Flyfishing Show Exploits

Every year around Christmas we begin to prepare for yet another show season. We've been busting a hump for months trying to get some rods ready to have on hand for the shows we do, as well as filling current orders.

The shows themselves can be a lot of fun, but exhausting and costly. A nice corner booth can run near $900. Of course if you'd like a table or two to display your wares, or a chair to sit on, that's extra. Travel expenses such as gas, meals and lodging are also extra. If the show is sponsored by a fishing club, you may be asked to give them a little gift before you leave to pay tribute for their generosity in allowing you spend your money renting a booth at their show.

Don't even get me started on Union shows.

So the rods get assembled, the car packed, and off we go on the dog and pony circut. Now I don't mean this in a bad way, but did you ever think about just how nuts fly fishermen can be? I think that by its nature, fly fishing attracts some pretty iconoclastic(read:wierd) people. And these shows bring them all out of their winter hibernation.

You get to meet a rich variety of folks at these shows and each show has at least one memorable story to chuckle about. Here's a few of our favorites:

The Whistling Gopher

Sometimes you get a hankering to exhibit at a 'new' show. It's always good to investigate new markets. But before shelling out a lot of money on what may be a bust, you decide it may be prudent to call someone that has done the show and ask if they were successful. Once I called our friend and fellow rodbuilder Don Schroeder to get the lowdown on a show where he exhibited.

"Nothing but whistling gophers", he said.

"Huh?", I asked.

He then proceded to tell me that a whistling gopher is a guy that comes by your booth and says, "what yer rods gopher?"

You tell the guy $1,300.

He whistles and says something like "too rich for my blood."

The Treasure

Oftentimes at shows people will stop by with an old cane rod and attempt to learn its value. Most of what you see is pure junk; occasionally and very rarely a real treasure pops up. At one show a guy showed up at our booth with a Dickerson 8013, almost mint, and finds like this are what gets a collector's heart racing.

At a show a few months later, another guy comes by. He told us that he had a cane rod at home, but couldn't remember the maker's name. He described the rod as a three piece, 7 1/2 footer! but couldn't recall any more details. But he was sure, it was a three piece 7 1/2 footer!

I asked if he could go home and bring it back and told him that rods of that length were pretty rare and highly desirable. As I waited for him to return I almost had to breath into a paper bag to alleviate my excitement. Visions of sugarplums danced through my head. "Is this another Dickerson...a Payne...maybe a Heddon, Leonard or Granger?", I wondered.


A short time later he came back and handed me a rodbag. Inside was a Montague, beat to hell. Sure enough when I assembled the rod it was exactly 7 1/2 feet long. The butt was three and a half feet, the mid three feet, and the tip one foot.

Trade, Anyone?


Going To Pot?

At the same show another guy took his time casting some of our rods. He was very enthusiastic and anxious to acquire a rod, but after spending a good amount of time with us he was blunt: he didn't have enough money to afford a rod! He asked about a trade.

Now I'm not one to get into trading things. I've found that trades are structured in such a way that the end result is usually akin to exchanging a steak for a hot dog. We've been offered all sorts of stuff in trade, none of it we need. I've got enough crap, thank you, and so was not interested in what this guy offered, but would be happy to sell him a rod.

But I just had to ask.

He told us that he was an 'amature agronomist' and each year he planted a different crop, then sold or traded the crop in the fall for something he wanted. I asked what he was growing this year.

"Indica", he said.

It took a few minutes for me to comprehend what he was saying. I guess that my long hair and beard indicated to him that I might be interested. No thanks.

Trading Up?

An old geezer in a John Deere hat came by our booth. Portions of our conversation, written phonetically:

"Is theis here split cane rods, or bamboooooo?"

"I had me an old bambooooo rod, a Mont-Ah-Jew, but ah traded up and got me a Saint Crux."

Bad Vibrations

This story was related to me by another exhibitor. This individual has been around a long time and is one hell of a fine rodbuilder.

Two men approached his booth to choose a rod, and it became apparent that one gentleman was a neophyte at the sport and his friend was an expert. The expert was there to provide guidance and wisdom.

There are all types of tests that experts use to judge the action of a rod. I've seen rods wiggled, cracked like a whip, stuck into ceilings or floors and bent,  rolled between the fingers, etc. Apparently casting the rod isn't necessary or even desirable.

The rodmaker asked the neophyte a whole slew of questions, and based on his answers suggested a multipiece graphite rod. The builder walked to the rack and selected a rod to test cast.

"That rod's no good," grumbled the expert.

"Why not?", asked the builder.

"Too many ferrules, which will ruin the 'energy transfer' of the rod."

"Would the gentlemen like to actually cast the rod?", inquired the builder.

" I don't need to, I've got a test."

At this time the expert took the rod and instructed his friend to walk to the end of the booth. He then stuck the tip-top of the rod into his friend's Adams Apple, and asked him to hum.

"HHHHHMMMMM," goes the man.

"See, this rod's no good. I can't feel the vibration in the grip because the ferrules have dampened the energy transfer."

You can't argue with logic like that.

Just a Phase

At the Sommerset, N.J. show I noticed a guy standing with his friend back away from our crowded table. (This show can get crazy with people, and we were very busy) We made eye contact and he yelled out, "Do you remember me? Cairn's pool?"

Oh, did I ever! I was attending a rodbuilder's gathering at the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum and decided to try my luck one evening. I was fishing the lower end of Cairn's pool on the 'Kill and noticed some small white midges in the air, so I put on a creme-colored, size 24 Griffith's gnat.  

In an uncharacteristic display of angling prowess, I started to hook up pretty often. At some point I began to notice a guy had come in above me, dressed like a picture in a certain catalog. The poor sucker waded with the grace of a water buffalo, was throwing some magnificent tailing loops, and couldn't buy a fish at a fishmarket.

He ever so sloooowly worked his way downstream, getting more desperate by the minute, and I began to take some pity. We started to chat a bit, and he asked what I was catching them on. I got out of the stream and he came over. I pulled out my fly box and gave him some flies.

He asked about my rod and I explained that I built rods for living. He said that he wanted to buy a cane rod someday, but thought my prices too high! Unfazed by his rudeness, I told him that if he came by the Museum the next day, there would be lots of builders and maybe someone would build him a rod in his price range. He did show up, and despite my pity on him and the free flies, offered me half my price for a rod!

So here was the guy, asking if I remembered him. I yelled out:

"Oh, I'll never forget YOU. You were flailing away on Cairn's pool and couldn't catch a fish at a hatchery. I GAVE you some flies, and you repaid my kindness by insulting me, offering half of what my rods cost!"

People in the crowd just roared with laughter, and he turned beet red in front of his friend and the fellow anglers.

"I'm really sorry," he yelled back, "I was in my Orvis phase."

Hidden Costs

The young guy and the friends that accompanied him to the show had just finished test casting one of our rods. Every so often during casting he'd look my way and smile, or give a 'thumb's up sign' so I thought we had a sale. Stepping away from the casting pond, the group huddled conspiratorially. I decided to take a walk over and see what was going on.

Just as I arrived I caught the tail end of the conversation and one of the guy's friends said, "we'll hide it in the plumbing."

Hmmmmm. I know that some guys purchase fishing tackle without their wives knowing. As a matter of fact, one of the first mistakes I made as a builder was to call a guy to tell him his rod was ready. His wife answered the phone and asked to take a message and I said, "tell him the rod's done."

We both caught hell.

One cane aficionado we know hides his rod collection in the drop ceiling of the basement, and only takes his rods in and out of his car when his wife is gone. So it was no surprise to me that this guy wanted to hide the rod from his wife, but was curious just how he was gonna stash a rod in the plumbing of his house.

They quickly set me straight: His friend was a building contractor, and was designing a new kitchen for the couple. Not being able to lay out the money without his wife knowing, his friend was offering to add the cost of the rod to the remodeling job.

"We'll hide it in the plumbing."


The Swine

This story is about a tackle dealer that we'll call the swine. This dealer had been after us for some time to wholesale him some rods. I explained to the swine that as soon as I had a couple rods I would send them his way. We worked out the discount terms. I finally had a couple rods to sell, and gave him a call.

He hemmed and hawed, and finally offered to take the rods at a higher discount then we agreed to previously. If there's one thing that I can't stand, it's a guy that won't live up to his agreements. I decided, "***k him, he's not gonna get any rods.

By the way, he says, I just got in a rod of yours.


It turned out that he bought a rod that we had very recently delivered. Why the guy sold a just-delivered rod was beyond me. After all, if he didn't like it he could have returned the rod within three days and we would have gladly refunded his money.

But the swine just chuckled and told me not to worry. He explained that a lot of tackle collectors find themselves in need of quick cash. They are very impulsive and sometimes need cash in a hurry. They are desperate and a dealer of this ilk is like a shark smelling blood. He laughed even more recounting how he 'just stole' this rod.

He asked what the guy paid for it, and I fibbed a bit, giving a ridiculously low figure. He could sell the rod very cheaply and quickly, and still make a killing. The trap was set.

A few weeks later my wife called him and said that she was looking to buy a rod as a birthday gift for her husband. She said that she spoke with a local builder, Jeff Wagner, who could build him a rod, but not in time for his birthday. Mr. Wagner was kind enough to tell her that this swine might have just the rod she was looking for.

The dealer then went on to spin a bullshit tale of such epic and unmitigated proportions that my wife had to cover the mouthpiece of the phone to stiffle her laughter as he waxed poetic about this rod. He told her that this very rod was owned by a world-famous angler, a connoisseur, author, etc. He cherished this rod above all others, and in fact had been fishing this very rod on a famed river when he fished around the bend after suffering a massive heart attack. They found him next to his favorite pool, he said, still clutching this exquisite casting instrument that he loved above all others.


My wife, Casimira Orlowski, sent the swine a cashier's check with instructions to ship to my brother's address.

We were thrilled to get the rod back and pass it along to one of our best customers for a song.

Later we were at a show, when the swine came by our booth. Mr. Swine, I'd like you to meet my wife Casimira Orlowski.

You could almost see the little wheel turning in his head like a toy in a hampster cage.

"Where have I heard that name before......."

The Swine

You Only Die Twice

Back when I first got started building I didn't take deposits on rods. My reasoning was that if I took a deposit and stated a delivery date, I would have to be in constant contact with the client. After all, here's a person that would be sending you some money on faith. Hell, I'd get a bit nervous myself if I didn't know the builder and his character. This is especially true in light of some things that I've heard from people having bad experiences waiting for their rods.

But sadly that policy had to change. What would happen is that a buyer, typically a younger person, would order a rod with no realistic idea of how they were going to pay for it once it was done. As a result we'd put 40 hours of labor into a rod, and the cost of materials, but when it came time to deliver the rod and get paid the 'buyer' would suddenly get a little hard to find.

This perplexed me at first. I mean, I wouldn't walk into a Porshe dealer and order a car knowing I couldn't pay for it. Nor would I hope that I could at a later date.(Maybe I'll win the lottery?) And I'm about as delusional as a person can get.( Proof? I did think I could make a pretty good living building cane rods.)

But that's just me.

So we would make calls that weren't returned and write letters that didn't get answered.

This situation had to change because building rods is so labor and capital intensive, you just can't make many rods and there's no 'profit margin' to speak of. If someone chumps you on a rod, the lost income is a pretty big chunk of change in terms of your monthly wage. So we had to start asking folks to sign an agreement stating that they'd have 30 days after being invoiced to pay the balance or they'd forfeit their deposit. That way, we could sell the rod to a dealer and not suffer a loss.

What finally brought about this policy was one such customer. We called. We wrote. We finally did get through.

Well, the guy explained he'd been out of the country for a while. Big business trip, you know?(Did you ever notice that a person owing money can afford to leave the country? Not just the state, but the country?)

Then he got home, and his wife died after a protracted illness.(The sympathy ploy aimed at my achey-breaky heart)

But the check's in the mail. Promise.

(Still waiting)

I make another phone call and get an answering machine...."You have reached X Industries....all of our lines are busy..please dial 1 to get voicemail for our sales department, dial 2 for shipping and receiveing, dial 3 for...."

Ad nauseum. So all the sudden this guy is a globe-trotting-megabusinessman, with a huge corporate office and not one staff member that answers the phone? (When we got our computer we discovered that we had a similar phone software package and have always been tempted to set up all sorts of phony accounts, just for the fun of it. "You have reached J.D. Wagner , International. Please press 1 to order a rod, press 2 to check on a rod, press 3 to talk to the cane splitter....)

I finally called and got the guy, in person, on the line. When I identified myself he started yelling, "My cellphone must be dying, I can't hear you....."


F-em. We changed our policy and demanded a non-refundable deposit.

Skip ahead about a year or so. A rodbuilder called, crying the blues.

Seems that he can't get the money out of a client he built a rod for. Seems that the guy has been out of the country on business, and to make matters worse, his wife has died.

Yep, same wanker.

Copyright 2000, 2001, 2002  J.D. Wagner, Inc.