Shows in the Good Old Days – A Reflection

  In the 1950’s, every winter, a Sportsman’s Show would be held in New York City. Fishermen, campers and hunters from all over the metropolitan area looked forward to this show every year. It was truly something special, particularly for a young teenage boy. My memories are fading but what follows are my best recollections. I might have some stuff wrong but here goes.

The shows were staged in various places such as the old Madison Square Garden, the old New York Coliseum and an Armory in the Bronx. All the manufacturers of outdoor equipment, fishing tackle and hunting gear were present. In addition to being able to see and handle the latest equipment, there were all sorts of special events that took place during the show.

In the middle of the exhibition floor was a large swimming pool. My guess is that it was about 120 feet long and 50 feet wide and 4 feet deep. At one end was a wooden platform. This was the scene of much of the entertainment. There were “lumberjack” contests in and adjacent to the pool. Two canoes would launch each with a paddler in the back. In the front of each would stand men holding long poles with large boxing glove like cushions on one end. Starting from opposite end of the pool, they would charge each other and try to knock each other out of the boats. The audience would really get into it shouting and cheering when one of the guys would end up in the drink. There were log rolling contests. Two lumberjacks would get out on a big log in the pool and with fancy footwork try to make the other guy fall in. A real crowd pleaser! On the platform these same lumberjacks would have contests chopping through logs with axes. This wide eyed kid thought that they were genuine lumberjacks but they probably weren’t!

Another favorite was the “Surfcaster versus the Swimmer” contest. A man would put on a special leather harness. Attached to the harness was the line from a surf rod. The swimmer would jump into the water and swim out about half way. At a signal, he would set out for the other end of the pool and the surfcaster would try to stop him. It would go back and forth with one or the other winning and the crowd shouting. Usually the surfcaster won but sometimes the swimmer made it to the other end of the pool. In retrospect, it was probably rigged but I never doubted its authenticity.

In another part of the exhibition floor, there was a similar test of strength and endurance but without the water. They would rig up a “fighting chair” like those found on the back of a deep sea charter boat. On a rail stretching away from the chair, was a metal tuna about the size of a real 100 lb fish. You get the picture. A man or woman would sit in the chair and attempt to reel in the tuna. The tuna was controlled electrically so its resistance could be increased or reduced. If the tuna got to the end of the rail, it “got away”. If you got it back near to you, you had “caught” it.

I remember stopping at one table where a charter boat captain from Montauk was trying to get customers for his shark fishing trips. He had many shark teeth scattered about the table top. He was kind of a gruff character who I probably annoyed since I certainly could not afford to take a charter. Thinking back, it could have been Frank Mundus but I am not sure.

On another occasion, I got talking with a man who was selling plugs. He was very kindly and answered my questions patiently. His was Bob Pond, the creator of the Atom40 plug. I still use his lures to this day.

In another corner, was a smaller pool about two feet deep that was full of trout. I don’t remember how much they charged to fish but the operator provided rods, reels, hooks and worms. If you caught one, you could take it home in a bag which they provided. My sense was that these trout were very well fed since I saw very few caught.

My fondest memories were back at the large pool where fly casting lessons were given in between the lumberjack shows. Giving the lessons were Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams, Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey and Al McClane, the fishing editor of Field and Stream magazine. You would get on line at the wooden platform and go up when it was your turn. What a thrill to have Ted Williams standing behind me guiding my arm as he showed me how to cast. It was OK that he was a Boston Red Sox player in the land of the Yankees. I didn’t care. I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan. After my lesson, I would exit the platform and get back in line!

I may have mis-remembered some things. I do that a lot. At least my wife, Marie, says so. These were great memories that a boy trying to learn how to fish and hunt still thinks about. If you went to these shows back in the day, please share your memories.


The first person to guess my favorite picture in this issue of the Surfcaster’s Journal is Keithc

Some of you might not know but the handsome devil on the page 59 is no other then my son Brian

Congrats Keith, you have 5 days to email us your shipping address to

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14 comments on “Shows in the Good Old Days – A Reflection

  1. Ron Mattson Sr

    Great recollections Roger..goodtimes those 50’s. I too was a Dodger fan until the ‘crooks’ took them west.

  2. sioca

    Great memories…
    Old MSG 49St. and 8th.?
    Old NY Coliseum – Columbus Circle ?
    Armory – Kingsbridge Rd. Bronx or Lex. Ave. 26St. or ??

  3. David Strom

    I remember my Dad taking me to the great Canadian-American Sportsman’s Show in Cleveland. Matinee day on Wednesday, he would take me out of school for the Sportsman’s Show. Great lumberjack shows there. And the retrievers with live ducks. I think the Internet caused a great shrinkage of these shows. Or maybe just the economy.

    Did you have the guy with the directional “bobber” out here? I remember he was such an expert, he had this bobber with a plastic eel attached or something, and a water tank. He would pull the “bobber” under, and let it go so that it would move away from him in whatever direction he wanted. Always looked pretty cool, but I don’t think I ever bought one. Was it called the Trav-l-Bob, or something like that?

    Great memories. Thanks, Z.


  4. chuckg

    Same recollections of the shows in Boston held at Mechanic’s Hall, long since gone but great memories, particularly when I got lost at 5 years old and the police got me an ice cream cone… Remember, in the end, all we have are memories (hopefully)…

  5. Irene V Casalino-Cruz

    Just happened to be “Googling” some items on the computer today. Checked out Sportsman Show and this popped up. My uncle, Captain Nick Kuzin from Montauk, who captained the Tiger Shark II and III”, was one of the captains surfcasting with the swimmer. My uncle was paired with Buster Crabbe (of Flash Gordon fame). My other uncle, Joe Caparatta, was paired with Johnny Weissmuller (of Tarzan fame). I have photos and trophies to attest to these fond memories.


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