There were beaucoup smiles following the recent International Fly Tackle Dealer Show — again held in conjunction with ICAST, the world’s largest fishing trade show. 

For the fifth straight year, sales of fly fishing tackle and accessories were up as the numbers of fly anglers continue to grow. Just as significantly, most of these newbies are in the all-important 18-30 age demographic. 

Upstart companies like Allen, Cheeky, Taylor, Clutch, and Diamondback have made their mark by offering these young buyers a quality product at a reasonable price — with a little swag thrown in as well.

Rejected is the traditionalist view that when fishing, one should wear neutral clothing, use dark reels and matte-finish rods. 

Gazing upon all the eye-popping apparel at ICAST was like being in the middle of a rainbow. A rainbow with lots of fish images embedded.

Fly reels also now come in a wide spectrum of colors. Allen, Cheeky, and Taylor all confirmed that their colorful offerings have been strong sellers. 

It’s not just good looks alone that make these reels popular.

Each of these upstarts is following the business model set by TFO, a once-small company that is now one of the largest in our sport. Their products are highly engineered, but at a reasonable price, and backed by exceptional customer service. 

And like most top-rated brands, they’re made either in the USA or Korea.

The royalty of reels continues to be Abel and Tibor, but the gap has closed dramatically. In fact, new offerings from Sage, Nautilus, Loop, Hardy and even Allen are equal to the kings, yet priced $200 to $400 less.

The best performing reels have the following characteristics: Cold-forged or machined to high tolerances, very lightweight, a sealed carbon fiber or other space-age material with multiple discs, no startup inertia, a wide range on drag setting and an arbor width of about 1 to 1 ¼ inches that is optimal for untangled retrieve.

It’s not just reels that are getting better. So are rods.

The best performing rods have these characteristics: Lightweight, low swing weight, quick dampening, balanced spine, balanced rod taper, and theload well for short, medium and long casts. In addition, saltwater models should be able to make very long casts (90 feet or more).

Most of the rods in the IFTD New Product Showcase came in the mid-priced ($250 to $550) and value (under $250) range. Again, a market attractive to that young demographic.

Many of the mid-priced rods tested out very well in each of the qualities that make a great rod. Among the very best were the Sage Foundation, Loomis IMX-Pro, Clutch Core, TFO Axiom II, Taylor Anthem and a prototype saltwater rod from Diamondback.

For those on a budget, great news as well. The Allen Heritage ($209), Diamondback View ($160) and Echo Traverse ($220 outfit) all tested very well. And all come with a lifetime unconditional warranty. 

As with reels, the premium rod makers aren’t sitting idle. If mid-priced rods are that good, a rod that sells for almost $900 should be much better.

When testing out new rods — particularly the Sage Salt HD, Orvis Helios 3, Scott G, Clutch Archipelago and Hardy Ultralight — it was immediately apparent that these are the best fly rods my hand had ever held. They are extremely light in weight, swing weight and dampen as fast as the blink of an eye. Shooting 100 feet of line was never a problem on the saltwater models.

Based on testing, here are my favorites. As I often say, if you ask 10 different casters, you’ll get 10 different lists. So always try before you buy! An * indicates new for 2017. 

Premium 8-weight – Sage Salt HD*, Orvis H3*, Scott G*, Clutch Archipelago*, T&T Exocett, Scott Meridian, TFO Edge.

Mid-Range 8-weight – St. Croix Imperial*, TFO Axiom II*, Loomis IMX-Pro*, Sage Foundation*, Sage Motive, Orvis Recon, Clutch Core.

Value 8-weight – Echo Ion XL, Redington Path, TFO Clouser, Orvis Clearwater, Mystic Inception, Fenwick Aetos.

Premium 5-weight – Hardy Ultralight*, Sage X, T&T Avant, Winston Air, Scott Radian, Loomis NRX.

Mid-Range 5-weight – Taylor Anthem*, Sage Foundation*, Diamondback Clout, Scott Flex, TFO BVK, Mystic Reaper. 

Value 5-weight – Allen Heritage*, Diamondback View*, Woodard Pinnacle*, Redington Classic Trout, TFO Finesse, Echo Carbon XL.

Specialty Rod – Loop Booster*, Loomis Shorestalker, Diamondback Streamer, Sage Smallmouth, TFO Bluewater.

Premium Fly Reel – Sage Spectrum Max*, Hardy Ultralight*, Tibor Riptide, Nautilus NV, Hatch Finatic.

Mid-range Fly Reel – Taylor Revolution*, Sage Spectrum*, Nautilus X, Allen Kraken, Galvan Rush, Orvis Hydros SL.

Value Fly Reel – Cheeky Tyro*, Lamson Remix, Allen Alpha, Taylor Enigma, Redington Surge, Cabelas Prestige Plus 

Outfit – Echo Traverse*, Redington Path, Orvis Encounter, Cabelas 3-Forks.