[Editor’s Note: Stan Fagerstrom was one of the most prolific bass writers in history. He was a friend of the Bass Fishing Archives from the start and became a frequent contributor throughout the early years of the site. I was fortunate enough to interview him in person for this look into his life – a life that took him from the islands of the south Pacific in World War II to Silver Lake, Washington and beyond. Stan passed away in June 2019 at the age of 96.]
Over the course of time there have been many writers who have taught us through their words. Some of them have taught us the ways and methods of other anglers, while others have taught us from their own experiences. This installment of The Writers focuses on a person who taught us from his own experience – a lifelong love of bass fishing and casting. That person is Stan Fagerstrom.
Stan Fagerstrom was associated with bass fishing for over 60 years. His experiences couldn’t be told in a single piece. Therefore, we’ve split up his story into two pieces that cover important parts of his life. It’s a long read but we hope you enjoy learning about one of bass fishing’s most accomplished ambassadors.
Fagerstrom started writing about bass fishing in the mid-1940s. He was published in just about every magazine associated with bass fishing since that time and conducted casting clinics or exhibitions over a good bit of the world since the ‘50s. What makes this even more amazing is he started this career in an area of the country, the Pacific Northwest, where folks often looked down their noses at bass, even calling them “second cousins to a carp.” Though that part of the country was primarily a salmon and steelhead haven, Fagerstrom didn’t relent when it came to pursuing his passion and introducing others to the black bass.
I had the pleasure to meet with Stan at his home in Arizona. To me, Stan Fagerstrom is not only a mentor but one of my heroes in the world of bass fishing. The first article I read by him was published in 1975 in Western Bass Magazine. Ever since that time, I always looked for articles penned by Stan. He became one of my teachers and I’m sure he was the same for many others.
Here’s his story.
A War and The Daily News
Fagerstrom’s love of fishing began at an early age in North Dakota. He remembers the first fish he caught – during the Great Depression – a bullhead catfish on a bent safety pin. In 1936 his family, after losing everything in the Great Depression, moved to Longview, Washington with hopes of making a better life.
By this time, he’d been reading about bass fishing in the sporting magazines and found himself fascinated by what he read about bass. His first major tackle purchase was his first rod (made of metal) as well as a small spinner. He’d read about the use of pork rind for bass, so he fashioned a trailer out of pork fat cut from a slab of bacon his mother had discarded.
Just as soon as he could, he went to a nearby lake, Lake Sacajawea, in the middle of town and started casting the lure he’d fashioned from shore. When a bass busted into his bait, he said he himself was “hooked” far more deeply than that fish.
By the time he’d finished elementary and junior high he couldn’t get bass fishing out of his head. But it was in high school where two paths crossed that would forever shape his life.
One of those paths was his on-going love for bass fishing. The other was his ability to write. His first writing was for the school newspaper – something he found he enjoyed – and by his senior year he became editor. Unfortunately, there was also a war going on, a big one if you remember, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“I enlisted in the U.S. Army on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after Pearl Harbor,” he said. “I entered active service at Fort Lewis in Washington State and took infantry basic training at Camp Roberts, California. After basic training I served as an instructor on a hand grenade range in Fort Ord, California. In 1944 I was shipped off to the South Pacific – eventually serving in the jungles of New Guinea, what was then the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), the Mapia Islands and the Philippines. All of my overseas combat service was with a rifle company of the 167th Infantry Regiment of the 31st Infantry Division.
“My regiment was fighting on Mindanao Island when the war ended. Though we didn’t know it at the time, we later learned that our 31st Division was to have played a role in the planned invasion of Japan. Our division was to be combined with three other army divisions to make up what would be known as the 8th army. On or about the first of March 1946, the newly formed 8th Army was to have landed in or near Tokyo Bay as a part of what was to be called Operation Downfall.
“I’d been sent to a field hospital in Mindanao shortly before word reached us of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. You hear a lot of stuff when you’re off fighting in some remote part of the world and we weren’t overly impressed. We weren’t sure what we were hearing was the complete truth. We’d seen far too many Japanese soldiers die or kill themselves rather than give up to entertain ideas that the country might surrender. To say we were surprised when Japan did give up is the understatement of all time.
“After I got back from the Pacific, courtesy of a hospital plane, I was sent to Madigan General Hospital near Fort Lewis. After a lengthy convalescent leave, I was finally discharged at Fort Lewis, the same place where my military service had started.
“I’d intended, after returning from the war, to enter the University of Washington as a journalism student. That wasn’t to happen. As mentioned, I’d done some sports writing for The Daily News in Longview while I was still in high school and community college. The city editor of the newspaper, as well as the publisher, insisted they could teach me more about writing if I went to work for them instead of going to the university. Besides that, Anita, the high school sweetheart I’d married while in the army, and I had an immediate need for some extra bucks.
“I began working full time for The Daily News in Longview in May of 1946 as a general assignment reporter. Shortly after I started, I was also asked to do an outdoor column called ‘Nibbles and Bites.’ That’s where my writing career really got off the ground. The city editor of The Daily News at the time was a man named Gordon Quarnstrom. He was to have a tremendous impact on my writing.
Those Daily News executives were correct at least to a degree. I doubt there are many better training grounds for someone to learn how to write than serving as a general assignment reporter on a growing daily newspaper. You either learn how to write fast and accurately about a variety of topics or you won’t have a job.”
Fagerstrom said it wasn’t long after he got along successfully as a newspaper reporter that he began to consider taking a whack at selling features to some of the outdoor magazines.
“I sent my first feature, it dealt with crappie fishing, to Outdoor Life magazine. The editor of Outdoor Life at the time was a man named William Rae. Here was another individual who was to have a big impact on my writing endeavors. All of us were still using manual typewriters in those early days. Even so, Rae would sometimes take the time to send me two or three pages of single-spaced letters loaded with tips, ideas, constructive criticism and suggestions. I’ve never met another like him.”
Major Impacts in the 60s
“I still couldn’t get bass out of my head and I was doing a whole lot of actual fishing whenever I could get away from the newspaper,” he said. “I kept a pair of coveralls and a pair of boots in the trunk of the first used car I was able to buy. In the evening and when I had extra time at noon, I’d run down to fish one of the Columbia River sloughs that was about seven miles away.
“My bass fishing endeavors figured prominently, of course, in my Nibbles & Bites columns as well as my freelance efforts for the magazines. For a number of years, I also wrote weekly outdoor columns for the Vancouver, Washington Columbian newspaper under the pen name Stanley Scott. Hardly anyone else in the Pacific Northwest was writing much about bass fishing when I started. That’s one of the reasons I got the notoriety I did.
“It’s also how I got to know people like Jason Lucas, one of the early-day fishing editors of Sports Afield magazine. It’s my contention that he was a bass man who was way ahead of his time. Jason and I became friends, and I learned a great deal from him. If ever a writer deserves to be called one of the ‘Fathers of Bass Fishing,’ Jason did and does.
When Jason Lucas was let go at Sports Afield – contrary to what you might have heard at the time, Stan says he was let go and didn’t just retire – he was eventually replaced by a man named Homer Circle.
“I was blessed to eventually get to know Homer much better than I knew Jason. Homer was still with the Heddon Tackle Company when our relationship started. In the beginning, our relationship came about partly because Homer worked for a company that was making bass baits. I was doing a whole lot of writing about bass fishing in a part of the country where other writers then weren’t that much involved.
Like the two other individuals I’ve mentioned – Gordon Quarnstrom and William Rae – Homer was to be very special in my life.
“Homer’s impact on me wasn’t felt so much where my actual writing was concerned, but in providing me with opportunities to do more of it. This wasn’t something he did just once or twice. He did it time after time. If ever an individual gave special meaning to the term ‘Friend’ it was Homer Circle. I flat out loved the man.
“For starters he was responsible for getting me appointed to the Braniff Airlines Outdoor Council. At that time Braniff was the leading airline to South and Central America. Once a year the airline flew its Outdoor Council members to many of the exotic regions they serviced.
Members of the Council, with all expenses paid and flying first class, would be sent to areas like Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Columbia, the Amazon, Alaska and others. Council members would fish for a week or 10 days and then return to eventually do stories for magazines and newspapers as well as a variety of other publications. The airline’s hope was that this publicity about the regions they serviced would build Braniff traffic.
“As a result of being named to the Braniff Outdoor Council, Homer and I eventually shared a boat together in the Amazon, for a week in Alaska, at my home lake in Washington State, at his home lake in Ocala, Florida, while fishing for baby tarpon in Columbia, South America and a number of other spots.
“When Braniff Airlines wound up doing everything wrong at the right time it eventually went under. Homer then put together and headed up other outdoor councils based along similar lines for the Berkley Tackle Company and the Red Ball Outdoor Council. I was made a charter member of both councils. As a result, I had opportunity to fish and write about it from New York State to Honduras and a whole lot of places in between.”
The Bassmaster Classic
Stan said he’s sure Homer had much to do with his invitation to the first Bassmasters Classic at Lake Mead.
“While dates for the Classic had been established, no one knew for sure where it was going to be held,” he said. “The contestants and writers who were taking part were to be flown to Atlanta, then from Atlanta they would be flown to the tournament site. I’m satisfied I’m the only one of the whole Classic crowd who did find out in advance where the event was to be held.
“The reason I did was because they didn’t fly me to Atlanta where the others were assembled. I received a call from B.A.S.S. telling me that two tickets to where the Classic was being held were waiting for me at the United Airlines office at Portland International Airport. They wouldn’t divulge where those tickets would take me.
“I waited for a time and then I called United Airlines in Portland. I told them they were holding a pair of tickets for me and I just wanted to verify the destination and departure times to be sure there were no mistakes. The lady I spoke to at United was pleased to help. She told me my destination was Las Vegas. I knew then that the Classic was going to be held at Lake Mead, a place I’d already fished a number of times myself.”
Fagerstrom said that first Classic was a remarkable experience for him.
“It provided an opportunity for me to finally meet face to face with many I knew but had never met,” he said. “It provided my first chance to finally shake hands with Homer Circle. It was also an opportunity to meet so many other early-day greats of the rapidly blossoming bass fishing world. Besides Ray Scott, I had a chance to meet and visit with Roland Martin, Bobby Murray, Tom Mann and a bunch of others.”
It’s Fagerstrom’s contention that everyone who went on to profit from professional bass fishing owes Ray Scott a tremendous vote of thanks.
“Ray really set a special stage when he came up with the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society,” he said. “It brought us all together. The formation of B.A.S.S. opened new doors of opportunity for those of us who were writing about the sport. I wound up being invited to and attending all but two of the first 30 Classics.
“For more than half of those first 30 events I rode with one of the contestants as an observer and fished out the back of the boat in the process. Later, B.A.S.S. officials decided they’d rather have me give casting exhibitions at the new outdoor shows that were being staged in connection with the event. I’ll never forget my part in the opening of that first Classic Outdoor Show.
“It was decided that they would hang a huge confetti-filled balloon on a big red ribbon in front of the main entrance to the show. No one was to be allowed into the show until I stood out in front about 30 feet away and busted that balloon with my practice casting weight. I’d stuck pins into the weight and figured as big as that balloon was, I’d have no trouble breaking the darn thing.
“Ray Scott and one of his female assistants stood right up close to the balloon. Well, I hit that balloon on my first cast, but the darn thing didn’t break. My casting plug just bounced off. I reeled in and cast again. This time I put some real power into my cast and Pow! That big balloon busted with sufficient force to almost blow Scott’s 10-gallon hat off his head! Though they had me do the same thing at many of the Classic Outdoor Shows in the future, Ray never came back to stand as close to the thing as he had the first time.”
From Writing to Casting
Although Fagerstrom is an award-winning outdoor writer whose bylines have appeared in most of the bass magazines known to the industry, he’s every bit as well known in another area of the sport – casting. He’s internationally recognized as a casting expert with a variety of rods and reels and during my interview with him, I asked him how this came about. Here’s what he had to say about his experiences casting.
“Once I got back from the war and started doing some serious bass fishing, it became readily apparent just how darned important casting accuracy was. It was just as important to realize that there were so many other variables associated with the sport that I could do absolutely nothing about. I couldn’t, for example, do one blessed thing about air temperature, water temperature, barometric pressure, water clarity or the lack thereof, and the list goes on and on. One thing I knew I could probably learn to do was put my lure on its intended target.
“The key to be able to do that consistently was practice. It was the key decades ago and it still is today. In the countless outdoor shows I’ve done from Tulsa to Tokyo, for more than a half century, I still continue to run into too many who want to be successful bass anglers but won’t accept the need for casting practice. Ask most of them what kind of practice casting weights they have and you’ll find they don’t have the first one. These same guys usually wind up telling me they don’t use a level wind reel because all they ever got when they tried was one bird’s nest after another. So did I in the beginning. But once I began some serious practice, my accuracy began improving and so did my fishing success.
“Younger bass anglers today probably don’t fully appreciate the wondrous gear they have to work with. Back when I started casting, my reels were the old fashioned knuckle busters that weren’t equipped with a free spool. The handles spun backward as your lure flew to its target.
“The first few demonstrations I did at local sporting goods stores and a fair or two, I wound up using a pair of Langley reels. As I recall my favorite was the Langley Sportcast. It’s easy to recall what happened to change all that.
“Word had started to get around here and there that I was pretty good with a casting outfit. Then one day in late 1954, a man walked into my office at The Daily News in Longview. He introduced himself and set a pair of red boxes on my desk that held level-wind reels. That man was Nate Buell, at the time the western United States representative for the Garcia Corporation. ‘Stan,’ he said, ‘we’ve heard you can cast pretty good and we’ve read some of your fishing articles. We’re just introducing these new reels and we’d like to know what you think of them. I want to leave them with you for the next couple of weeks. I’ll be back to pick them up and you can let me know what you think when I return.’
“I remember what I thought when I opened those boxes and eyeballed a couple of the first Ambassadeur 5000 level-wind reels ever seen in the Pacific Northwest. My first thought was, these reels are a tad large for bass fishing but should work well for steelhead or light salmon angling. I felt that way because the reels I had been using for bass were so small by comparison. How wrong I was! Those new Ambassadeurs were the finest reels I’d ever laid hands on. And that’s exactly what I told Mr. Buell when he came back a couple of weeks later. What transpired when he did come back really opened the door to what, though I didn’t realize it at the time, was something that was to blossom into a full blown career that blended like magic with the writing I was already doing.
“As soon as Mr. Buell heard what I had to say about the new reels he made me an offer. ‘How would you like to demonstrate these reels for us at the big outdoor show that’s to be held in April at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles? It’s an 11-day show. We’ll give you a pair of Garcia Conolon rods to go along with these reels and I’ll pay your expenses, but that’s it. There will be no other payment.’
“It probably took me about 30 seconds to make up my mind and tell him I’d do it.
“I went to that show thinking I knew a bit about casting. Working on the same casting pool at that Los Angeles show were two of the top casters in the country. One was the world’s champ with a bait casting outfit. The other was a top U.S. amateur casting champ. At the end of 11 full days of working and watching those two dudes and asking them questions in the process, I wound up being a whole lot better caster going home than I had been going in. It was a tremendous experience and once again, it set the stage for what was to come.
“I don’t care what kind of skills you have; be it tap dancing, performing magic or doing trick and accuracy casting, it doesn’t mean squat unless someone provides a platform for you on which to perform. It wasn’t too long after I returned from that Los Angeles show that other outdoor shows started coming on strong all over the country. Another of the game-changing events in my life as a professional caster came when I met a man named Ed Rice. At the time Ed was a resident of Eugene, Oregon. He had a television background and he was a promotional wizard. It wasn’t too long after I first met him that he put together his International Sportsmen’s Exposition Shows (ISE) that were among the best such shows in the United States.
“Ed’s first-class shows provided me with that stage I mentioned. As it turned out, I was to do, with just one exception, every one of the outdoor shows he produced for the next 25 years. I remember how proud I was one night at the big ISE show at the King Dome in Seattle when Ed announced over the show public address system that henceforth the ISE show’s casting area was to be called ‘The Stan Fagerstrom Casting Pool.’
“Ed eventually sold his show. After he did, I signed on with another fine show producer named Joe Pate. Joe produces the EXPOSURE Outdoor Shows in the Pacific Northwest. I did all his shows prior to moving to Arizona where I now reside. While I was with the ISE shows in spots like Seattle, Portland, San Mateo, San Francisco, Sacramento and Denver I wound up doing TV shows and radio programs all over the place. That exposure brought all kinds of additional attention. I wound up being invited to other shows all over the United States and sometimes to foreign countries. When Hal [Harold of B.A.S.S. fame] Sharp eventually left his job as the B.A.S.S. tournament director he, for a time, served as an agent to book outdoor show appearances for some of the nation’s top bass anglers. He did the same thing for me. As a result, I wound up making appearances in places I’d probably never gone without Sharp’s help.”
Known internationally as one of the top trick and accuracy casters of all time, Stan told me a couple of things that over the years brought him a lot of satisfaction.
“There are two things that immediately come to mind,” he said. “One is that, with just a few exceptions here and there, when I went to a show for the first time, I was almost always invited back at least for a second appearance. Another is the number of times I’ve had calls, e-mails or letters from someone who tells me that what I’d shown them during one of my casting exhibitions had been of great help in their own fishing. Numerous times it’s someone who was just a kid when they’d first seen me.
“I’ve always felt that one of the reasons my casting demos enjoyed such success was that I didn’t just demonstrate one casting procedure. Although I did most of my trick and accuracy casting with a level wind reel, I also demonstrated the technique I’d developed that’s the one way to get accuracy with a closed face spinning reel, different techniques than those commonly used with an open face spinning reel and also the techniques of both flipping and pitching. If there were others who did the same thing, I’m not aware of it.
“As I’ve mentioned before, as I look back on more than half a century of writing, casting and fishing, I find it hard to believe some of the doors those casting skills opened. Let me tell you more about just one of them.
“I was performing at an ISE show in San Mateo once when I noticed a group of Japanese men at the far end of my casting area. They were shooting pictures of my casting. I recall my first thoughts when I noticed them. It was that it’s a whole lot nicer to have them shooting film than the bullets they had been shooting in my direction a few decades before. I was curious, of course, as to just what they were up to.
“As it turned out, they were there to shoot film they could take back to Tokyo to show to the folks who produced the huge outdoor show in that city. They’d heard good things about my exhibitions and were considering bringing me to Japan to perform there. The show producers evidently liked what they saw because a couple of weeks later I received an invitation to take part in the Tokyo show. I was to be the only American featured at the event.
“I wanted very much to go, but there was a major problem. The Tokyo show was to be held on the same dates as the ISE show in Seattle. I was already booked for the Seattle show. I called Ed Rice and told him about the Japanese invitation. Ed, being the understanding kind of guy he was, told me to go ahead and accept the invitation. I had more than one special reason for wanting to make the trip to Japan.”
In part two of this series, Stan will talk about the trip to Japan and why it meant so much to him. He’ll also go into his trips abroad and a pesky chimpanzee he befriended at a sport show. We hope you’ll be back to read part two.