonstrations and 75 workshops, including a variety of casting clinics taught by some of the sport’s most recognizable names from around the globe. It will also feature a large auction on July 25, a youth camp and a women’s program.

Pre-conclave activities are held on July 22 and 23, including some workshops, but the bulk of the conclave’s schedule begins on July 24.

Steve Thompson, owner of Lakestream Fly Shop in Whitefish and a local organizer for the event, said the conclave is a major affair in the world of fly fishing. This is the second time it has come to Northwest Montana, he said. It was held in Kalispell years ago. Around 2,000 people attend the event annually.

“It’s a big deal from the standpoint that the people you read about in the magazines, the big names….they’re all here,” Thompson said.

Unlike sporting shows, the conclave focuses on fly fishing education, not selling gear. Several of the world’s best casters and fly tyers will be on hand to teach their skills at the event. Among the most prominent figures are Bruce Richards, Diana Rudolph, Bob Jacklin and Gene Kaczmarek, to name a few. In the past Lefty Kreh, Joan Wulff and Mel Krieger have participated.

“It’s not just a vendor show, it includes teaching,” said Jessica Atherton, the event’s coordinator and chairwoman. “It’s about educating about fly fishing. It’s to reach out to everyone.”

Jeff Yost sets up a fly rod for Juliette Arnold at the beginning of their float down the Flathead River.

The Federation of Fly Fishers is a non-profit organization based out of Livingston and dedicated to fly fishing education, conservation and habitat restoration. While many of the attendees at the conclave will be FFF members and officials, the event is open to everybody, whether fly fishing is a passion or merely a curiosity.

Many people have already registered for workshops online, but plenty of spots are still open. Online registration is closed. To participate in the workshops, visitors must be registered with the FFF. People who aren’t already FFF members can register onsite at the conclave. The basic one-year membership is $35, Atherton said. On top of the registration fees, costs to enter workshops vary. Some are free, including several of the casting clinics.

Registration opens in the high school lobby at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 22.

For the curious passerby who doesn’t intend to participate in a workshop and just wants to look around, a day pass costs only $5. With a day pass, visitors have access to demonstrations, free casting clinics and a fishing show, which features exhibits from manufacturers and outfitters.

Jan Metzmaker, director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitor Bureau and one of the conclave’s local organizers, said she expects a lot of people to stroll in no matter their interest in fishing – it’s a big event for Whitefish.

“We’re hoping that we have a lot of people attend and we hope that locals take advantage of this once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity,” Metzmaker said.

The first two days of the conclave are reserved for workshops, forums and FFF meetings. The demonstrations, youth camp and other programs begin on Thursday, July 24 and run through July 26.

Fly tying is a major emphasis at the conclave. For those familiar with the hobby, or obsession, it is a scrupulous and often meditative undertaking. Not to mention, it’s financially practical when compared to the accumulative costs of buying flies.

Whether you’re an expert or a beginner fly tyer, you’ll likely find what you need at the conclave.

“The fly tying classes are all the best guys in the nation,” Thompson said. “You get to see a bunch of people that you would not otherwise see in the world of fly fishing.”

Workshop participants are asked to bring their own equipment. Fly tyers should bring vises, threads, scissors and the rest of the necessary gear. People interested in the casting workshops need to bring a rod and reel appropriate for the workshop. Sunscreen and shades won’t hurt either.

And, of course, some people want to get in the water and fish. Streamside and floating clinics are available, though like the other workshops, not all still have openings. Participants must have a fishing license. The fishing clinics will help with fly selection, reading the water, landing and releasing techniques, and casting.

The conclave will also feature non-angling activities, such as a wine and cheese night and a movie showing at the O’Shaughnessy Center.

At the Friday night auction, bidders have a chance to win fishing trips to Chile, Argentina and Alaska. For gear enthusiasts and collectors, a variety of rods, reels and other equipment will be up for bid. Also, Thompson said, there are always a few treasures at the auction that can’t be found in any store, including hand-tied flies by the industry’s best.

“There’s some neat, personalized stuff that you could never get anywhere,” Thompson said.

Jeff Yost, center, demonstrates the proper cast and line placement before guiding David and Juliette Arnold down the Flathead River.