It's show season. All across the country, boat, sport and travel shows are kicking off with the intention of introducing outdoors enthusiasts to people, places and products that can enrich pursuits of fish and game, and outdoor recreation.
Here in Missouri, the Kansas City Boat and Sportshow is set to take place Jan. 18-21 at Bartle Hall and the St. Louis Boat and Sportshow is Feb. 8-11 at America's Center.
Growing up in northwest Indiana, Grandpa always took me to the Chicago Sportshow and a much smaller one in South Bend on the campus of Notre Dame.
My parents would allow me to take a day off school, because grandpa refused to fight the weekend crowds. We would browse the aisles, always buying lures and beef jerky. We collected enough marketing materials about lodges and fishing guides to fill a grocery bag.
Back home, I'd spend hours upon hours sorting through the brochures I'd collected, dreaming about one day being able to visit such amazing destinations. The older I become, the sweeter these memories of trips to the sportshow with grandpa are. He's been gone 14 years now, but I don't even have to close my eyes to see the old man walking those aisles in all his glory.
Through the years, I have built great relationships with lodges and their staff I have met at the sportshows. Every kid is excited to see the slab crappie on ice in the coolers Blue Bank Resort keeps in their booth. Having fished out of Blue Bank many times, Billy Blakely has become a guy I hop in a boat with every year.
Bull Shoals Boat Dock and Marina is a place my uncle first took my cousins and I more than 20 years ago after he booked a houseboat trip at a sportshow. Now Kevin Eastwold, a third generation owner, is a dear friend.
I always dreamed of fishing Lake Erie, so one show I booked a trip with Sea Breeze Charters. Captain Bob Witt put me on a 9-pound walleye that hangs on my office wall.
The sportshows in Kansas City and St. Louis are great places to find local and far away outfitters and guides who can help you create lasting memories. Usually, they offer special deals at the shows, so not only will you get to meet the lodge owners and outfitters in person, you save a few bucks by cutting a deal at the show. The same goes with boat dealers and tackle retailers.
Another fun and informative reason to attend these shows is to learn from experts presenting seminars. You can usually pick up some tips from the pros.
It's the energy found in the aisles of these shows that make them so appealing to me. I love watching the excited faces of kids scurrying about. It takes me back to my own happy childhood days.
I will be attending a number of sport shows this year with hopes of coming away with some new information, great contacts and a few good deals.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler, the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.