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  • May 10th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


           Fishing tackle tradeshows are to the ardent angler the equivalent of the Super Bowl or the World Series to a sports nut. The largest of them currently is ICAST, a cute acronym which stands for the international Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades and this year was held in Orlando, Florida, the home of Disney World.


           Once I went to a similar show (AFTMA) which stood for American fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association, which was in Las Vegas rather than next door to Disney World. There, I did not see Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but I did see some sights every bit as enchanting as the Enchanted World.  The Las Vegas Minnies often were not wearing mouse ears like Mousketeers.  In fact they weren’t wearing much of anything.


          As an outdoor writer It was my duty to attend as a fishing writer and I stumbled into the Las Vegas Convention Center with the savoir faire of Joe Bob Goodolboy presenting his respects to Her Majesty, the Queen.  I wandered the aisles like Gomer Pyle, murmuring, “Wal, gollleee!” as hayseeds scattered from my hair like dandruff.  Or perhaps it was dandruff.


                Here was a booth with three comely ladies (actually, I don’t know if they were ladies or not, but there was indisputable evidence they were comely) who were demonstrating some item of angling equipment.  I think it was boob lures…er, tube lures.


                “I’ll take three of those!” I babbled to the manufacturer’s rep.


                “Why on earth would you want three Duo Duct Neverfail Triple Hedge Wad Cutter Suresink boat anchors?” he asked.


                 “Boat anchors!  I want three of them!” I cried, pointing at the lissome lasses who edged away with charming cries of alarm. He fixed me with a gimlet eye (and, Lord knows, at that moment I needed fixing, not to mention a gimlet) and sent me on my way.  I wandered down the aisle, singing “My Way.”


                Las Vegas is not exactly the home of the United Churches of the World.  The next table over at supper one night held the real-life counterparts of half the characters in “The Godfather.” I eavesdropped on the conversations of people apparently all named Vinnie and it was about “hits” and “rackets.”  I suppose they were talking about tennis, which is quite popular in Las Vegas. Most people do not come to Las Vegas to see the scenery (in fact I may be the only person ever to visit the city who actually has seen Hoover Dam).


                I spent three days in Las Vegas, came home poorer, but with some plastic worms that have a Velcro patch so they stick to the roof of a bass’s mouth until you can set the hook.  I am not making this up. Why not just use peanut butter?  It didn’t make much of a story, even at cocktail parties, and, reading over it now, I see that it still doesn’t.  But it does establish me as a working journalist on the fishing scene, one who has been there. I’ve even been on television.  Once I was watching one of the fishing shows on television and had a momentary wish to be a host, like the Babe or Jimmy Houston or Jerry McKinnis.


               Not, I can assure you, like Bill Dance— if sometimes you’re in the mood to go into wild hysterics, watch the several episodes of Bill Dance bloopers on You Tube. Guaranteed, you’ll laugh until you wet your pants.


                But then reason set in and I flashed back to a period of my life I had buried so deeply in my subconscious that Freud himself, peeling away the layers like a starving man going at an avocado, couldn’t uncover it.  But they say confession is good for the soul and mine needs all the help it can get, so here goes:


                I actually have been on television twice, talking about fishing. The first time was in the days of live local television when I substituted for the host of an outdoor show who was at Camp Ripley MN, on a National Guard holiday defending the country from invasion by people named Olson.


                I had a whammo show, or so I thought.  A friend had just returned from a Western states fishing vacation and I asked him to be my guest. “I don’t wanna,” he whinnied, becoming walleyed like a horse faced with its first saddle.  Stage fright, flop sweat.


                 “Hey, it’s no problem,” I said.  “All you do is talk about your trip.  I won’t ask you anything you don’t know the answer to.”  With great and, it turned out, well-founded reluctance he agreed.


                Came the evening and we sat beneath the hot lights, me the relaxed, assured host, him with a case of what appeared to be advanced rigor mortis.      “So, you’ve been out West fishing, huh?”  I asked.




                 “Tell me about it,” I said.  A long pause.


                 “Well, I went out fishing.”  He sounded as if he had a trout caught in his throat.


                “Did you catch anything?” I asked, my confidence running out like sand from an hourglass.


                “Yes.”     At the rate we were going, all my carefully-prepared questions would be answered in about 35 seconds, leaving us with slightly over 26 minutes of air time to fill (the “us” obviously being “me”).


                “What kinds?” I asked, praying desperately that he had caught 26 minutes worth of different fish species.


                “Mostly trout.”


                “Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, brooks?” I babbled, my voice becoming increasingly high-pitched.


                “Yeah,” he answered.


                “What states?” I asked, hoping for a list of 49 (I knew he hadn’t been to Hawaii).


                “Colorado.”  I glanced at the clock.  This awful show had not been going on for most of my adult life, as it seemed, but for only one minute and 13 seconds.  This was a nightmare where you’re naked at the Senior Prom and the school superintendent is roaring, “*Where are your clothes*!”  Finally, I remembered a mildly humorous anecdote he’d told me and prompted him and it pulled the plug.  He relaxed, told his story, then another one.  Hey, we were rolling now! We got to the first commercial break and grinned at each other. Nothing to this television.  A little slow at the start, but what could stop us now?


                “So, we’re back,” I said to the camera. “Tell me,” I said, turning to my guest, “I have my own opinion, but I’d like to hear it from an expert–do you fish upstream or downstream?”  If I had ripped his heart out and thrown it against the wall, I couldn’t have got a more dramatic reaction.  His mouth flopped open; his eyes took on a catatonic glaze and the color drained from his face.


                This was it, the ambush question.  Mike Wallace never jumped out of an alley and nailed anyone harder. Time rumbled on and on and on.  I had a brief, riveting flash of thousands, maybe millions of viewers guffawing in living rooms across the land, shouting, “Hey, Melba, come here and watch these two guys making fools out of themselves!” Finally, after civilizations had fallen and planets had changed orbit and the Universe had grown measurably older, my friend rasped, as if he hadn’t spoken in about two centuries and was running low on lubricants, “Sometimes … I … fish…upstream…and…sometimes … I … fish … downstream…”


                My other television experience was as a guest on a show hosted by my late friend Bill Bennett, outdoor editor of the St. Joseph (MO) Gazette.  Bill, who resembled Poppin’ Fresh with a beard, had waited for years to get even with me for calling him “the outdoor pixie” in print. I’ve always felt that I can talk for 30 minutes on any subject, whether I know anything about it or not and I was well on my way to proving that. I was distracted out of the corner of my eye as I saw Bill swipe at something in midair, as if he were trying to catch a housefly. He did it again and I was torn between trying to maintain eye contact with the camera lens, and watching Bill, who was just out of the camera picture.   I remembered stories by media acquaintances on how dirty tricksters off-camera would try to unsettle the on-air personality by making faces, obscene gestures or other tricks designed to discombobulate the talent.


                I remember once driving somewhere and listening to famed newscaster Lowell Thomas relating a story about Pres. Eisenhower visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the famed chocolate bar industry. “The president,” Thomas said, “enjoyed the hospitality of Hershey workers, both with and without nuts.” And then he and his engineer both began to laugh and they laughed uncontrollably for the remainder of the program. It’s not always those out of camera range who cause uproar. Sometimes we do it to ourselves.


              Not me, no sir! I thought.


              Then, about 10 minutes into the show, as I was deep into some show-off story, Bill interrupted and said, “You know, you’ve been a really rotten so-and-so for a long time now.”  Only he didn’t say “so-and-so.”


                They tell me my expression was that of a bass angler whose wife tells him she gave away all his tackle and his boat to the Salvation Army. It was a setup and many people (not me) have enjoyed looking at the tape.  But there is justice in the world.


                A few weeks later, a mutual friend was one of three guests on Bill’s show and, halfway through, Bill turned to ask him a question.  Jerry looked at him for a moment, said, “I didn’t want to be on this bleeping show anyway,” and got up and walked off the set, leaving Bill looking exactly the way I had.


                Bll stammered and stuttered and finally exclaimed, “You can’t say bleeping on television!”








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