Once upon a time in the world of fishing, there were pretty much just 3 magazines of note that everybody got their fishing information from; Sports Afield, Field & Stream, and Outdoor Life. As we’ve mentioned on these pages before, guys like Homer Circle and Jason Lucas pretty much ruled the fishing magazine world. That would all begin to change in the mid 60s, thanks to a guy by the name of Bill Binkelman.
But before I get started on this story, you have to read another. To understand Fishing Facts, how it got started and why, you really have to first read about the founding event, the one that started this big wheel rolling. I’d retell the story in this piece, but I couldn’t do it near enough justice as one of the original anglers who was there, and lived and experienced the story for himself. Ron Lindner has penned a couple versions of the original “traveling fishing show” that brought together some of the biggest innovators in the sport of fishing. Take a minute to read either or both of the following pieces by Ron before going further;
Welcome back to the rest of the story. In. Dec., 1963, Bill Binkelman, merchandiser/dept. mgr./promoter for the Boston Store, started a small fishing tips publication for the retailer. That tips sheet, originally called “Fishing News & Wisconsin Spoonplugger”, was a direct result of how important and impressive Buck Perry’s fishing seminar was just 5 years earlier. Depending on whose version of the story you believe, either the “Fishing News” publication was a simple thing to try and sell tackle to the anglers who frequented the sporting goods department of the store, or a kind of mandated necessity for Bill because of his over purchasing of spoonplugs that the store wanted to get rid of. Either way, that first winter issue began it all.
Bill stated from the beginning, “This is a newspaper for people who think the reason you go fishing is to catch fish.” It’s been stated that 10% of the people catch 90% of the fish. Bill’s publication was designed to help that other 90% of anglers. As he said, “The sole purpose of this paper is to teach people how to catch fish.” Al Lindner would later write of Fishing News, “This paper, the first of its kind, a publication for average fishermen about the kind of fish they could catch near their home, wherever it was, was the beginning of the new era in fishing for many thousands of fishermen.”
To say that the paper caught on would be a bit of an understatement. In Sep. 1965 (Vol. 1 – No 22), less than 2 years after its start, Bill wrote, “This paper, FISHING NEWS, now goes to 41 states…and close to half our subscribers are from out of state.” That same year, Bill would go on to publish the first of his live bait “manuals”, Nightcrawler Secrets, which would be one of the founding documents that the later published Fishing Facts book, Lunkers Love Nightcrawlers, would be based upon.
The original cost per paper was $0.20, but in Nov. 65 (Vol. 1 – No 24), that price increased to $0.25. The newspaper’s cost would stay the same through at least May, 1968. These early newspapers were typically 4 pages, just 2 sheets of paper, but would sometimes be increased to “double issues” that were 8 pages in length.
In Jan., 1966 (Vol 1 – No 26) the newspaper lost the “Boston Store” cover logos that appeared on its pages, about the same time that the Boston Store stopped covering the cost of printing the paper. However, it appeared they continued to pay for advertising within the newspaper as Bill later tried to explain. It was a small difference, but probably heralded the coming changes that would take place over the next year or so. Bill clarified, “Incidently, the Boston Store Corp. which has been publishing Fishing News is entirely separate from the Boston Store that sells tackle. There is no connection between the two companies except that my regular job is with the Boston Store. I am a Merchandise Manager. On my own time I write for and edit Fishing News. No pay. No profit. Yet.”
Back on the writing scene, and to reiterate the importance of the theories Buck Perry had espoused years earlier, in the May, 1966 (Vol 1 – No 30) issue, Bill wrote, “We started this paper because of the Spoonplug, and because Buck Perry’s discoveries and methods were made available to us. If any of us ever forget this, we will be the losers. We will be right back where we started from. We will begin to get fewer and fewer fish if we stray.”
Often times, readers would write in to the newspaper, mostly praise but sometimes not. Bill would frequently respond directly to these letters. One of the more common complaints readers would have was that so much of the information being passed along dealt with just a few techniques. As you could imagine, spoonplugs, the “tool” Buck Perry created to work with his spoonplugging system (another story for another time), got a lot of press. And as mentioned, Bill had already written the first in his series of live bait (nightcrawler) booklets, so a lot of press was generated on that subject. The other technique frequently written about was jig fishing, in particular, Crawford Jigs, created by Jack Crawford. Bill’s explanation for why these three techniques got most of the ink in his newspaper came in June 1966, when he said, “Jigs, Spoonplugs, and live bait account for about 90% of the game fish being caught by fisherman we know. And we have contacts in many states.”
Another Bill Binkelman editorial on the issue later appeared in the pages of the newspaper and defended his position on the issue, stating, “We don’t work for Buck Perry, nor does he work for us. We really have no connection with him. We write about him, sure we do. We do this because we know that Buck’s great discoveries made our success possible. These discoveries of Buck Perry’s are slowly but surely revolutionizing fishing, catching fish that is.”
Another Binkelman quote on the subject, “Therefore, because Fishing News is for all people, we will write about other baits and other kinds of fishing, too. The jig in particular will get a lot of attention because it deserves it. We will write about live bait too, because many, many fishermen all over the world love to use live bait – and some do catch fish! Live bait, when used properly, is effective, and it is fun.”
It was around this time that Bill was approached to do a television fishing show. Aptly titled, “The Fishing Show”, Al Lindner would later write (in 1974), “The first T.V. series ever to be devoted entirely to fishing, was a Bill Binkelman creation, too. Bill and Duke Marks, a Disney midwest chief and a camera-film editor genius, put this first show together using the Fishing News formula.”
Things seemed to be going tremendously with the newspaper and T.V. show, and despite all this, Bill was still managing to pull it all off while maintaining his multi-department purchasing responsibilities with the Boston Store. However, a stumble in the road was about to occur, when Al Stein, long time newpaper man who had been putting the paper together in his spare time, left Milwaukee. At the same time, Bill was approached to take the TV show into syndication. Suddenly the newspaper and its popularity had taken on a life of its own. Things were becoming too much for Bill to handle alone, and so the tough decision to leave the merchandising managers position at the Boston Store was made. Additionally, Bill brought on George Pazik, well known local community activist and fishing fanatic to help run the paper.
That first issue under the new arrangement, Jan., 1967 (Vol. 1 – No 38) featured Northwoods Publishing (George Pazik). Bill remained on as editor, and the magazine started to feature 8 pages more frequently, though still not permanently. That wouldn’t happen until the Feb. 1968 (Vol. 1 – No 51) issue.
Ultimately, Bill said ‘No’ to the syndicated TV offer in order to focus on building Fishing News. He added a tackle mail order business to its pages, one of the first in the country to do this. With George on board and utilizing his experience, the ‘newspaper’ went to a true color magazine format (48 pgs) in Feb., 1970. There was also a rename to the now more recognized name of “Fishing Facts.” Even the byline changed slightly, from “Methods that work on any lake, anywhere” to “Methods that work – for you – wherever you fish.” There was also a cost increase to help offset the larger format. In May, 1970 the per issue price rose to $0.60.
Months later, everything would change one more time. The Sep 1970 issue featured an editorial entitled, “All of Us Are in his debt.” In it, George wrote, “Today August 13, 1970, as I write this editorial, I recall the last conversation of any length that I had with Bill Binkelman. That day was Sunday, July 19, 1970.” Bill left the magazine, some say without any warning. However, in that same editorial George wrote, “Bill was tired, he wanted a respite from the pressures of putting out a monthly publication. He wanted to play a less active role. He wanted me to take charge. He wanted to be free from the curse of the monthly deadline, the telephone calls, the pressures and commitments – and he wanted it now.” Some still speculate that George somehow forced or bought Bill out, but I’m guessing only a few people may know for sure.
Regardless, things took on a new look almost immediately. That first issue after Bill left featured the now famous Wiley Miller cover art that began to grace all covers of the magazine. Wiley would eventually parlay that into original oil paintings of his magazine covers that he would sell to collectors. The magazine also took on a more traditional cover layout – less newspaper-like and more story lines. There were also some new editors. George Pazik (Publisher & Managing Editor), Don Woodruff (Assoc. Editor), Rex Grady & Ron Lindner (Field Editors), Vic Saunders & Rocky Teller (Sr Editors), Jack Crawford, Don Helwig & Jim Wrolstad (Contributing Editors) all took on roles. “All of these men, incidently, have yet to receive any pay for their work, and neither have I” wrote George.
The rest, as they say, is history. There was another small price increase in 1975 to $0.75 per issue. More new contributors would come on board, many of which would go on to be well recognized names in the fishing industry, guys like Larry Larsen, Spence Petros, Rich Zaleski, Al Lindner, Charlie Brewer, Darryl Taylor, Jim Wrolstad, Bob McNally, Carl Malz, Tony Portincaso, Joe Fellegy, Paul Prorok, and later, even Buck Perry himself.
Bill and George are both no longer with us, but together they were responsible to bringing one of the most recognized magazines to the forefront of the industry, and in one respect or another, giving rise to a huge off-spring of talent and shared fishing knowledge that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands would ultimately benefit from.