Sport fishing is big business in America. With 46 million anglers in the U.S., it ranks as the second-most popular outdoor activity behind jogging. More people fish than play golf and tennis combined.
And from the business end of things, anglers spent $49.8 billion on fishing gear and trips, more than Americans spent on Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween combined.
The 6th annual Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo will educate and entertain angling interests from novice to advanced on Jan. 18-20 at the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls.
“We’ve found our niche in the outdoor trade show circuit,” said Joe Yaeger of East Amherst, a show manager and the man responsible for the incredible amount of education offered at the event. “We found that by teaching people how and where to fish, they will enjoy this popular outdoor activity more. In doing so, they will buy more equipment and share that knowledge with family and friends. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved.”
As the Niagara Fishing Expo began to grow through the years, so did its followers as the focus remained on education. With the addition of a Hawg Trough (a huge aquarium-like trailer with a stage on top) in the main event hall and adding more bass professionals to an impressive list of seminar speakers, the show will have more than 200 seminars, clinics and demonstrations – a 40 percent increase over the 2018 show.
“One of the reasons we can offer so many quality educational classes is because of the Conference and Event Center itself,” Melissa Gearhart, director of sales and marketing at the facility, said. “We have more than a dozen separate rooms that offer state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment that speakers can utilize, and attendees can appreciate and learn from. Some of the rooms have been standing-room-only in the past, depending on the speaker and the topic, so get here early.”
One of the most popular aspects of the Expo is the salmon school coordinated by the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association (LOTSA). Yaeger is president of that group. This year’s school sold out in November, with 170 seats locked in by diehard Lake Ontario salmon fishermen. Except for admission to the show, the salmon school is the only seminar that involves a fee.
“Early on, because of the salmon school and the involvement of LOTSA, there was a misconception that this show was only for salmon and trout fishermen,” Yaeger said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, there are more than 20 walleye fishing seminars, from rod-in-hand instruction to trolling options. There are separate seminars for a variety of angling options, from fly fishing to tributary fishing, from Niagara River fishing to perch fishing on Lake Erie and the Finger Lakes. Kayaking fishing has its own list of speakers, too. Want to learn how to use the electronics on your boat? We have clinics and seminars for that, as well.”
Taking on a new form this year is the bass fishing portion of the show.
Mitch Grant with Rapid Fishing Solutions saw promise in the show. It didn’t hurt that he loves fishing in Western New York for smallmouth bass. Each year he operated an exhibition, he became more involved with the show. For 2019, he signed professional bass fishermen Mark Menendez (returning for a third time), Billy McDonald, John Murray and Brad Knight. All have left huge footprints on the national bass fishing scene and have expertise to share with attendees.
In addition, there will be a focus on high school and college fishermen competing for their respective institutions. Special question-and-answer sessions have been arranged for young adults.
There’s also a focus on youth and young adult education. In many instances, kids teach kids, like 14-year-old Gianni Etopio of Youngstown giving tips on tributary fishing off Lake Ontario, Alex Gauld discussing tactics on bass fishing and Dylan Nussbaum of St. Mary's, Pa., sharing insights on walleye fishing. Nussbaum is the youngest angler (age 20) to win a Masters Walleye Circuit championship.
There will be Q&A sessions with fishing guides, captains and other local angling experts. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will be represented. Steve Hurst, chief of the Bureau of Fisheries, will sit in on an open Q&A Saturday at noon. There will be biologists from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario units to present information and answer questions. DEC also will have an exhibit in the main event hall.
More than 170 booths for exhibitors and vendors will operate during the three-day educational extravaganza. Top fishing and outdoor-related manufacturers will be able to answer questions and help with purchases. Included in the mix will be Garmin and Lowrance in the electronics aisle; Lew’s, Favorite, Okuma, Shimano and Daiwa for rods and reels; and Starcraft, Polar Kraft, Ranger, Lund and Robolo for fishing boats on display, represented by local marinas.
In the world of fly fishing, nationally recognized author/expert Rick Kustich will give a clinic on “Fly Fishing for Trout in WNY” on Saturday at noon. Orvis Buffalo will be on hand with a booth and will give instruction, including casting demonstrations. The WNY Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Lake Erie Chapter of Fly Fishers International, the two most prominent fly-fishing clubs in WNY, will offer fly-tying instruction. Other speakers include Scott Feltrinelli, Drew Nisbet, Nicholas Sagnibene and Adam Slavinski.
Kayak fishing has its own seminar series and expo organizers convinced local author Joel Spring of Ransomville to share his expertise on predator fish tactics out of a personal watercraft. His specialty is long nose gar and northern pike. He also will have a supply of books on hand, including his most recent one, “Strong is the Current.”
Even though ice fishing has been limited this year, Ice Team Pro Scott Brauer is back with some friends. Wil Wegman of Southern Ontario, a Canadian ice fishing legend, will help educate anglers on fishing Lake Simcoe.
More than 100 speakers will appear at the expo. Some of those include Mark and Jake Romanack with Fishing 411 TV Show, Lance Valentine with Walleye 101, Capt. Vince Pierleoni with Thrillseeker Charters, Rob Oram of the EyeCon Fishing Team, Capt. Joe Fonzi of Thumbs Up, Capt. Jim Steel with Innovative Outdoors, Capt. Jim Skoczylas of Ultimate Outdoors, and Capt. Jim Rores of Big Greek.
For a list of education, exhibitors and speakers, go to www.niagarafishingexpo.com.
Three-day passes cost $20. A one-day pass is $10.