Troutfest 2009 – How it all happened.
By Byron Begley

Everyone is talking about Troutfest 2009. People are writing about it. The event will be featured in national magazines. Troutfest was a large event, larger than we could have imagined. For 10 months the steering committee planned, executed, worried and wondered what it would be like. Everything was going to be different from prior Troutfests. We were going to have the biggest names in the sport right here in Townsend. We hoped the event would grow based on that one change alone. But we made sure the word got out, we wondered if the people would come and they did.

Troutfest 2009 was the sixth year of the event. Conceived by the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited the original gathering in Townsend consisted of a fund raising banquet, fly fishing exhibits and an arts and craft show. I think everyone involved will tell you it was the brainchild of Joe Hatton and for 5 years he was in charge of Troutfest.

My understanding is Troutfest made between $10,000 and $16,000 per year. That money was donated to Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fisheries Department. The department used that money and all volunteer hours from TU members to leverage grants for brook trout restoration and other projects. Troutfest has been financially successful since day one.

The Board of Directors of the Little River Chapter decided to grow the event and turn it into a fly fishing exposition. They asked me to serve as chairman. I was glad to serve but I knew very little about how Troutfest worked. Joe had always been in charge and all I did was help him when he asked. This has been a learning experience for me.

We established a steering committee of experienced and talented people and started the planning process early, 10 months before the event. We met almost every month for about 3 hours. Rufus King who is President of the Little River Chapter and Joe Hatton volunteered to serve as Vice Chairmen. Rufus would be in charge of Friday Night’s banquet/auction and Joe would run the Exposition.

Jack Gregory and Paula volunteered to manage the food and beverages on the night of the banquet. There is already a group of people who know how to prepare and serve the food. They had done that for 5 years. That same group of volunteers also decorate the facility, set up for the dinner, serve the food and beverages and a whole lot of other tasks. Again, I had no idea what they all did. Jack also took on the task of designing the layout with Joe and ordering the tents, tables, chairs and lighting. This is the first time we held the banquet at the Visitors Center. The festival has always been held there.

Sarah Weeks and Gary Verholek and I handled the marketing. Sarah has done this type of work throughout her career first with the Alumni Association at University of Tennessee and now as Director of Development at Friends of the Smokies. She knows how to market and organize events. Gary has been deeply involved with the marketing for past Troutfest events. I spent much of my business career in print advertising. We were a great team. The three of us designed the small posters that were sent to all fly fishing stores in seven states, we designed the website and all other collateral material such as name tags, tickets and cards that were used to draw people to the website. Most of our printing was done by Hart Graphics in Knoxville at actual cost. This turned out to be a huge savings for us.

John Skinner was in charge of the Education Tent. He has done that for years, it has been well managed by him so, he would continue this year. I talked to him a few times about the tent but he just did the whole thing himself.

Bill and Sheila Bolinger handled ticket sales. I knew they would do a good job. They have both served on the food committee since the first year. Sheila is the bookkeeper here at the shop and Bill works in customer service. This would be the first year tickets would be sold online. They took the orders from Little River Outfitters Online Catalog and at their house they ran the charges through a credit card machine and the charges were deposited directly in the the Little River Chapter’s account.

Roy Roberts served as treasurer. He did it in the past and he is the treasurer for the Little River Chapter. Roy also worked with Sheila and Bill and with Rufus on the banquet auction transactions. Roy and I together made 6 night drops at the bank containing cash and checks during the weekend using locked bags. That reduced the chance of losing some money due to a robbery of just lack of oversight. There were always at least two people handling the bulk of the money. Rufus, Roy and I picked up the cash & check proceeds from the event, counted it all, categorized it and made the final deposit.

Kris Maurer was in charge of the National Manufacturers. I made the initial calls then turned the names over to him. I called Rick Pope from Temple Fork and asked them to help. They paid to have Lefty Kreh join the show and Rick with three more of his staff came to Troutfest to help out and have a booth. I called Joe Humphreys and Bob Clouser. Our shop paid to have Joe come to Townsend for the weekend. Renzetti paid to have Bob Clouser here. I also called Bill Reed who is the National Sales Manager at Orivs. Not only did he arrange for a cash donation of $1,000 but they also gave $2,500 in merchandise for the auctions. He and Robert Bryant who is the Regional Business Manager attended and worked in their booth. Kris then contacted all the National Companies and worked out the details. He made the National Exhibitors Tent look like a trade show by using curtain backdrops. He also got donations from all the manufacturers. The list of companies who donated is incredible. Manufacturers representative from most companies were displaying in that tent at Troutfest. Sage and Simms were not represented but they did give donations for the auction. Kris did a great job.

Sarah Weeks and I organized the fly tyers. We ended up with 40 talented people who tied in shifts all weekend. We had some of the best fly tyers around and many of them were very young. They came here from Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina. We asked several other volunteers to handle the tent as we were charging a $10 donation to get in. That was a very important part of the show. A guy who organizes a similar event asked me how I got 40 people to tie. I told him the truth. They are all friends of mine. Now, many are closer firiends.

Chad McFall organized the events and made sure Lefty, Joe and Bob were in the right place at the right time. He had his hands full. I don’t think he enlisted volunteers to help him with that. But, everything seemed to go smoothly. Paula was in charge of the casting contest both days. There was always something going on, casting demonstrations, book signings, seminars the casting contest and others. Many of them were going on at the same time. Chad probably needs more volunteers next year.

Herb Handly runs the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau. Part of his responsibility is to manage the Townsend Visitors Center where Troutfest was held. Herb also has vast experience in running festivals. He worked to educate me on festival management and I learned a lot from him. That knowledge will prove to be valuable to Troutfest for years to come. Thankfully we didn’t destroy the Visitors Center which now includes a five thousand square foot building, parking lot, utilities and eleven acres of land. We did drive a tent stake through one of his water lines. It was easily repaired and Troutfest will pay the plumbing bill. We also did some damage to the right-of way trying to park cars on soaked ground. The City of Townsend repaired that and we will pay for the damage. Neither cost very much money. It was no big deal.

Tom Eustis setup the sound system for the banquet and live music. Ross Shaver, Mike Shaver and Steve Head worked the parking lot. Others helped them too.

Joe Hatton had a huge job and it turns out he didn’t have enough help. We were overwhelmed with the attendance for one thing. Our parking folks tried to count cars and visitors. At one point they started sending visitors to another un-attended parking area. I talked to them last night. They think we had 4,500 people attend the two day event. Last year the estimate was close to 2,000.

Joe had the responsibility of T-shirt printing and hat embroidery, the Little River Chapter Store, which sold about $7,000 worth of books plus other merchandise and the vendors. Since he is an electrician he had to keep everything connected and running. He was in charge of setup and teardown of everything except the banquet. He was in charge of parking. There is probably a lot more I can’t think of right now.

The revenue and cost estimates are rough at this point. We should have the final numbers soon. We pre-sold 271 banquet tickets for $13,550 and sold more at the door. The auction and raffles brought in $24,315 we think. Online T-shirt and hat sales were $505. The Little River Chapter Store sold $8,095 worth of merchandise. The Fly Tying Tent received donations of $1,860. The bamboo rod raffle brought in $1,400. Parking donations came to $753. We don’t have the final numbers for cash sponsor payments and vendor charges. But, right now it looks like our total revenue was $51,963. That number will be higher due to revenue from vendors and sponsors.

Our costs to date are $19,289. That leaves us with a net profit of $32,674. That will be adjusted up or down depending on un-accounted for income and expenses.

Over 100 volunteers participated in Troutfest 2009. I can't mention them all here and I don't have a complete list. Some volunteers drove from other states to demonstrate fly tying. People worked all weekend and planned for months to pull this off. National Manufacturers came here from Tennessee, Vermont, Texas, Florida and other states in the Southeast U.S. Vendors brought their art from several states. And those who attended came from Alaska to South Mississippi, Washington DC to Missouri, Indiana to Florida, they came from everywhere traveling long distances to see what we were doing. Troutfest 2009 was a big success. Most importantly, everyone had a good time. I didn't see a frown all weekend. We have already started planning Troutfest 2010.

Photos by Gary Verholek and others.

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