Editor’s Note: This is the final part of the series on Stan Fagerstrom’s life as a writer and international casting expert. In part five, Stan talked about his experiences in Brazil, New Zealand and a couple of incidents he had doing shows in the U.S. In this part he talks about a couple of funny experiences he’s had over the years, his opinion of the sport today and he also talks about what he feels are his most important contributions. To read other parts of this story, click on the appropriate links. Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five.
A Cup of Beer and a Chimp
Stan will tell you however that he’s had his good moments along with the bad. He detailed one of them for me.
“I was doing some informal casting practice one day at an ISE show in Sacramento,” he recalled. “The show was open but there was just a scattering of people wandering about. The casting area I was on was unusually long. It was used both for fly as well as bait casting demonstrations and lots of distance was required for the fly casting back casts. I was casting at a variety of targets I’d set up 30 to 40 feet away when some big guy wearing a 10-gallon hat steps up way down at the end of the casting area. He was carrying one of those king-sized paper containers full of beer.
“The guy watches me cast for a minute or two then thrusts that big beer holder out over the end of the casting area and shouts, ‘Hey, partner, let’s see you hit this.’ Remember now, this guy is at least 75 or maybe even 85 feet away. I wouldn’t bet you a dime I could hit that small a target at that distance once out of 500 times but I figured what the hell, give it a try. I let fly with the 5/8-ounce casting weight I always use for the trick & accuracy parts of my casting shows. That weight arched up and came down with a k-a-s-p-l-o-o-s-h right smack in the middle of the big guy’s cup. As you might imagine, the beer went everywhere, including on the big dude who was holding the cup. I thought I was in big trouble for sure. For a heartbeat or two I considered hightailing it the hell out of there. I shouted that I was sorry and that I hadn’t meant to get him wet. Instead of being angry, the big guy wiped the beer off his face and hollered back. ‘It’s ok,” he said, ‘I guess I asked for it. I just didn’t realize how damn good you really were with that thing.’ Neither, my friends, did I!
“As I’ve already endeavored to point out, you’d better be prepared for ego adjustments if you get involved in show business, whether it’s fancy casting or the circus. I was feeling pretty darn good about myself when one of the country’s larger tackle companies invited me to participate in a Chicago show where they would be observing the company’s 50th Anniversary in the tackle business. I was told I was to be one of two performers they were bringing in to perform during the show. I’m thumping my own tub a bit as I think ‘Hey old man, you’ve done pretty well for yourself being one of just two they consider good enough to bring in at this special time.’
“Well, I get to the function and it turns out the second performer is a 4-year-old chimpanzee named Kirby. He couldn’t cast but when they tied a marshmallow to the end of his line and cast it out for him, he sure as heck could reel it back in and pull the marshmallow off his line and eat it. I enjoyed watching him and the two of us became friends before the show was over. That didn’t set too well with his trainer because every time I came by, Kirby wanted to come over and give me a hug instead of tending to business. To add insult to injury, where my already-fractured ego was concerned, that little bugger drew twice as many show visitors as I did at our respective performances. We had our picture taken together a number of times. My late mother in law got her hands on one of these photos and always made it point when she showed it to one of her many friends – something she did at every opportunity – that I was the one standing on the right!”
Thoughts and Memories
Although Fagerstrom has been a major supporter of bass fishing for more than 60 years, there are some things that continue to trouble him. “There are certain aspects of the sport that still bother me today,” he said. “For example, I hate the thought of fishing for bedding bass. If I ran tournaments, the spawning season would be out of play.
“The first few years of bass tournaments there was a huge amount of dead bass,” he said. “You couldn’t ignore it. And here I was promoting bass fishing and tournaments and at the same time expressing concern about the pressure on the resource. I was talking out both sides of my mouth and not enjoying it one damn bit. Then in ’71 I wrote an article called ‘Tournament with a Twist’ for Bassmaster Magazine. It was published in the January/February 1972 issue. The ‘Twist’’ was about a new concept of tournament fishing being practiced by the Silver Lake Bass Club out of Southwest Washington. I lived right on the shore of Silver Lake at the time. In ’71 club members decided to run their tournaments as catch-and-release events. Every fish caught would be weighed, measured (they even tagged them) and released. The concept was a success and the following year Ray Scott began his catch-and-release tournaments with B.A.S.S. I don’t know if the Silver Lake tournament concept or my story had any effect on Ray’s decision but from then on tournaments everywhere generally were more concerned about the release of the fish.
“Even today I think there is room for more protection of the resource. I’d like to see bass weighed and released as soon as they’re caught. Wouldn’t it be adequate if contestants were permitted to bring just their one largest fish to the weigh-in to hold up for the cameras instead of an entire bag full of fish where some aren’t going to survive the experience?
“I started bass fishing at time when we all killed our fish most of the time. There just wasn’t that much fishing pressure. It took awhile and having a chance to observe a few early-day tournaments before it dawned on me just how quickly pressure was building on our bass fishing resource. If you’ve ever seen my book Catch More Bass, the first book on bass fishing ever written by a Pacific Northwest author, you know it has far too many pictures of big, dead bass. That book was written in the early 70s. That wouldn’t happen if I was to write a similar book today. I’ve rarely killed a bass for years. I’d actually started to wise up before that book was published but my change in thinking came too late to make any of the desired changes before the book was sent off to the publisher.”
During my interview for this article I had an opportunity to ask Fagerstrom about the late casting expert and close friend of Lew Childre, Shag Shahid.
“Shag was as good as they come with a bait casting reel,” Stan said. “We did a couple of shows together and I learned from him. He didn’t do a lot of tricky stuff but in straight casting at whatever the target I’ve never seen anyone do a better job of it.”
During the interview I also asked Stan what articles he was most proud of that he’s written over his career.
“As for my fishing articles, I’d have to say definitely the many articles I’ve written about casting. Although I’ve written a number of them over the years, it’s these stories that have brought me a lot of satisfaction. Of the other material I’ve written, though, I’d have to say my poetry has been the most meaningful. If I get deeply emotionally involved, it’s the easiest way to attempt to express myself. A couple of such poems have been widely published around the country.”
Stan Fagerstrom is a legend among bass writers and casters. With a career that spans more than 60 years he’s seen it all and done it all. His publication list spans well into the thousands and he’s given hundreds of casting clinics over the years.
“I’m the luckiest guy on earth,” he says. “To have been able to make a living doing something I love and helping others in the process has been an inspiring experience. I’ve been very richly blessed. If you’ve ever watched one of my casting exhibitions you know I always say the same thing at the end. I think it’s appropriate to say it here again now. It’s simply this: The next best thing to fishing is to have a chance to write or talk about it. I thank God and I thank you for giving me that opportunity again here today.”
After reading Stan’s articles for over 30 years, I finally got to meet him in person this October. Only knowing him as a prolific writer and caster, I was amazed at what his life has brought him and all he’s done for so many. As he talked about in part one of this series, Stan participated in World War II in the Pacific Theater. He was a combat infantryman who was there in the thick of things. Stan spent a lot of time with me going over his old maps of the Pacific Theater and various other papers from the time. He also showed me the two Bronze Star awards he received for heroic actions he conducted while in battle. By reading his poem “No Second Chance” in part one of this story, you get a glimpse of what it was like to be Stan or many others who fought for our freedom during those times.
I feel blessed to have been welcomed with open arms into his home and into his life. I will forever be grateful to him for what he’s done. Thank You SGT Fagerstrom for your sacrifice to our country and for teaching us all to be better anglers. We will never forget.