Knee Deep: Empty Halls

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BY MIKE STEVENS

Not having a Fred Hall Show is going to really suck. As the universal scientific indicator of the kickoff of the spring fishing season, how else are we going to know when it’s time to fish for white seabass?

But seriously, I’m going to try and write about the subject in a manner that doesn’t sound like an obituary for the thing because there’s simply too much demand, interest, support and freaking magic for there to just not be one anymore, but in the first year of my life I’ll have to go without one, it will be hard not to reflect on Fred Hall highlights from when I was a kid through now.

I probably started going to the Long Beach Show around age 12, which would have been about the same time I made my Eastern Sierra debut. The Show was all about piling up pamphlets and freebie maps of the region to pour over and study as if I was planning the Normandy landings. The rest of the weight of my plastic bag was made up of similarly-free nomenclature from my favorite brands, a sticker here and there and maybe some tidbits of fishing advice from local trout royalty like Marlon Meade, who I now get to rub elbows with on a “professional” level. The enormity of the Long Beach Show was something to really behold, and believe it or not, I actually did not catch my first fish in the trout pond.

Not long after that and at the lower levels of teenage, I attended the Fred Hall Show for tactical purposes. I’d still go to Long Beach with my dad, but living in San Diego, I’d get to fly solo with some buddies at Del Mar with maybe 40 bucks in my pocket and on a mission to see how far I can stretch it.

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Let’s see. I can buy a spool of Berkley Trilene XL from Turner’s, then take the receipt over to the Berkley booth and they’ll give me two more for free. BOOM!

I’d also learn if I casually mentioned to a rep how much I loved a product and asked a lot of questions, he’d hook throw some gear or swag in my bag which only added to my shopping efficiency. I was also a big fan of a long-defunct booth called the “Worm Bar” where an endless array of soft-plastic baits were displayed loose in bulk boxes. There you’d fill plastic bags with whatever you wanted and they’d sell it by the pound like you were at the farmer’s market.

In my high school years, seminars became a bigger part of my show experience along with that bang-for-my buck mission. One time, after a Mike Gardner talk, my buddy and I remained in our seats after it was over and everyone else had left. I looked down at a chair and saw a wallet so packed with large bills it couldn’t fold shut. While pocketing the cash was never really considered, on the way home I imagined how much fun it would have been burning through a roll like that. But I was at the Fred Hall Show. Talk about a great way to piss off the fishing gods and end up with a lifetime of skunk-trip damnation. I looked at the driver license, scanned the crowd and spotted the guy. I will say, he at least could have floated me a Hamilton for the honesty. Hell, that could have meant three more spools of Trilene.

The Fred Hall Show is also the first place I spoke to long-time WON Editorial Director, Pat McDonell. This after a handful of nervous fly-bys as I wussed out before I got to him like he was Magic Johnson or something. I eventually got all the way up to him and said something along the lines of, “Mr. McDonell, I know you’re busy here at the Show, but I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know that I’ll be working for you one day.”

I was 17 years old.

Right out of high school, I started working Bob’s Bait and Tackle and eventually, at Fred Hall Shows. You think attending wears you out? Try arriving an hour before it opens and leaving an hour after it closes. On your feet all day, and you’ve talked to so many people all the voices eventually devolve into this white noise like the background chatter in a bar scene on some sitcom. You answer questions and find yourself wondering which answer you gave 30 seconds after giving it. I felt like a seasoned pro after a couple years of that when I perfected ducking out of the booth, sneaking into a high-end houseboat and taking mini power naps in one of the beds just to get off my feet. Still, I always looked forward to working the Shows as I do now.

I was out of the industry for almost 10 years, but never had a year in which I missed a Fred Hall Show. I think right around age 25 I walked up to Pat and again warned him I’d be working for him eventually with zero doubt he didn’t remember the first time. I kept sending him articles to print for free, ideas for WON content, basically just I wanted to keep in his ear while I was out of the game.

Long story short, at age 37, 20 years after the first time I made the bold statement, Pat invited me to come in as a part-time editor, which later became a full-time gig, which then led to my getting more chances to work the Shows only now in a big, green WON booth with a spinning prize wheel. On top of that, I was working for the publisher that produced the Fred Hall Show preview and program. You know, the one you get at the entrance to the Show that’s so thick it could probably hold off any small arms round smaller than 9mm (don’t even think about it). Someone has to build that thing, and I get to be one of them.

Would I even be here at WON if not for the Fred Hall Shows?

Working the Show doesn’t take away from the fun of it one bit. I still try and work as many days of it as possible (and for both shows), I even go “off the clock” for a day at Del Mar with my kids. I still pile up freebie and Sierra maps and start on the far end and work backwards (there’s a science to that, trust me).

Eventually, I’d find myself in the Eastern Sierra for the Openers in a professional capacity with Bart Hall, McDonell, the aforementioned Marlon Meade and so on, all there for the same purpose. Pat’s retired now, and now that I know him a lot better, it cracks me up to imagine being afraid to approach him at that Fred Hall Show at age 17. I mean, this is the same guy that got ahold of my wallet at the pre-opener media dinner in Bishop and filled it with an entire jar of garlic PowerBait.

I tried to not make this about me, but no one who has ever attended a Fred Hall Show can talk about it without including a personal connection with it. The Hall Shows were instrumental in molding and stoking my passion for the industry as well as for fishing in general. I imagine it’s had a similar affect on everyone who walks through those turnstiles and walks out with a rod with a flag on it.

MAN is it going to suck not apologizing for bumping into you all in the aisles, but I get chills thinking about how such a show will be when it finally comes back after a long layoff.

 

 

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