Fly fishers have endured a lost year, when it comes to in-person fly-fishing events, including the consumer shows that help to make the long winter bearable. But there are signs that things are returning to normal: on February 27 and 28, the 4th annual Texas Fly Fishing & Brew Festival was held in Mesquite, Texas, marking the country’s first in-person fly-fishing event since the pandemic lockdowns.
“We knew hosting the Texas Fly & Brew would be a real challenge,” says Jessica McClellan of the Mesquite Visitors and Convention Bureau, “but family-friendly events are exactly what our city wants to welcome. We look forward to making this festival a part of our community.”
Facing pandemic anxiety and lockdowns, festival director Beau Beasley had to cancel last year’s event just eight days before the doors opened. “We were devastated to have to cancel the 2020 show at the last minute, and so were our sponsors and vendors. In 2021 we put in place a mask requirement, practiced social distancing, and widened the aisles and all the lecture areas. I was a paramedic for 30 years, so I’m committed to public safety.”
All attendees wore masks when they came through the door (and most wore their masks throughout their stay), staff members set up sanitation stations throughout the venue, and the festival team widened aisles and set aside extra space in classrooms and elsewhere to enable social distancing. Vendors, instructors, and volunteers had their temperatures taken before entering the building.
“The public response was astounding,” says Beasley. “We were pretty confident that folks were eager to get out of their houses and talk fly fishing—and boy, were they ever.”
The event drew nearly a thousand attendees—from as far away as Ohio and Kentucky—and featured more than 50 vendors and numerous lodges. Among the many speakers and presenters in attendance were Pat Dorsey, Landon Mayer, Karlie Roland, Jim Bensinger, and Steve Maldonado.
“Digital marketing and remote education have their place,” said Chris Johnson, owner of Living Waters Fly Fishing, “but they’re no replacement for in-person contact. It was wonderful to see the excitement on everyone’s face. Some were seeing their fly-fishing friends for the first time in almost a year!”
“When all was said and done,” said Beasley, “we had a safe, fun-filled event with a very young crowd—about 30 percent of whom were women. We couldn’t have pulled off the Texas Fly & Brew without the steadfast support of our vendors, sponsors, and enthusiastic attendees.” Asked if he was frustrated that Texas’ mask mandate was lifted just days after the festival ended, Beasley said, “No, not at all. I wouldn’t have changed one thing about the event. Everything was perfect. My team and I are just so grateful to everyone who made it possible.”
Planning is already underway for the 2022 Texas Fly & Brew. Let’s hope that 2021 is the year we can all get together to celebrate this wonderful sport.