Congratulations, Jason Bauer, you’ve died and gone to heaven.
True, heaven will look a lot like the state fairgrounds in midwinter, but on the flip side there are scones – not to mention a giant walleye tank and the smells of alder smoke and cooking meat hanging in the air.
Bauer, if you don’t know him, is an award-winning Northwest barbecue “pitmaster” and he’s also a longtime bugeye fisherman who once operated the site Northwestwalleye.com.
Both of his favorite pursuits will be on full display at the big Washington Sportsmen’s Show (Jan. 23-27) at the State Fair & Events Center in Puyallup, where Bauer will be coordinating cooking competitions between closely observing the inhabitants of Walleye Alley.
Both exhibits are firsts, and the latter will feature pro anglers giving talks, tackle on hand to buy, and more.
Trey Carskadon of O’Loughlin Trade Shows in Portland and Tacoma, which puts on this and two other similar events, expects the new fish tank to be a big deal, given recent issues with salmonid returns, but it’s also part of updating each season’s shows to keep them fresh and exciting.
“Our battle cry for this year’s spate of shows is ‘new,’” Carskadon notes.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that that is also what the organizers of other boat and sportsmen’s shows slated for Central Washington, Southwest Oregon, the Inland Northwest and elsewhere aim for as well as they seek to boost their foot traffic.
“One of the comments we hear often is ‘It’s the same old show,’” says Carskadon. “It never is, but we’ve taken those comments to heart and really shaken things up for 2019. Most years see at least a 30 percent turnover in exhibitors and features, but looking ahead we’ve moved folks around, added new features, exhibitors and personalities.”
Just as important, the shows are also something like the social event of the year for Our Tribe. At no other time do so many of us come together, and in a way that is comforting for the enduring strength of our heritage and pastimes. I dare say that those who put on the shows share the bond.
“We’re celebrating the ‘outdoor recreational culture,’” says Joe Pate, who has a quartet of shows in Southwest Oregon and Northern California.
All told, there are more than two dozen across the greater Northwest. Wherever you live, there’s one within an hour or two of you. Here are some of this year’s highlights from them:
NORTHWEST TACKLE MAKERS are excited about Walleye Alley and the 20 to 30 fish that by special state permit will be lurking in the big tank on loan from Berkley.
Buzz Ramsey at Yakima Bait was lining up local guides and national experts to give seminars and working on a handout that will include their top tips and a map showing the area’s best waters.
“If people are interested in walleye, this will be the place to be,” says Ramsey.
Bob Loomis at Mack’s Lure in Wenatchee sees it as a chance to get more anglers chasing a new species at a rough time for more celebrated local fish stocks
“Our walleye fishery is an outstanding fishery that the state and retailers totally overlook,” he notes.
While also a salmon and steelhead angler, Loomis says Washington needs to look at “other” markets besides the big two “to help give them a little breathing room.”
Last year’s Kokanee Tank is on hiatus after some of the fish spawned and the others died, but Carskadon says it should be back for 2020 with a new crop of kokes and a tank better suited to the species’ needs.
“Kokanee and walleye fisheries can take the pressure off of the salmon/steelhead portion of the markets for a while in order to continue to get license sales, sell guide trips, gas, food, lures, etc., sustaining markets, not putting them out of business,” asserts Loomis.
Walleye Alley will also be at the truly humongous Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show (Feb. 6-10) in Portland.
In another first, this year’s Puyallup show will feature the shindig’s inaugural Outdoor Cooking Competition, which runs all five days of the event, with the first dedicated to a 12-team game meat contest.
Jason Bauer says his “partner in crime” pitched the idea to O’Loughlin last year and they will be coordinating the competition along with cooking and grilling demonstrations and food sampling.
“We’re stoked,” says Carskadon. “Some big names are aboard and coming from around the country to show their grilling skills and serve up seminars on how to do it at a level that’s well beyond most backyard grillers. Winners from this event advance to other national events.”
The Portland show will have a new backyard barbecue feature, he says.
As for other new attractions, Carskadon says that Garmin is not only unveiling a totally new product – “I don’t know what it is other than something ‘big’ is promised” – but will have a Tech Center at Puyallup and Portland for GPS and marine electronics and seminars.
And the new Kayak Fishing Pavilion at Puyallup will include experts detailing how to get started, rigging up and destinations, along with retailer booths, he says.
SPEAKING OF WATER-BASED recreation, the Seattle Boat Show gets up on plane for a Jan. 25-Feb. 2 run at two locations in the Emerald City, CenturyLink Field Event Center and South Lake Union.
Besides something like 1,000 boats of all types on display, the show is known for its topnotch seminars, and this year’s features even more than ever. All totaled, more than 200 will be held, with nearly 80 of those focused specifically on fishing and crabbing, up from 55 last year, says Mark Yuasa at the Northwest Marine Trade Association.
“There will be 14 speakers (12 in 2017 and 10 in 2016) and five that are new to this year’s show. They are Mike Surdyk with Raymarine Electronics; Capt. Kent Alger, owner of Guides NW; and Hobie Kayak pro-staff ambassadors David Nguyen, Hung Nguyen and Keith Creameans,” he says.
The “all-star line-up” will cover a wide variety of topics designed to help watercraft-born anglers up their game on salt- and freshwaters alike, Yuasa says.
NMTA plans to hold a second boat show in Anacortes (May 16-19), and other watercraft events will occur in Portland (Jan. 9-13), Spokane (Jan. 26-Feb. 16), Vancouver, BC (Feb. 6-10) and Richland (May 2-5).
And along with ocean boats, guides, clam gear and more, the Saltwater Sportsmen’s Show (Feb. 23-24) will feature Charles Loos (known as “Tinman” on Ifish) and the Coast Guard’s Dan Shipman on safe boating and kayaking at sea.
“Whether you run on powerboats, kayaks or personal watercraft, you’ll gain actionable knowledge to keep your vessel and crew safe in our challenging ocean,” says organizer Marie Keene of OCEAN, the Oregon Coalition for Educating Anglers.
JOE PATE OF Exposure Shows proudly says that his venues in Eugene (Feb. 1-3), Roseburg (Feb. 15-17), Medford (Feb. 22-24) and Anderson, California (March 1-3) offer the same features as the big boys, just on a smaller scale, but he also likes to spice things up.
On hand each day at all four will be the all-female Lumberjills and their Chics with Axes show. While the act has actually been around for 25 years and was founded by Tina Scheer of Survivor: Panama and Nat Geo’s Ultimate Survival Alaska! – who will also be in attendance – it will be making its Oregon debut and is sure to be a hit.
Also at his own booth at each show will be five-time mixed martial arts champion Tim Sylvia, whose Hit Squad Outdoors show recently made the move to the Sportsman’s Channel. Pate jokes that at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, Sylvia is about as big as the biggest of the grizzlies he also plans to bring in to all four venues.
Of course there’s also the 15th Annual Southern Oregon Head and Horns Competition, free to enter with paid show admission. The top prize at each show is a Bushnell riflescope, while all competitors are in the running for a two-night stay at Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville.
Along with a BB gun range and fish pond, there’s also an archery shooting gallery for the kids, plus log furniture displays, expert demonstrations and more.
IN CENTRAL WASHINGTON, Merle Shuyler says he has a few new items for his shows in Tri-Cities (Jan. 18-20), Yakima (Feb. 15-17) and Wenatchee (Feb. 22-24), including the first annual Yakima Bait Yard Sale at the middle event.
“They will have for sale thousands of different Yakima Bait products at rock-bottom prices. This will include many of their more popular lures and fishing accessories,” says Shuyler.
A 24-foot-high climbing wall will give budding Alex Honnolds a chance to practice at Yakima and Pasco, while Gerry Reyes and Flat Out Fishing’s fish-fighting simulator is scheduled for the latter, he says. Replacing the retiring Cee Dub “Butch” Welch at the Outdoor Cooking Camp is Richie Harrod of Harrod Outdoors and he will be at the Pasco and Wenatchee shows.
“The West Texas Rattlesnake Show will be at all three of our shows and I believe that it will be the first time that this traveling rattlesnake show has been to the state of Washington,” Shuyler adds. “Dave Richardson is the handler and there will be several performances each show day. These entertaining presentations are geared for the entire family and offer educational as well as comedy aspects of handling wild rattlesnakes.”
AND IN SPOKANE and a little later in winter, the Big Horn Adventure Show – the granddaddy of ’em all in the Northwest at 59 years – promises a few new items and several popular ones that are returning during its March 21-24 run.
Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young measurers will be on hand to tape hunters’ trophy bucks and bulls as well as shed antlers for prizes.
Along with kid- and family-friendly activities – note that the 24th is free entry for children 13 and under – organizers are also trying to attract more women to the outdoors through a special offer that includes a goodie bag.
“Friday night’s ‘Ladies Night’ will be bigger and better going into our third year,” says Wanda Clifford of the venerable Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, which puts on the show. “This year we have a special ‘Ladies Night’ Big Horn Hat for sale.”
The West Texas Rattlesnake Show will also be slithering its way into Spokane, but if you’d rather have your own hands-on fun, there will be daily camping contests.
“This competition will find contestants setting up a camp and packing a backpack with the right survival items,” says Clifford.
Each day’s winner will score $1,000, but for those who’ve had their fill of roughing it, an entire building will be full of RVs to see.
WHICHEVER SHOW OR shows you go to this season, you’re bound to see new things while surrounded by fellow Northwest sportsmen. Whether you walk away with good deals on gear, a top prize for a big rack, or a sack of scones, you’re sure to have had a good time.
Editor’s note: For a full schedule of this year’s shows and links to each, go here.