One of the most enjoyable things about the annual Northwest Sport Show, which wrapped up last weekend in Minneapolis, is bumping into people you haven't seen for awhile.
The Sport Show is a huge reunion of the Midwest hunting and fishing fraternity. Almost everyone with ties to the outdoors industry, as well as thousands of casual hunters and fishermen, shows up at the Sport Show during its six-day run at the Convention Center. You never know who you'll see.
There's Bruce Samson, winner of the PWT Devils Lake tournament last year. Over there is Reggie Thiel, who won at Leech Lake. There's Dick Sternberg, who caused the DNR no small amount of consternation last summer with claims that the Mille Lacs walleye fishery would collapse. There's Ron Schara, Minnesota's most famous outdoors writer, cruising the aisles like any other customer. There's Scott Richardson, who co-authors a column for this newspaper with Ted Takasaki.
By the way, where is Ted? How about Gary Roach and Bob Hanson? Are the boys from In-Fisherman around? They all pass through the turnstiles at some point during the show. It's just a matter of when.
As I headed for the exit last Friday after four hours on the show floor I heard, "Hey, look who's here" and turned to see the smiling face of Scott Fairbairn, one of walleye tournament fishing's best competitors. I hadn't seen Scott since last May at Leech Lake, where he was pre-fishing for the PWT tournament there. We fished together three years ago at Lake of the Woods, where a few days later he won his second PWT tournament. Since then we've stayed in touch and our telephone conversations always end with "We'll have to get out again sometime." But like many similar intentions, it has gone undone.
So, Scott, what prompted the move from Walker to Hager City, Wis.?
"My wife found a job at a clinic in Red Wing that was too good to pass up. It was a chance to move a little closer to home, which the folks like since they can see the grandkid more often."
A Crestliner patch on Scott's shirt meant that after a long affiliation with Fisher Boats he had changed sponsors.
"I had to do it to fish the RCL. I liked Fisher. They make a great boat and they were good to me. But the chance for that RCL money is too much to pass up. That was a stroke of genius on Genmar's part. Look at all the guys who have jumped over to Ranger, Crestliner and Lund since the RCL started. They've sold a ton of boats because of it."
Does this mean you won't fish all six PWT events?
"No, I'll still fish all of the PWT. It'll be a busy summer. But fishing is my career. It's what I do."
And he does it well. In 1998 Scott was PWT Angler of the Year, which goes to the pro who pulls the most weight for the season. Last year he placed 14th in that race. At the PWT Championship on the Missouri River he was in second place after two days only to see his bite die on the last day. He ended up ninth and now looks forward to qualifying for this year's new PWT Championship site: the 27-mile Portage Canal system on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
"I don't know anyone who's fished it, but I'm sure (Mark) Martin or one of the other Michigan guys has. Jim (Kalkofen, PWT executive director) fished there last year and said he caught a bunch of 18 to 20 inchers. I said, 'Well, those aren't huge walleyes, but 18 to 20 inches is respectable enough. He said, 'No, not walleyes, smallmouth bass.' Leave it to Jim to take us to a smallie lake for the Championship!"
Joking aside, Scott knows the Portage Canal system is home to some lunker walleyes. In recent years several were caught that pushed the Michigan state record of 17 pounds, 3 ounces.
"It should be fun," Scott said before we parted. "So when we going to hook up again? You coming to Lake of the Woods? Or how about the Lake Pepin tournament? It's right down the road from where I live."
That talk with Fairbairn got my imagination going like no amount of tackle shopping could. When I left the Convention Center I was met by a cold March wind, but all the way to the car I thought about May and open water and fat walleyes on the end of the line.
The Sport Show had done its job again.
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