In Parts One and Two Stan talked about his early life, his time in the U.S. Army during World War II, his early writing, the first Bassmaster Classic, and various folks he met in the industry who had an impact on his life as an outdoor figure. In Part Three, Stan will cover how he got into trick casting and how it changed his life.
From Writing to Casting
Although Fagerstrom is an award-winning outdoor writer whose bylines have appeared in most of the bass magazines known to the industry, he’s every bit as well known in another area of the sport – casting. He’s internationally recognized as a casting expert with a variety of rods and reels and during my interview with him, I asked him how this came about. Here’s what he had to say about his experiences casting.
“Once I got back from the war and started doing some serious bass fishing,” he said, “it became readily apparent just how darned important casting accuracy was when it came to putting bass in the boat or on the bank. It was just as important to realize that there were so many other variables associated with the sport that I could do absolutely nothing about. I couldn’t, for example, do one blessed thing about air temperature, water temperature, barometric pressure, water clarity or the lack thereof, and the list goes on and on. One thing I knew I could probably learn to do was put my lure on its intended target.
“The key to be able to do that consistently was practice. It was the key decades ago and it still is today. In the countless outdoor shows I’ve done from Tulsa to Tokyo, for more than a half century, I still continue to run into too many who want to be successful bass anglers but won’t accept the need for casting practice. Ask most of them what kind of practice casting weights they have and you’ll find they don’t have the first one. These same guys usually wind up telling me they don’t use a level wind reel because all they ever got when they tried was one bird’s nest after another. So did I in the beginning. But once I began some serious practice, my accuracy began improving and so did my fishing success.
“Younger bass anglers today probably don’t fully appreciate the wondrous gear they have to work with. Back when I started casting, my reels were the old fashioned knuckle busters that weren’t equipped with a free spool. The handles spun backward as your lure flew to its target.
“The first few demonstrations I did at local sporting goods stores and a fair or two, I wound up using a pair of Langley reels. As I recall my favorite was the Langley Sportcast. It’s easy to recall what happened to change all that.
“Word had started to get around here and there that I was pretty good with a casting outfit. Then one day in late 1951 a man walked into my office at The Daily News in Longview. He introduced himself and set a pair of red boxes on my desk that held level-wind reels. That man was Nate Buell, at the time the western United States representative for the Garcia Corporation. ‘Stan,’ he said, ‘we’ve heard you can cast pretty good and we’ve read some of your fishing articles. We’re just introducing these new reels and we’d like to know what you think of them. I want to leave them with you for the next couple of weeks. I’ll be back to pick them up and you can let me know what you think when I return.’
“I remember what I thought when I opened those boxes and eyeballed a couple of the first Ambassadeur 5000 level-wind reels ever seen in the Pacific Northwest. My first thought was, these reels are a tad large for bass fishing but should work well for steelhead or light salmon angling. I felt that way because the reels I had been using for bass were so small by comparison. How wrong I was! Those new Ambassadeurs were the finest reels I’d ever laid hands on. And that’s exactly what I told Mr. Buell when he came back a couple of weeks later. What transpired when he did come back really opened the door to what, though I didn’t realize it at the time, was something that was to blossom into a full blown career that blended like magic with the writing I was already doing.
“As soon as Mr. Buell heard what I had to say about the new reels he made me an offer. ‘How would you like to demonstrate these reels for us at the big outdoor show that’s to be held in April at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles? It’s an 11-day show. We’ll give you a pair of Garcia Conolon rods to go along with these reels and I’ll pay your expenses, but that’s it. There will be no other payment.’
“It probably took me about 30 seconds to make up my mind and tell him I’d do it.
“I went to that show thinking I knew a bit about casting. Working on the same casting pool at that Los Angeles show were two of the top casters in the country. One was the world’s champ with a bait casting outfit. The other was a top U.S. amateur casting champ. At the end of 11 full days of working and watching those two dudes and asking them questions in the process, I wound up being a whole lot better caster going home than I had been going in. It was a tremendous experience and once again, it set the stage for what was to come.
“I don’t care what kind of skills you have; be it tap dancing, performing magic or doing trick and accuracy casting, it doesn’t mean squat unless someone provides a platform for you on which to perform. It wasn’t too long after I returned from that Los Angeles show that other outdoor shows started coming on strong all over the country. Another of the game-changing events in my life as a professional caster came when I met a man named Ed Rice. At the time Ed was a resident of Eugene, Oregon. He had a television background and he was a promotional wizard. It wasn’t too long after I first met him that he put together his International Sportsmen’s Exposition Shows (ISE) that were among the best such shows in the United States.
“Ed’s first-class shows provided me with that stage I mentioned. As it turned out, I was to do, with just one exception, every one of the outdoor shows he produced for the next 25 years. I remember how proud I was one night at the big ISE show at the King Dome in Seattle when Ed announced over the show public address system that henceforth the ISE show’s casting area was to be called ‘The Stan Fagerstrom Casting Pool.’
“Ed eventually sold his show. After he did I signed on with another fine show producer named Joe Pate. Joe produces the EXPOSURE Outdoor Shows in the Pacific Northwest. I did all of his shows prior to moving to Arizona where I now reside. While I was with the ISE shows in spots like Seattle, Portland, San Mateo, San Francisco, Sacramento and Denver I wound up doing TV shows and radio programs all over the place. That exposure brought all kinds of additional attention. I wound up being invited to other shows all over the United States and sometimes to foreign countries. When Hal [Harold of B.A.S.S. fame] Sharp eventually left his job as the B.A.S.S. tournament director he, for a time, served as an agent to book outdoor show appearances for some of the nation’s top bass anglers. He did the same thing for me. As a result I wound up making appearances in places I’d probably not ever gone without Sharp’s help.”
Known internationally as one of the top trick and accuracy casters of all time, Stan told me a couple of things that over the years brought him a lot of satisfaction.
“There are two things that immediately come to mind,” he said. “One is that, with just a few exceptions here and there, when I went to a show for the first time I was almost always invited back at least for a second appearance. Another is the number of times I’ve had calls, e-mails or letters from someone who tells me that what I’d shown them during one of my casting exhibitions had been of great help in their own fishing. Numerous times it’s someone who was just a kid when they’d first seen me.
“I’ve always felt that one of the reasons my casting demos enjoyed such success was that I didn’t just demonstrate one casting procedure. Although I did the majority of my trick and accuracy stuff with a level wind reel, I also demonstrated the technique I’d developed that’s the one way to get accuracy with a closed face spinning reel, different techniques than those commonly used with an open face spinning reel and also the techniques of both flipping and pitching. If there were others who did the same thing I’m not aware of it. As I’ve mentioned before, today as I look back on more than half a century of writing, casting and just fishing and talking about it, I find it hard to believe some of the doors those casting skills opened. Let me tell you more about just one of them.
“I was performing at an ISE show in San Mateo once when I noticed a group of Japanese men at the far end of my casting area. They were shooting pictures of my casting. I recall my first thoughts when I noticed them. It was that it’s a whole lot nicer to have them shooting film than the bullets the Japanese had been shooting in my direction a few decades before. I was curious, of course, as to just what they were up to. As it turned out, they were there to shoot film they could take back to Tokyo to show to the folks who produced the huge outdoor show in that city. They’d heard good things about my exhibitions and were considering bringing me to Japan to perform there. The show producers evidently liked what they saw because a couple of weeks later I received an invitation to take part in the Tokyo show. I was to be the only American featured at the event.
“I wanted very much to go, but there was a major problem. The Tokyo show was to be held on the same dates as the ISE show in Seattle. I was already booked for the Seattle show. I called Ed Rice and told him about the Japanese invitation. Ed, being the understanding kind of guy he was, told me to go ahead and accept the invitation. I had more than one special reason for wanting to make the trip to Japan.”
In Part Four, Fagerstrom will give a very personal account of his trip to Japan and what it meant for this World War II veteran to return to the country he and so many others fought against in the 1940s.