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Fly-fishing show reels in the inner nerd

Steelhead rivers flowed in perfect shape, sea-run cutts prowled Puget Sound beaches and bright - almost warm - sunshine bathed thousands of Northwest fly anglers.

It was one of those mild winter days that seem more like spring, but many of those thousands of fly anglers didn't lash their costly, four-wheel-drive gas guzzlers to the nearest river.

There was somewhere else to go.

Hordes of fly anglers herded themselves right into the Oregon Convention Center and forked over 24 bucks for two days inside a building that has all of the charm and intimacy of an international airport.

There was even a Starbucks selling $3 bottles of water.

The big Fly Fishing Show hooked - and did not release - those anglers for two loony days of seminars, fly casting demonstrations, fly tying demonstrations, slide shows, classes and power shopping for the latest and greatest fishing gizmos.

It was a fly-fishing nerdfest, and I was a nerd in the herd.

Some of the show's flyfishing stars seemed stunned that anyone showed up instead of going fishing.

"There is great dry-fly fishing on the Deschutes right now," famous guide John Hazel told a group of anglers that jammed into a dark, airless conference room to see his slideshow of big, dripping rainbow trout and jaw-dropping steelhead.

Hazel and his wife, Amy, are guides and own the Deschutes Angler shop in the trout-happy town of Maupin, Ore.

They had an excuse to turn their backs on hot fishing - they were there to book guide trips, sell equipment and help anglers figure out the picky wild redsides rainbow trout that swim in one the planet's best rivers.

I've fished the Deschutes for 20 years, and I always learn something new from the Hazels ‹ because they live right on the water and they fish their brains out.

You can learn a lot from some of the best anglers around, but a lot of stuff had my head spinning.

That stuff was a tidal wave of new, high-tech projects from many fly fishing companies. A lot of the new stuff seemed to be designed to reel money out of anglers' pockets as fast as possible.

Twenty years ago, fly fishing was a quiet, cranky sport. You spent a fair amount of money for a rod and reel, and you expected to fish both of them for the rest of your life.

Now fly fishing is big business, and every year brings new and ever-more expensive stuff. The newest top-of-the-line graphite fly rods are now $800.

Are they really better than the $400 model - which I love - and bought just four years ago?

I watched a couple of anglers blast out 80-foot casts with the trout models of the new rods.

Those boomers were impressive, but it's really hard to actually hook a trout that is 80 feet away _ mostly because you can't see the doggone fly.

Simms makes great waders, but do we really need to pay $699 for a new model with a waterproof zipper?

An exhibitor asked me what I thought of the waders.

I told him I can't see spending an additional $350 to $400 for waders just so I can go pee a little quicker.

One piece of new gear ‹ the unfortunately named "Rod Condom" _ is a product in search of a need.

The Rod Condom is just a nylon sock that keeps your rigged rod and reel from tangling with other rods and reels. I've never had that problem in more than 35 years. You just keep your rods a tiny bit apart, and you don't have to pay $16.

Just as I was working myself into a tantrum, I took another look.

A.K. Best, one of the most creative fly tiers and anglers around, swam against the show's tide.

Best showed slides of actual trout stream insects - and then showed us how most fly tiers follow silly traditional rules that prevent our bugs from looking a little more like the real thing.

"There's a lot of b.s. in the flyfishing business right now," Best said.

"Open your eyes." Master angler Simon Gawesworth took off his shoes and socks and waded into the casting pond just so everyone could see how to make a cool cast when they're actually on the water.

Gawesworth probably made every one watching a better caster.

Fly anglers from all over the country sat and tied flies - and gave them away. Master tier Henry Hoffman showed me how to tie a new damselfly that I know will work just great in late May on any trout lake.

Then he gave me the fly and shook my hand.

At that moment, I fell in love all over again with the art, magic, science - and friendship - of fly fishing. Paying $24 to go to an indoor nerdfest on a beautiful day made perfect sense.