Metro Detroit’s largest and longest-running fly fishing show is back. After a two-year absence due to the pandemic, the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo will be held on Saturday and Sunday, March 12-13, at The Macomb Community College Sports and Expo Center in Warren. This 61,000 square foot venue will be transformed into a weekend of everything fly fishing from dozens of demonstrations and seminars on casting to fly tying along with more than a hundred vendors displaying the latest in the sport.
Let’s face it a lot of trails lead to great trout streams in Michigan and a lot of fly anglers are hikers. In celebration of this event, MichiganTrailMaps.com had Jim DuFresne, the author of Twelve Classic Trout Streams in Michigan, write about the Expo he spent hustling books at the author’s table with Dave Hughes, one of the best-known fly fishing writers in the country. To learn the where, when, how much and show hours go to: midwestflyfishingexpo.com. To order DuFresne’s book go to the MichiganTrailMaps.com eshop.
By Jim DuFresne
The first time I stepped inside the Macomb Community College – Sports & Expo Center for the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo was in March 2010. I was schlepping a heavy case of books, but I wasn’t a Michigan Fly Fishing Club volunteer, a vendor, or a big-name fly-fishing celebrity named Lefty.
I was a freelance writer whose first fly fishing book, Twelve Classic Trout Streams in Michigan, had just been released. Actually, my name wasn’t even prominently displayed on the cover. That honor went to Gerth Hendrickson in 30-point, bold-face type, who in 1984 penned what was then Michigan’s first guidebook to our renowned trout streams.
But Hendrickson, a USGS hydrologist and a lifelong fly fisherman, had passed away years earlier when University of Michigan Press came knocking on my door. The fact that I enjoyed fly fishing was all fine and dandy, but what the publisher really needed was a writer with cartography skills. All of Hendrickson’s maps in his book were hand-drawn and now impossible to update or change without him.
So, beneath his name in a 10-point, light gray font is mine. You have to squint to see it.
Didn’t matter. Somehow, I finagled a session at the Expo’s author’s table. Okay, Dan Finstad, the MFFC volunteer in charge of the table, was nice enough to give this unknown but annoyingly persistent author the show’s opening hour. You’re always hoping for a mid-afternoon shift when things are hopping, but I did well. A lot of anglers recognized the new edition of an old standby that 20 years ago guided them to the AuSable’s Holy Waters or South Branch.
But my good fortune improved even more at the end of my session when I looked up and standing there, with an armful of books, was Dave Hughes. I immediately recognized him because he was important enough to have a nametag, and two of the books he was holding I had.
Dave arrived at the Expo as a renowned author of more than 20 books on fly fishing and a regular contributor to national magazines like Field & Stream, Gray’s Sporting Journal and American Angler. MFFC had to pay Dave to come to Macomb Community College, I had to beg.
But I quickly learned that Dave was not just a best-selling author but an incredibly gracious person. After I introduced myself and apologized for overextending my stay at the table, he asked me if I wanted to share it with him for another session. “I don’t need the whole thing,” he said.
For the next hour we talked about fly fishing, writing, and working with editors from hell. But most of the time Dave was furiously autographing books, which was great because I got the spillover. I didn’t waste any opportunities to pitch my title to people standing three deep around the table, patiently waiting to meet Dave.
So impressed by him, I attended his fly-tying demonstration in the afternoon, grabbing a seat in the bleachers with 150 other people. During the Q&A, somebody asked him if he uses head cement on his dry flies. He didn’t – he really thought that trout could detect it – but said let’s ask another expert.
I was floored when he called out “Jim, do you use head cement?”
I realized that there were now 150 people staring at me, thinking I was some kind of dry fly guru, when in reality I was currently enrolled in a beginner fly tying class at a local TU chapter. Maybe I could have fooled this crowd but not the speaker. I said “the way my flies unravel, Dave, I’d cover them with a half a bottle of head cement if I could.”
He laughed. I’ll never forget that; he had a good laugh and there was more than one angler in the audience nodding his head in agreement with me.
Knowing we were going to share the author’s table on Sunday morning, I arrived with my copy of Dave’s Essential Trout Flies. You could tell I used it a lot. The pages had bent corners, were scribbled with notes and stuffed with photocopies of other fly recipes. It also looked like I spilled some wine on it one night.
My wife said “You going to ask him to autograph that?” Then told me not to be cheap and buy a new copy from him.
“You don’t understand,” I said as if I was holding the family bible. But deep down I knew she did. I was cheap.
I took it in anyhow, and at the end of our session, asked Dave if he wouldn’t mind one more autograph. He was happy to do it, and then we shook hands and said we’ll have to go fishing some day, though I already suspected Dave never has to ask anybody to go fishing with him.
The next two hours were one of my best moments ever as a fly angler. I was clutching an autographed copy of Hughes’ book, had pockets stuffed with spillover cash, my wife wasn’t within 40 miles of the Expo and all around me were vendors wanting to sell me stuff I really didn’t need.
It was like I had died and gone to fly fishing heaven. The tail of an Arctic fox for $5.95? I’ll take it!
It all ended that night. When I finally had a chance to sit down and look at what Dave wrote in my book, I was stunned. I couldn’t read a word of it. This was a writer who either left the Expo with a paralyzed hand from signing 300 books or struggled with penmanship in first grade before learning how to use a typewriter by third grade.
For years every time I grabbed the book to check a fly recipe, I would stare at what he scribbled, and I still couldn’t understand it. Finally, one night a friend grabbed that giant magnifying glass on my fly-tying table and studied Dave’s words for 15 minutes before announcing he had broken the secret code:
To Jim DuFresne,
With appreciation for your own work in fly fishing, and your books about it.
Dave Hughes, May ’10
Those were powerful words, and they permanently changed my life. I may not be a bestselling author, but you’ll never need a magnifying glass to decipher an autograph of mine.
Whenever somebody asks me for one that is.