For the first time in nearly two decades, there will be no large commercial fly-fishing shows in the Deep South. In one of the great ironies of the 21st century (so far), the number of large-scale events across the country continues to decline while the ranks of fly fishermen continue to grow.

What an awful shame for so many beginners — and even veteran fly anglers — who will miss out on the programs, casting, fly tying and so many other activities these shows offer that help to inform and educate, and even meet others that share a love of our sport.

Fear not, my furry friends — conclaves to the rescue!

What is a conclave?

Webster's dictionary defines conclave as "a private meeting or secret assembly."

For hundreds of thousands of fly anglers, it means "a celebration of fly fishing." Conclaves are small events — typical attendance is 80 to 800 — that feature programs, casting, fly tying, instruction and, in some cases, cooking demos, kayak demos and on-site fishing.

The term originated in 1965 when members of various fly clubs across the country met "in conclave" to form the Federation of Fly Fishers for the purpose of maintaining the sport, conserving angling resources and advancing the brotherhood of angling.

Of course, this event wasn't all business. It was also part expo, featuring all the things that fly fishermen do, plus some fishing and lots of fish stories. It soon led to many annual events — called conclaves — not only put on by the FFF and its regional councils, but also by clubs and any group that had volunteers to put one together.

In recent years, the FFF and their councils have moved away from using the term "conclave," opting for such titles as "Fly Fishing Expo" and "Fly Fishing Fair."

Their logic is that many young anglers now entering the sport might be confused into thinking these events are private when, in fact, conclaves are always open to the public.

Regardless, the term will never go away. Like "Xerox" and "Google," it's become a lexical verb. Just hang around a group of fly casters and you'll know.

"Linda and I went conclaving last week and had a great time."

"We fished some on Friday, then conclaved all day Saturday."

Try those sentences using "fair" or "expo."

"We went fairying last week and had a great time."

Not me! Sorry, but that's not the way I swing.

My very first conclave was in 1990, held by the FFF Southeastern Council in Asheville, N.C. I'd been to one of the commercial shows in Philadelphia a couple years before and had a great time.

Compared to the event in Philly, this one had a LOT more fly tiers and a LOT more personal interaction. Over the two days it was held, I learned more about the sport than I ever had.

I continue to try and make as many conclaves as I can each year, barring family events, an LSU home game or a Radiohead concert.

Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas hold more conclaves than any other part of the country. Fifteen to be exact. Most are held from January through May.

Each month I list the ones coming up on the Events sidebar to this column. An annual listing can be found on the Web site and on the Events forum on the Louisiana Sportsman Web site.

Several events coming up this spring are worth noting.

On Feb. 2, the Texas Fly Fishers of Houston hold their 21st annual Ed Rizzolo Fly Tying Festival. This event has the largest group of fly tiers, especially saltwater, on the Gulf Coast. This year's headliner is author Dave Hughes, one of the masters of tying trout flies.

Louisiana's oldest fly fishing event — the 26th annual Acadiana Conclave — takes place on Feb. 23. Hosted by the Acadiana Fly Rodders of Lafayette, it features the most certified casting instructors of any event in the state.

March 2 is Red Stick Day in Baton Rouge. This conclave, hosted by the Red Stick Fly Fishers, often features one of the top names in our sport. This year, their special guest will be fly creator Tim Borski.

The nation's largest fly tying event takes place March 14-16 in Mountain Home, Ark. The Sowbug Roundup, sponsored by the North Arkansas Fly Fishers club, hosts over 200 tiers from across the country.

Not nearly as big as Sowbug, but getting there quickly, is the Cane Country Fly Fest. Hosted by the Cane Country Fly Casters of Natchitoches, it's expanding this year to a new venue and a new name. The Natchitoches Fly Expo will be held at Prather Coliseum on the NSU campus May 3-4.

One of my favorites is the Caddo Conclave, set for May 18. Co-sponsored by the North Louisiana Fly Fishers and the East Texas Fly Fishers, this event is held in beautiful Caddo State Park in Karnack, Texas, right on the lake. You can fish the park with your Louisiana license — and the fishing can be very good, at times.

Later in the year comes the Contraband Conclave, hosted by the Contraband Fly Casters in Lake Charles, as well as several more events in Texas and Arkansas.

Why so many of these events?

For one, the target audience is local. It's a great way for clubs and organizations to bring in new members.

Also, there's just too much for one event to cover. The breadth and diversity of our sport is amazing. At the five conclaves held by Louisiana clubs last year, there were 17 different programs. One week the Acadiana Conclave had tiers from Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma, and the next week, the Red Stick Conclave had tiers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

With so many opportunities, there's no reason you shouldn't be conclaving this spring.