Outdoors shows offer winter's educational escape

·5 min read

Jan. 1—As the hunting seasons wind toward a close, and the eventual formation of ice in the bays and marinas and on the boat ramps will essentially limit access to an ever-cooling Lake Erie and its wealth of walleye, many of the anglers and hunters will find themselves headed to class.

They will hear from the experts, sharpen their skills, broaden their knowledge base, and fiddle with the latest gear and technology just out on the market. The "outdoors shows" are a staple of the dark and cold winter months and the only non-pharmaceutical cure for the onset of cabin fever.

The best description of an outdoors show is taking the largest building in a major metropolitan area and filling it from wall-to-wall with new boats, stages for seminars put on by the top names in the hunting and fishing ranks, and booths for displays of new fishing tackle and hunting gear, with more booths for outfitters that will set you up with a caribou hunt in the Yukon, trout fishing in Argentina, a bear hunt in Manitoba, or a trophy bass fishing adventure in Mexico.

There are collectors of antique fishing lures, purveyors of the latest in hunting rifle scopes, technical experts dealing in super-sophisticated electronics for navigation and finding fish, vendors selling custom leather holsters and others offering to insure your boat in the event of an on-the-water breakdown.

Lake Erie charter captain and Toledo native Ross Robertson of Bigwater Fishing will work the Cleveland Boat Show & Fishing Expo in mid-March, sharing his knowledge of walleye fishing and navigating the walleye waters. Robertson, who besides chasing big walleye for his clients has also worked as a boat salesman, TV host, outdoor writer, and product designer, and competed as a tournament fisherman, while also spending time as a speaker, radio host and podcaster.

Robertson will be working the Vic's Sports Center display at the Cleveland show, sharing his experience and expertise with Ranger boats. Vic's expects to have a dozen new Rangers on display at the show.

"I do the shows for companies that I represent because they want me to both fill a meet-and-greet role, but also serve as a well-informed salesman," Robertson said. "Companies like to have someone that has arguably more time using that product than anyone and can provide unique insight. This ultimately helps the customer, as well."

Robertson said that while the outdoors shows used to provide the only opportunity for the public to see and compare many different lines of new boats or fishing tackle in one location, the internet has made that aspect less relevant. Today, the shows give the potential buyer the chance to closely inspect products, while also escaping the solitude of winter and sharing information and stories with other outdoors enthusiasts.

"Most of the shows where I speak offer a really good opportunity to get questions answered and hear from multiple professionals," he said. "When you break down the cost to get in and take in a few seminars, it's a very cheap education compared to what these types of sessions would cost individually elsewhere."

The 2022 outdoors shows circuit kicks off with the Ultimate Fishing Show Thursday through next Sunday (Jan. 6-9) at the sprawling Suburban Collection Showplace in the Detroit suburb of Novi. This extravaganza, proclaimed "the largest pure fishing show in the country", will have an extensive display of boats, fishing tackle, outfitters, and suppliers, along with five seminar stages.

Walleye wisdom will be shared by Mark Martin, Mark Romanack, and Lance Valentine, while the parade of experts will include Michigan residents Kevin VanDam and Mark Zona. VanDam, a four-time Bassmaster Classic Champ and seven-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, will speak on Thursday, while Zona, host of Zona's Awesome Fishing Show and a regular on several ESPN Outdoors shows, will make a presentation on Sunday.

"We've got acres of fishing boats, fishing tackle, fishing gear, fishing vacations, fishing seminars, and factory-direct exhibits," said Ben Nielsen, manager of the Novi event. "This show is perfect for anyone interested in fishing, from beginners to tournament pros."

Sylvania native, Lake St. Clair muskie guide and former Professional Musky Tournament Trail World Champion Spencer Berman will be sharing his skills and tips gleaned from thousands of hours on the water in pursuit of this elusive apex predator with appearances at outdoors shows in Chicago and Pennsylvania.

Berman will be speaking at the Muskie Show Chicago, which takes place Friday through Sunday (Jan. 7-9), and at the Muskie Max Plus event held March 5-6 in the Pittsburgh suburb of Canonsburg. Berman said he likes to focus on the specialty shows where the main topic of discussion is his species of choice — muskies.

"The shows are a great way for anglers to get their hands on all the new lures for the upcoming season and the custom show colors only available at these events," he said, adding that since most of the 2021 shows were lost due to the pandemic, there is a lot of anticipation building for the 2022 affairs.

"What has become even more important in recent years is the presence of professional anglers and lure makers at these shows," he said. "Their experiences and expertise can provide anglers with a chance to take home more than just baits, but also valuable knowledge that will help them catch more fish in the coming seasons."

The outdoors shows will follow the latest pandemic-related guidelines. Guests are encouraged to visit the show websites in advance of their attendance to be up to date on the guidelines or any changes in the hours or show schedules.


—The Ultimate Fishing Show, Suburban Collection Showplace,,Novi, Mich., Jan. 6-9, UltimateFishingShow.com

—Muskie Expo Chicago, Kane County Fairgrounds, St. Charles, Ill., Jan. 7-9, muskieexpo.com/chicago

—National Fishing Expos — Cincinnati, Sharonville Convention Center, Cincinnati, Jan. 7-9, nationalfishingexpos.com

—Ford Boat, Sport & Travel Show, Duke Energy Convention Center, Cincinnati, Jan. 14-16, Jan. 19-23, renfroproductions.com/shows

—Columbus Fishing Expo, Ohio Expo Center, Columbus, Feb. 11-13, nationalfishingexpos.com

—Muskie Max Plus, Printscape Arena, Canonsburg, Pa., March 5-6, muskiemax.com

—Cleveland Boat Show & Fishing Expo, International Exposition Center, Cleveland, March 17-20, clevelandboatshow.com

—Ohio Open Season Sportsman's Expo, Ohio State Fairgrounds, Columbus, March 18-20, openseasonsportsmansexpo.com/ohio