Look at the picture at the top of this page. On the left is Lefty Kreh. Next to him is Joe Humphreys and to his right is Bob Clouser. I took it Saturday night when a gang of us went to dinner during Troutfest. These are three of the most famous fly fishermen in the world and there they are together in one room. This was a historic night for fly fishing. And though they are all friends of mine and have been for years, I was in awe of this moment.
Last summer the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited decided to change the format of Troutfest to that of a Fly Fishing Exposition. The original concept was a trout educational venue with an arts and crafts show. The highest attendance before this year was around 2,000 attendees over the weekend. Troutfest has always made a profit and that is donated to Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s fisheries department. This year would be totally different.
A committee was formed. Many were former volunteers. Some were new to Troutfest. They asked me to be Chairman. We met almost every month until the event happened. Planning was important since we were treading on new ground.
We lined up headliners like Lefty Kreh, Joe Humphreys and Bob Clouser. We invited 40 fly tyers to demonstrate throughout the weekend. We had more exhibitors than ever before and many were national fly fishing companies. Over 100 volunteers worked on the event. The banquet was held Friday night with almost 300 paid tickets at $50 each.
A lot of people showed up at the banquet and spent money. Though it rained on Sunday the attendance was huge at the Exposition. The parking team estimated 4,500 people showed up. We could not get an accurate count because we were overwhelmed with people and new parking areas were opened up for the first time.
Free seminars were given throughout the weekend. The Expo Store sold books written by Lefty, Bob and Joe. Book signings were held daily. There were live bluegrass bands performing all weekend. It was an event like no fly fisherman had ever seen. People came from as far away as Florida, South Mississippi and even Alaska. The Sales Manager for Hardy USA told me this was the second largest Fly Fishing Show in the Eastern United States provided our attendance numbers are correct.
One of the goals of Troutfest is to raise money for the Park Fisheries Projects including native brook trout restoration. We did that. With total revenues of over $60,000 our net profit was $36,184 which is more than twice what we made before at the largest Troutfest.
Our committee met yesterday. We have enlarged the committee by four people to fifteen. We will tweak our marketing. We hope to bring Lefty, Joe and Bob back next year. Instead of spreading out the vendors they will all be grouped in a 13,600 space under three large tents. Plans have begun for a much larger and more profitable Troutfest 2010. I’m going to be Chairman again.
The Little River Chapter also received a $10,000 Embrace A Stream Grant from Trout Unlimited. That money will also be given to the Park Fisheries Department along with possibly another $5,000 from the Tennessee Brookies. The Chapter will retain about $5,000 to be used as seed money for next year’s event. But, a total of around $40,000 will be turned over to the Park Fisheries Department and the Fisheries Endowment at Friends of the Smokies. That money will be leveraged to obtain grants.
Thanks to everyone who volunteered, sponsored, donated and attended. Because of you, we are supporting our Fisheries Programs including brook trout restoration in the Smokies. Also important is offering a venue where thousands of people can enjoy and learn from so many expert fly fishermen. It is amazing what a small committee and one hundred volunteers can do and Troutfest 2009 was a perfect example of that.
Are you looking forward to Troutfest 2010? We are getting ready for it now.