At Baltimore Boat Show, one innovative exhibit lets customers test the water

Kevin McClarren brought his son to the Baltimore Boat Show on Thursday, and 7-year-old Nathan was antsy and fidgety until they found the American Fly Fishing Schools' Simul-Cast Pond in the back of the Baltimore Convention Center.

While Al Zlata, a casting instructor, taught Nathan some of the finer points on casting and fly-fishing techniques, Kevin McClarren remarked at how tranquil Nathan was.

"That's the longest he's stood still since we've been here," quipped McClarren, of Cambridge. "If it was full of fish, I couldn't get him out of here."

Even with the nautical theme of the show, which began Thursday and runs through Sunday, water can be either pricey ($3.50 for a bottle from the concession stand) or otherwise nonexistent at the convention center. That's where the indoor pond comes in.

It's the brainchild of Mike Corblies, international director of the New Jersey-based AFFS. According to Nick Pullano, editor of Wings & Waters Magazine, which is published by the organization, Corblies and some of the top officers conceived the idea a decade ago.

"He came to sportsman shows, and to show a fly rod doesn't actually sell it," Pullano said. "To see it happen, to be able to put on a demonstration of it, that's what kind of brought in the thing of getting a [water] bladder made, putting the walls up, putting some water in, and cast."

If the pond drew snickers initially, Pullano and Zlata said they never heard them.

"Seasoned professional fishermen look at it and grab a fly rod and go for it," Pullano said. "It became an attraction at shows. People saw what we had, and people that promote shows need attractions."

Said Zlata: "We have introduced a lot of people to fly-fishing."

The pond at the Baltimore Convention Center is 50 feet long and 16 feet wide. Pullano said 4,500 gallons of water fill the inner lining of the pond to about half of its volume.

Zlata said the pond takes about two hours to build and fill, and can be used outdoors when a natural body of water is not readily available. But the pond does take almost twice as long to drain, break down and pack away.

While the pond is also handy for demonstrating watercraft such as kayaks, inflatable boats and paddleboards, Zlata estimated that about 60 percent of the people who visit are interested in testing the exhibit's fishing rods and reels.

Take, for instance, Jim Erbe of Perry Hall. He was unaware of the pond until he walked to the back of the convention center, but said he always had wanted to try his hand at fly-fishing.

After about 10 minutes practicing and talking with Zlata, Erbe said his interest was rising.

"I think, to get a feel of it, going in the water gives you a better perspective," he said. "You see how the fly comes back to you and how it lands in the water and whether it will splash and scare the fish away. You can't do that on dry land [in a store]."

David McCollough of Arnold fishes about a half-dozen times a year, but also never had tried fly-fishing.

"It simulates real life on the water," he said. "And on a Thursday, there are no lines."

One visitor was so impressed with the pond that she handed her business card to Pullano. Turns out that she wanted to see whether the AFFS would bring the exhibit to some of the boat shows she runs.

Pullano said he's still surprised that more companies don't invest in a similar exhibit.

"If I owned a boat company, I would be throughout the country with my own pond," he said. "But I don't think that people, even though we've been out there for a while, really know that this is available. As soon as a show presenter sees this, he's on the phone [asking], 'How can I get you to my show?' If I owned a boat like that or a small boat or a kayak, I would be associated with it in any way I could because a boat doesn't show you anything sitting on the ground like that. Floating in the water does."

The pond is beginning to draw a following. It was at the Garden State Outdoor Sports Show in Edison, N.J., two weekends ago and will move to the Atlantic City (N.J.) Boat Show from Feb. 5 to Feb. 9 and then the Saltwater Fishing Expo in Somerset, N.J., from March 14 to March 16. Pullano estimated that the pond makes 25 to 30 appearances a year.

On Sunday, the AFFS will hold several watercraft and fly-fishing demonstrations. There also will be a contest for children who must aim for brightly colored hula hoops in the water with a rod and reel. The winner with the most direct hits gets a rod.

The pond delighted young and old Thursday. Remember Nathan McClarren, who visited the pond with his father? In typical 7-year-old fashion, Nathan proclaimed the pond "cool."

Don Beutel of Perry Hall, who is a little older, also praised the exhibit.

"I've never done fly-fishing, so the pond here is fantastic," Beutel said. "The biggest thing is, it's hands-on."

So will he take the plunge? Said Beutel: "I'm hooked."

Baltimore Boat Show

The 60th anniversary Progressive Insurance Baltimore Boat Show will conclude today at the Baltimore Convention Center. Compare hundreds of boats from luxury cruisers and fishing boats to family runabouts and pontoons. The show will include seminars, a boating simulator and a 50-foot-by-¿50-foot pond for hands-on fly fishing practice, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. There will also be a kids zone. For more information, go to or call 410-224-7633.

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