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Casting Away the Winter Blues

The grills will soon be fired up, the pools will be open, then the hazy lazy days of summer will be here. This past winter only a few hardy fishermen, bundled up so much that they look liked the Michelin Man, ventured out in one of the coldest winters in memory. Soon to be just a chilling memory, the winter months left most of Virginias' fishing community with a severe case of cabin fever. Fortunately, for the rest of us, there were several events to keep us busy, and our minds on fishing.

In an industry that is packed with products, the first few months of 2001 turned fishermen into shoppers. Those who fish had an opportunity to see what's new in fishing equipment and to learn from the pros at two big outdoor expos. Anglers got a double vaccination against the winter blues with BASSARAMA in Richmond in January and in February it was Chantilly with the Capital Sport Fishing, Travel & Outdoor Show.

The 22nd annual BASSARAMA event featured boat manufacturers and over 100 exhibitors. There were no signs of a recession at this event. Show organizer Ronnie Bache said, "The attendance was better than last year, and the exhibitors are happy. If they are happy, then I am happy."

Even the boat manufacturers reported solid sales. Jay Truluck with Ranger Boats said his company had 23 models on display. "Customers are looking for value. They must not be watching the news (about the economy), because they are still buying boats."

"We thought there were more serious and confident buyers at the show this year, but the financing will tell the true results," said Phil Lanzarotta, owner of Richmond-based Reliance Marine.

Lin Bell with Fishing Pro Tech has been an exhibitor at BASSARAMA for the past ten years. "We sell high-end niche products in unique colors for the hard-core tackle junkie. Our top line products, like Lucky Craft Lures (a Japanese lure company) sold well."

One of the largest tackle retailers in Virginia, Bobcat's in Clarksville, reported brisk sales. "We were skeptical coming into this show because sales had been down in November and December, but that may have been due to the bad weather, the prolonged election, and possibly the economy," according to owner Bob Whitlock.

The 6th Annual Chantilly show brought together for the first time the Old Dominion Fly-Fishing Show and the Capital Sport Fishing, Travel & Outdoor Show under one roof and separate halls for fishing and hunting, with over 100,000 square feet in each hall. "Combining the two shows is good for everybody because it increases the number of visitors to the show and anglers interested in all styles of fishing will have more choices," said Woods & Waters publisher, C.C. McCotter.

Show organizer, Paul Fuller described the show as "a supermarket of fishing and hunting gear and equipment" "The fishing industry is a highly brand-driven industry, and the retailers will be offering special show prices on the new and innovative items the sportsman will need for the upcoming season."

The show that was heavily promoted on local radio stations, TV and print media lived up to the hype. Everything an outdoors person would want was under two roofs. Hunting in one building, fishing in another. Take your pick or visit both. The average stay appeared to be about 3 hours for each visitor.

For hunting enthusiasts, there was an archery range, hunting dog demonstration, and everything from big game outfitters to a virtual hunting simulator. A display of live hawks, eagles, and owls, offered a rare close-up glimpse of these birds of prey.

If you ever have dreamed about fishing in Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Canada, even Chile or other destinations, guides from across the country were there to show photos and videos of catching just about anything that swims. These excursions offered accommodations for the fishing adventure of a lifetime.

Not to be outdone, were the local guides of Virginia who were ready to show that "Virginia is for Fishers". Whether you wanted to fish the Potomac River, the Rappahanack, or Lake Anna, these guides were ready to show you what Virginia had to offer.

"Lake Anna has a lot to offer those who enjoy all water sports, including fishing," according to Wayne Olsen of Wayne Olsen's Guide Service who promoted his services at the show. "The show was impressive, the displays were attractive, and visitors were able to ask questions and gather information on fishing, specific destinations and about products associated with fishing," says Olsen, formerly of Mount Vernon, now residing at Lake Anna. Olsen said that fishing with a guide offers more than just a fishing lesson. It gives the client an opportunity to evaluate products. "I fish out of a new Triton Boat with a 225 horsepower Mercury Optimax. If someone is in the market for a boat, this is the best test drive they could ever have. If they want to try out high end tackle like Loomis rods and Shimano reels, they can evaluate them on the water with me before they spend their money," said Olsen. Olsen reported that he booked trips for people from Richmond to Damascus Maryland, and added that most of his bookings came from Northern Virginia.

Jim Wrenn from Alexandria booked a trip with Wayne Olsen. "I fish a lot on the Potomac, but I have always wanted to fish Lake Anna. It is well worth it to hire a guide who knows that body of water so you can learn how to fish it." Wrenn added that he initially had planned to buy just a few lures, but after talking to Olsen, he decided to take that trip.

Nancy Wilson, director of the Vance County Department of Tourism was promoting fishing and vacationing on Kerr Lake, on the border of Virginia and North Carolina.

Most of the people who walked the aisles were like kids in a candy store. When they first walked in, many were overheard to say, "Where do you want to go first?" The fact was, you could start anywhere and end up with all of the information you wanted. There were "how to fish" seminars by the top guides, but you could also get one-on-one tutoring from all of the exhibitors. There were pro-staff members in just about all of the booths that could give advice on lures, including size, color, and style. They would even help you choose the right rod, reel and line to match up with your needs. If you wanted even more in-depth information, the manufacturers had representatives there, not to sell anything, but to offer information on their products, including information on the manufacturing process and components. In addition, manufacturer reps were able to provide instruction on the proper use of their products.

"Even though I am not in the market for a boat right now, I took a look at what the manufacturers were offering," said Jim Funkhouser of Springfield. "It also gave me the chance to check out what is new and improved in the world of fishing. I even looked at the fly rods, even though I don't fly fish, because they had representatives there to go into great detail on construction. I also got to see the new Japanese lures from Lucky Craft that I have heard so much about."

A retailer from Pennsylvania, The Wacky Worm, had just about anything that is made from plastic: worms, lizards, and crawfish. The Wacky Worm display also had other "things" that had names that didn't resemble anything much to us, but must look like something to a fish, because the fishermen were gobbling them up. "The hottest thing on the market this year is the TICA Series of spinning reels from Japan," said owner Louis Herfurth. "More ball bearings, brass gears… this one will last a long time!" Herfurth said this show also helps him promote his online store, www.wackyworm.com.

If it could be put in, near or around a tackle box, including the tackle box, it was available for sale at this show. You could also get outfitted from head, with a pair of Maui Jim polarized fishing sunglasses, to toe with SealSkinz waterproof socks, and every piece of outdoor apparel in between.

Additionally, there was a large selection of marine dealers previewing the 2001 models, recreational vehicles and the very latest from Ford Trucks.

This show had the obligatory "Hawg Trough"; a tractor-trailer sized aquarium filled with fish, for observation and demonstration by the pros. The Bass Casting Challenge provided the opportunity to show off your casting skills to take a chance on winning a bass fishing trip to Mexico. There were games for kids. A show first, Virtual Fishing was a hit!

In addition to the buying frenzy, there were seminars where local guides shared "some" of their secrets to catching fish at Lake Anna and the Potomac River. Renowned fly fisherman, "Lefty" Kreh demonstrated his casting skills. While there were many talented and well-known anglers, the star of this show was most certainly Penny Berryman. Men, women and children lined up to hear this top star of the WBFA (Women's Bass Fishing Association) discuss her fishing strategies and promote her new video, Learn To Fish (The Easy Way), a step-by-step guide for the beginning angler. Chris Cubbage from Shennandoah, Virginia said he didn't feel awkward talking to Penny about fishing, because his mother had taught him how to fish. "Fishing is non-chromosomal," according to Berryman, "the fish don't care who is trying to catch them."

Show organizer Paul Fuller said more women showed up at this years show, and a lot of them were there because they wanted to be there. Of course, there will always be that exception, "Ellen" from Great Falls who is in the wholesale business said "He (her husband) dragged me here, but I am getting to see a lot of businesses that I never imagined." Some of the exhibitors specifically targeted women. OrganicallyYours.net was selling jewelry cleaner and was there to cash in on the women who were at the show, willingly or not.

One of the most touching exhibits was sponsored by Casting for Recovery (www.castingforrecovery.org), a nationally recognized not for profit fly fishing program is specifically tailored for women with breast cancer. The program is for women of all states of treatment and recovery and gives women the opportunity to experience "spiritual healing" through retreats in a beautiful natural setting and learn fly-fishing, "a sport for life."

The Post family from Manassas, six year-old Danny, his dad, and granddad came to the show together. "It's never too early to give a kid a feel for what the outdoors is all about." said Danny's dad, Daniel. Daniel's father Harold agreed, saying fishing allows families to take time to be together.

If an intense fishing tutorial, focusing on bass fishing, is your cure for cabin fever, then the two-day BASSMASTER University with six top-ranked BASSMASTER pros held in Richmond in January was the place to be.

All of the instructors were well received. Each had their own style. Local favorite and Virginia native Woo Daves, still riding the wave of his BASSMASTER Classic win last July and ready for the talk show circuit, blended his style of down-to -earth stories with detailed tips and tricks of the trade to enhance anyone's fish-catching abilities. Woo had the group laughing at the expense of himself and other legends in bass fishing with stories and anecdotes, while reiterating his constant message to introduce the next generation to his sport. "Bring a kid here with you next year. If you don't have a kid, go to a corner and get one! You don't find kids in the courtroom who have a fishing license."

The seminar was an opportunity to find out about the lures and other products that the pros use to win tournaments. Woo Daves credited Jack's Juice, a spray attractant for fishing lures that comes in a garlic or licorice scent, with his fishing success. South Carolina pro, Ray Sedgwick recognized a new hook from Mustad, the Ultra Point Triple Grip treble hook, for his crankbait success. Legendary TV host of "Hank Parker's Outdoor Magazine", Hank Parker went into great detail to explain the advantages of his Hank Parker Classic spinnerbait.

By far, one of the most entertaining speakers was 2nd generation professional fisherman, Dion Hibdon from Missouri. He made constant comparisons of his eating habits to that of the largemouth bass. "When I go to out to dinner, I sit next to the buffet. The bass does the same thing…find the baitfish, and you will find the big bass nearby."

BASSMASTER University attendees met with the pros one-on -one, asking specific questions about fishing local waters: the Potomac, James and Chickahominy rivers, along with Kerr Lake and Lake Anna. Kimberly Jens, from Virginia Beach, was there with her husband and found the show informative and productive. "We fish together and came to the show to learn more about the sport so we can enjoy it more."

In addition to the fishing knowledge, attendees got to see their fishing favorites and get to know them. There was plenty of time to get photos with the pros and get their autographs. Both Woo Daves and Hank Parker have sons who are fishing on the BASSMASTER Tournament Trail. Hank Parker also has two sons racing in the Busch series; Billy driving the 36 car with the Cici-Welliver Team and Hank Jr. with the PPC Team.

Hank Parker announced that he is considering returning to the tournament trail (Parker retired from competition in 1989). "Don't be surprised if in a year or two that you see me fishing again."

In most sports, just as an athlete begins to excel, the body begins to betray them. Not true in bass fishing. This sport's participants get better with age. Woo Daves said that he wants to fish for the next 10 to 15 years, "…or as long as I can."

For whatever reason, the cold winter months left fishing enthusiasts feeling a bit warmer. Maybe it was the fish stories; maybe it was the shopping. Whatever it was, summer will not arrive soon enough.


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