The following is available in the March issue of California Sportsman, but with the first of three Fred Hall Show events opening today in Long Beach, we wanted to share our conversation with the show’s head honcho, Bart Hall.
By Chris Cocoles
In California, March Madness means more than college basketball and the beginning of spring. Outdoorsmen and -women and their kids have annually flocked to Long Beach and San Diego for the massive Fred Hall Shows that celebrate the love of fishing, hunting, camping, and whatever other outdoor activity you can think up.
In this 71st year of operation, the vision of the late Fred Hall has evolved into one of the West Coast’s premiere events that anglers and hunters attend to pick the brains of experts, plan trips and check out all the latest gear and shiny new toys. With the addition of a show in Bakersfield (March 10-12 at the Kern County Fairgrounds) to the usual stops in Southern California (March 1-5 at the Long Beach Convention Center; March 23-26 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds), there are even more opportunities to check out what the shows offer this month.
We caught up with Fred Hall head showman, Bart Hall, to talk about what’s new and what his shows do to support California sportsmen (and -women).
Chris Cocoles So another year of Fred Hall Shows is upon us. How’s the preparation been going?
Bart Hall This has been the busiest year in our 71-year-old history. The addition of the Bakersfield show and our attempt to turn it into a Fred Hall Show has been a tremendous amount of work, but it looks like it will pay off for us. The response from the fishing, boating, hunting, travel and RV communities has been overwhelming.
CC Is there anything new about the Long Beach and San Diego shows that you want to share?
BH The Long Beach show sold out of exhibit space much earlier than ever before. Exhibitors were excited to get their display requests in early and to plan for a great show. Long Beach is the world’s largest sportfishing show, California’s largest boat show and Southern California’s largest hunting and fishing travel show.
This year we will have the largest display of marine electronics at any show in the West. We will have a greater selection of boats than ever before: high-performance boats, towboats, cruisers, pontoon boats, and every fishing boat used in Southern California. We will have big, little, fiberglass, aluminum, inflatables and the largest display of kayaks and SUPs seen anywhere. On the Hyatt Lagoon attendees this year can test-drive a Hobie Mirage Drive Kayak or the new Hobie Eclipse Mirage Pedal Drive SUP. They can cast Daiwa, Shimano and Avet reels on that lagoon.
San Diego will be bigger than ever. We reworked the map and added 25 to 30 new booths in the O’Brien building. We are in the process of trying to get the permits to erect a new structure so that we can get everyone into that show who wants to be there. We are currently sold out.
CC How exciting has it been to take over the show in Bakersfield, and what are your expectations?
BH Bakersfield is a 40-year-old show that has been run very successfully by Mike Hatcher for the last 20 years. It has been a very good show with a lot of entertainment for attendees. At first we were reluctant to put the “Fred Hall” name on it because that means a big commitment to fishing and boating and we wanted to make certain we could fulfill everyone’s expectations. But we did it and we are glad. Previously that show had one boat dealer; this year there will be eight boat dealers. We had to erect a structure and take over a new building to get them all in. There are three main building at the Kern County Fairgrounds and we have turned one of them into the fishing hall and it is completely filled with just things related to fishing. Of course, it is still one of the largest RV shows in the Western United States. One dealer alone will bring 100 RVs.
CC You’ve talked about the Fred Hall Shows’ place in helping to protect the fishing culture. How important is that to you?
BH All of us at the Fred Hall Shows – Mike Lum, Tim Baker, Katie Hall and Ginny Hall – believe that our primary job is to promote and protect the fishing, hunting, boating and outdoor recreation lifestyle that so many of us cherish. If we do a good job at that, we believe that the shows will take care of themselves. This year, if you join the Coastal Conservation Association of California at either the Long Beach or Del Mar shows, you will get into the show for free and you will be given a (coupon) booklet that is, potentially, worth thousands of dollars. Stop by and chat with them outside the gates of these shows. CCA CAL is a national organization that protects the resource and promotes anglers’ access to that resource. All California anglers should be a member.
CC From your interaction with anglers and hunters, how do they feel about increasing regs, like nonlead bullets? It seems like many California outdoors enthusiasts are disillusioned about the state’s policies.
BH Californians are fed up with California and the excessive regulations that are imposed upon us without our input and without adequate scientific information. The state doesn’t have the resources to do extensive scientific investigations, so much of the regulations are based on “modeling” that is often rife with inconsistencies. None of us object to protecting the resource if it needs it. We all want fish and game for our children and grandchildren. But too often, those of us who are “consumptive users” have a better idea of what’s going on with the resource than scientists who sit in a room and work models with incomplete or inadequate data. It is a formula for failure. Lately, I’ve seen some younger scientists like (San Diego-area) Dr. Lyall Belquist, who is an avid angler and hunter, take a keen interest in getting the correct data. That gives me hope.
CC How important is it for the kids who attend the shows to get really engaged by the exhibits and activities there, and thus ensure that future generations discover the outdoor opportunities the state offers?
BH Well, at a Fred Hall Show all kids 15 and under get in free – always. While at the show there will be over 600 seminars between Long Beach and Del Mar. Kids can fish at the Mammoth Lakes Kids Fish Free Trout Pond (tens of thousands stocked); they can participate in the Great American Duck Races. They can be entertained at the Progressive Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show. They can cast for prizes in the Fishing in the City kids casting contest; they can watch the Ram Trucks Ultimate Air dogs. Kids can also try a Hobie Kayak in the Hyatt Lagoon. There is archery for kids, a BB Gun Range, a soft air range, a Laser Shot range, face painting. They can take their picture in a shark tank with a mount of a 1,300-pound mako lurking above. They can learn to SCUBA dive in the Deep Blue Dive Tank. And one of the great things kids like to do is go on boats. They have no idea what they cost, so it’s cool for them to climb on board and say, “Hey, Mom and Dad, let’s get this one.”
The most common thing I have heard over the seven decades of our shows’ existence is “My kids love coming to your shows,” and that is why we have all of the (kid-friendly activities) that we have. We want kids to have a great time at a Fred Hall Show while being exposed to fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation. They also are mesmerized by the mounts in the hunting displays as well. Kids love the Fred Hall Shows and, hopefully, that translates into a love of outdoor recreation as they get older. CS