This is Part Two in the series on Stan Fagerstom’s life as a writer and casting expert. To read part one of his story, please click here.
A Return to Japan
“I’ve already mentioned my service in an infantry rifle company in the South Pacific during the war with Japan for just a bit less than two years,” Fagerstrom said. “I also mentioned that I was brought home on a stretcher on a hospital plane. The crowded plane didn’t afford me, or anyone else for that matter, much room for ourselves, let alone room for any personal effects.
“One thing I was able to bring with me was a miniature bible with a steel cover I’d carried throughout the war in a pocket of my fatigue jacket. The other things I brought back were three personal Japanese battle flags that I’d also stuffed inside my fatigue jacket. I’d taken those flags while in combat in the South Pacific jungles.
“I call the flags personal because they weren’t unit flags; they were individual flags Japanese soldiers often carried into combat. Sometimes the name of the soldier who carried it was on these flags. Sometimes it wasn’t.
“When I finally got home and out of the hospital, I had stuck those flags along with a few other wartime souvenirs into an old suitcase and stored it on a closet shelf. There are some things you never forget if you’ve been involved in infantry combat. At least I know I haven’t. I’d often thought about those flags. I’d been told I could sell them for some pretty good bucks. That didn’t seem right to me, and I didn’t choose to do it. Once I got that invitation to Japan, though, I knew what I wanted to do with them.
“As a result of my prayers in this regard, my heart told me to send those flags back to Japan. That was where they really belonged. I was simply doing what God had told us to do – to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“The first thing I did was go to a Japanese lady [in Washington State] who could read what was on the flags. Only one flag carried the name of its owner. The flag had belonged to a Japanese infantryman named Giichiro Komatsu. I packaged the flags and sent them to my contact in Tokyo. I asked that he take the flags to the Tokyo media to see if they could publicize the return of the flags and possibly find any of Giichiro’s surviving relatives or former comrades. I’ll be forever grateful that the Japanese media did as requested.
“One of the individuals who read about the flags coming home was Giichiro’s brother, Shoji Komatsu. Shoji was a Buddhist priest. They found a few of Giichiro’s former comrades and held a special Buddhist funeral-style service with his flag. All of Giichiro’s family had ever been told by the Japanese government that their son was dead. The family didn’t know how, when, where or why. They provided me with a sheet asking those questions. I was able to provide the answers. Those answers included telling his family that their son, as Japanese soldiers almost always did, had died bravely and that he and all his comrades who had been on the two small islands my battalion had invaded had been killed.
“The other two flags, they didn’t have the names of the soldiers who owned them, have been sent to a shrine in Tokyo.
“War always leaves wounds of the spirit as well as the body. Some of the letters I’ve received from the Japanese, as a result of returning those flags, tell me I might have helped heal some of those unseen wounds. And that’s not all it did. It also provided a degree of closure of sorts for me.
“Some of my closest comrades in my infantry company were seriously wounded or killed out there in the Pacific war. War makes it so easy to hate and so difficult to love. I came away from my Tokyo appearance convinced of something I’ve accepted as fact. That is the average resident of the Japanese homeland had just about as much as I did in starting World War II – not one damn thing! I might never have been able to accept that realization if I hadn’t returned those flags and then gone to Japan to witness the result. You should see some of the letters I’ve received from Japan that provide testimony to what I’m attempting to say.”
Please click on the images below to open the gallery.
The Tokyo Show
“While I was at the Tokyo show, I was lodged at the Makhuari Prince Hotel, at the time one of Japan’s newest and best. It was within easy walking distance of where the show was to be held. I couldn’t help but think how different things were compared to what they almost had been about a half century earlier.
“As I’ve mentioned, the 31st Infantry Division, in which I served, had been picked as one of four divisions to form the American 8th Army. As I also pointed out, we had been scheduled to land right in the Tokyo Bay area on or about the 1st of March, 1946. You can imagine my feelings, being right in the same area as a guest of the very people we would have had to fight had that invasion taken place. I thanked God then and I thank Him today that it didn’t have to happen.
“My return of the flags was publicized in the Tokyo press. I felt like I was being embraced by the Japanese people throughout my stay. The outdoor show itself was a somewhat formal affair compared to the way similar shows are held in the USA. Show producers and their associates were on a stage up front and a cracking good Japanese military band was seated in front of the stage before the show was opened to the public. I was also on that stage. The Japanese Princess Nobuko was there too and seated behind a big lengthy red ribbon that she was to snip as part of the show opening ceremony. There was still to be a brief period before the public was allowed to enter.
Stan would tell you that he was tremendously pleased with his reception at the Tokyo show.
“Thousands of people attended,” he said. “At one point, I couldn’t even get away for a quick lunch because of the hundreds of autographs I was asked to sign on everything from paper to items of clothing. I found the Japanese youngsters especially clean, polite and much like the youngsters I’ve found wherever my casting exhibitions have taken me. I’ve never felt better emotionally in returning from a show than I did coming back from Japan.”
From the U.S. to the World
“My appearances at various cities in the United States sometimes brought invitations from representatives of other countries similar to the one I’d had from the Japanese. One such invite came from the country of New Zealand. I would eventually be invited to that beautiful country on two separate occasions, each time for a full month.
“Besides giving the first casting exhibition of its kind on the single national New Zealand television channel, I met with outdoor clubs, visited schools and gave a performance at the Agradome in the city of Rotorua on the country’s North Island. That casting show came right after a sheep shearing demonstration. They had to sweep up wool from all over the place before I could do my thing. My audience was almost entirely made up of Japanese tourists.
“Almost every day I spent in New Zealand, if I wasn’t casting I was fishing. They put me with different guides about every four or five days and I wound up getting to fish all over the country on both the lakes and beautiful rivers on both islands. New Zealand is the biggest little country I’ve ever seen. Its beauty is matched by the warmth and gracious attitude of its people. Go there if you can. You’ll soon find this out for yourself.”
New Zealand wasn’t the last of Stan’s international escapades.
Sao Paulo Brazil
“I was casting at the ICAST show in Chicago once when a man approached and invited me to come to the major outdoor show planned for the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. This man was, at the time, a South American rep for several American tackle dealers. His name was John David Bensusan.
“Mr. Bensusan and I eventually became close friends and I was invited to the Sao Paulo show for three years in succession. At first, I didn’t know beans about Sao Paulo. Like most Americans, though, I knew a bit about Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires in Argentina. It didn’t take long to discover the huge city of Sao Paulo is the New York of South America. Nothing much of importance happens in that part of the world without Sao Paulo being involved. It’s also, in at least some respects, a wild and crazy place.
“While I’ll never forget my three trips down there, it’s what happened on the first trip that was really something special. I’d had a call from Sao Paulo before I left asking if would plan to do a TV show while I was there. I said of course. I had done TV bits all over the place at previous casting shows.
“Well, I flew all day to get from Oregon to Miami and then all night to get to from Miami to Sao Paulo. When I landed and finally got through customs my old butt felt like it was about six inches above the sidewalk.
“I finally got to my hotel about 2 p.m. and thought I’d have a beer and then crap out for a couple of hours. Guess again! As soon as I got to my hotel, they told me to clean up and get ready because they were picking me up to take me to the auditorium where the TV show was to take place in less than two hours.
“It was then that I finally learned what the TV show was. It turned out it was the Jose Soares show, often referred to as the David Letterman show of South America. It was taped in the late afternoon before a live audience, and then featured on Brazilian TV in the late evening. I was told it was South America’s most-watched evening show with an audience of many millions.
“They picked me up promptly at 4 p.m. and when I got to the show auditorium they asked if I just wanted to relax in the Green Room or join the audience to see what was going on. I asked to join the audience to see what I was up against.
“I was to find the Soares show was indeed structured just like the Letterman show. The big audience was on tiered seats, there was an orchestra off to one side and Jose Soares, a short and stout Brazilian who spoke five languages, sat at a table out in the center of things and his guests would join him at the table. I sat there and watched as he visited with one of Brazil’s leading male actors, the president of the University of Sao Paulo and one of the country’s leading composers. Then it was time for old Stan the fisherman.
“I went out there packing five rods and feeling like I felt when I’d gone into combat in World War II. Soares soon put me at ease. He had me do several exhibition casts. Then he scurried over to the orchestra and asked the sax player to come down to join him. The sax player had a ponytail and Jose grabbed the end of it and asked if I could cast from where I was, about 30-feet away, and wrap my casting plug around the pony tail. I did as he asked, and my line wrapped securely around the sax player’s pony tail. Then Soares scurried back to me, grabbed my rod and proceeded to “play” the sax player up to where we were so my line could be untangled. The audience loved it! I could tell from the look in the sax player’s eyes that he wasn’t all that thrilled about the experience. I’m convinced he’d much rather have had me stay the hell home in Yankeeland.
“The Sao Paulo Outdoor Show opened the following day. I learned in a hurry just how popular and well watched the Joe Soares Show must have been. I was only booked to do two performances per day. At one stretch between my appearances I signed autographs for three solid hours without a break. And that wasn’t all. Wherever I went in the city for the five days I was there, sooner or later someone would see me, say something in Portuguese that included the name Jose Soares, and then ask me for an autograph. It was Japan all over again. I even had a couple of flight attendants make the same request for autographs on the flight home.”
Humility at Home
“I don’t want to leave the impression that all those years of exhibition casting were accomplished without a hitch here or there. I don’t give a toot who you are or what you do, if it involves you performing a skill that requires an intense degree of hand and eye coordination, sooner or later you’re going to fall flat on that portion of your anatomy due west and slightly south of your bellybutton. When one of these pitfalls takes place on live TV or before a sizeable audience, you’ll wind up with an immediate ego adjustment.
“I had one such adjustment that transpired relatively early in my casting career. I was doing my thing in Portland, Oregon at the time. They had my casting area set up on the second floor of the show. It just happened that there was an attractive blond lady working in one of the booths on the first floor. This blond lady liked to fish. Each time I did my casting show she came up to watch. She eventually started bringing quite a few of her friends along to show them what I could do with a rod and reel. On my last show of the day there was a sizeable crowd on hand and the pretty blond was again there with several her friends. I’d almost finished and was getting ready to wind things up when the blond shouted a request. ‘Stan,’ she called, ‘show us that one where you cast from behind your back again. I just love the way you do that.’
“Now at the countless casting shows I’ve done over the years I’ve always attempted to please everyone in the audience. That includes pretty blonds as well as ugly old men. With my best smile and a flourish or two I held my rod behind my back and grabbed the casting weight and pulled the rod tip down. C-R-A-C-K! It sounded like someone had fired a rifle. My rod had snapped right in the middle. I’m left standing up there with a piece of rod in one hand and the second piece in the other. If there had been a hole in the floor the size of a doughnut, I’d have slithered down through it. I’ve never really trusted pretty blond ladies ever since.
“Then there was the time at an ISE show at the King Dome in Seattle. Whenever I had a chance to do so I’d almost always go to my casting area of whatever show I was doing and spend some time practicing before the doors opened. That’s what I’d done on the day I’m talking about.
“The only target I’d bothered to set up was a small coffee cup that I’d taped to the floor about 30-feet away. I was hammering that cup like you wouldn’t believe. I sensed someone walk up on my left. I paid no attention but just went on casting. I’d smacked that cup at least five times in a row when the guy who was watching spoke up. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘that’s really pretty darn good! Could you hit that target on TV the way you’re doing here?’ ‘Sure,’ I responded, ‘what’s the difference?’
“When I think of what was to happen later that day, I’m reminded of a line that always appears at the bottom of every e-mail message one of my all-time favorite editors sent out. That editor was Heidi Roth, the sweet lady who used to work for Gary Yamamoto’s Inside Line. The message Heidi sent said, ‘Even a fish wouldn’t get caught if it just kept its mouth shut.’ I should have practiced what that message preaches.
“As it turned out, the guy who’d asked me if I could hit a target on live TV was the host of a popular Seattle evening TV show. He’d been prowling around the show looking for something or someone he could use as an opener for that evening’s show. ‘Hit that cup for me once more,’ he asked. I cast and kersmack, I hit that cup dead center. ‘That’s great,’ he said, then pointed out where he wanted me to be at 7:20 p.m. ‘Our show opens at 7:30,’ he said. ‘I’m going to have you hit that cup first thing. As soon as we open, I’ll introduce you and then you hit the cup. Wow! I’m glad I found you. This is just what I was looking for.’
“I knew I’d already said way too much, and it started haunting me just as soon as that guy walked away. But it was too late to back down. I had a good case of the ‘what if I miss its?’ as the day wore on.
“I was where the guy wanted me to be at 7:20 p.m., then here came the cameras and within a couple of minutes a big crowd started to gather just to watch what was about to happen. I’m standing there, rod in hand and eyeballing that cup 30-feet away. It’s getting to look like it’s about the size of a thimble. Then the show opens, the host comes on and right off the bat he starts telling his audience, as well as the watching crowd, what a terrific display of casting accuracy they are about to witness. ‘This guy must have been Marine sniper,’ he exclaims, ‘he just doesn’t miss his targets. He’s one of the world’s best. All right, Mr. Stan, show them what you can do.’
“I cast and I must have missed that bleeping cup by half a foot! I set a new record for cranking my casting weight back and cast again. That second time I did smack the cup but the damage had already been done.”
A Cup of Beer and a Chimp
Stan would tell you, however, that he’d had his good moments along with the bad. He detailed one of them for me.
“I was doing some informal casting practice one day at an ISE show in Sacramento,” he recalled. “The show was open but there was just a scattering of people wandering about. The casting area I was on was unusually long. It was used both for fly as well as bait casting demonstrations and lots of distance was required for the fly-casting back casts. I was casting at a variety of targets I’d set up 30 to 40 feet away when some big guy wearing a 10-gallon hat steps up way down at the end of the casting area. He was carrying one of those king-sized paper containers full of beer.
“The guy watches me cast for a minute or two then thrusts that big beer holder out over the end of the casting area and shouts, ‘Hey, partner, let’s see you hit this.’ Remember now, this guy is at least 75 or maybe even 85 feet away. I wouldn’t bet you a dime I could hit that small a target at that distance once out of 500 times, but I figured what the hell, give it a try.
“I let fly with the 5/8-ounce casting weight I always use for the trick & accuracy parts of my casting shows. That weight arched up and came down with a k-a-s-p-l-o-o-s-h right smack in the middle of the big guy’s cup. As you might imagine, the beer went everywhere, including on the big dude who was holding the cup. I thought I was in big trouble for sure.
“For a heartbeat or two I considered hightailing it the hell out of there. I shouted that I was sorry and that I hadn’t meant to get him wet. Instead of being angry, the big guy wiped the beer off his face and hollered back. ‘It’s ok,” he said, ‘I guess I asked for it. I just didn’t realize how damn good you really were with that thing.’ Neither, my friends, did I!
“As I’ve tried to point out, you’d better be prepared for ego adjustments if you get involved in show business, whether it’s fancy casting or the circus. I was feeling pretty darn good about myself when one of the country’s larger tackle companies invited me to participate in a Chicago show where they would be observing the company’s 50th Anniversary in the tackle business. I was told I was to be one of two performers they were bringing in to perform during the show. I’m thumping my own tub a bit as I think ‘Hey old man, you’ve done pretty well for yourself being one of just two they consider good enough to bring in at this special time.’
“Well, I get to the function, and it turns out the second performer is a 4-year-old chimpanzee named Kirby. He couldn’t cast but when they tied a marshmallow to the end of his line and cast it out for him, he sure as heck could reel it back in and pull the marshmallow off his line and eat it. I enjoyed watching him and the two of us became friends before the show was over.
“That didn’t set too well with his trainer because every time I came by Kirby wanted to come over and give me a hug instead of tending to business. To add insult to injury, where my already-fractured ego was concerned, that little bugger drew twice as many show visitors as I did at our respective performances. We had our picture taken together several times. My late mother-in-law got her hands on one of these photos and always made it point when she showed it to one of her many friends – something she did at every opportunity – that I was the one standing on the right!”
Thoughts and Memories
Although Fagerstrom had been a major supporter of bass fishing for more than 60 years, there were some things that continued to trouble him.
“There are certain aspects of the sport that still bother me today,” he said. “For example, I hate the thought of fishing for bedding bass. If I ran tournaments, the spawning season would be out of play.
“The first few years of bass tournaments there was a huge amount of dead bass,” he said. “You couldn’t ignore it. And here I was promoting bass fishing and tournaments and at the same time expressing concern about the pressure on the resource. I was talking out both sides of my mouth and not enjoying it one damn bit.
Then in ’71, I wrote an article called ‘Tournament with a Twist’ for Bassmaster Magazine. It was published in the January/February 1972 issue. The ‘Twist’’ was about a new concept of tournament fishing being practiced by the Silver Lake Bass Club out of Southwest Washington. I lived right on the shore of Silver Lake at the time.
“In ’71, club members decided to run their tournaments as catch-and-release events. Every fish caught would be weighed, measured (they even tagged them) and released. The concept was a success, and the following year Ray Scott began his catch-and-release tournaments with B.A.S.S. I don’t know if the Silver Lake tournament concept or my story had any effect on Ray’s decision, but from then on, tournaments everywhere generally were more concerned about the release of the fish.
“Even today I think there is room for more protection of the resource. I’d like to see bass weighed and released as soon as they’re caught. Wouldn’t it be adequate if contestants were permitted to bring just their one largest fish to the weigh-in to hold up for the cameras instead of an entire bag full of fish where some aren’t going to survive the experience?
“I started bass fishing at time when we all killed our fish most of the time. There just wasn’t that much fishing pressure. It took a while and having a chance to observe a few early-day tournaments before it dawned on me just how quickly pressure was building on our bass fishing resource. If you’ve ever seen my book Catch More Bass, the first book on bass fishing ever written by a Pacific Northwest author, you know it has far too many pictures of big, dead bass. That book was written in the early 70s. That wouldn’t happen if I was to write a similar book today. I’ve rarely killed a bass for years. I’d actually started to wise up before that book was published but my change in thinking came too late to make any of the desired changes before the book was sent off to the publisher.”
During the interview I also asked Stan what articles he was most proud of that he’d written over his career.
“As for my fishing articles, I’d have to say definitely the many articles I’ve written about casting. Although I’ve written several them over the years, it’s these stories that have brought me a lot of satisfaction. Of the other material I’ve written, though, I’d have to say my poetry has been the most meaningful. If I get deeply emotionally involved, it’s the easiest way to attempt to express myself. A couple of such poems have been widely published around the country.”
Stan Fagerstrom is a legend among bass writers and casters. With a career that spanned more than 60 years he’d seen it all and done it all. His publication list spans well into the thousands, and he’d given hundreds of casting clinics over the years.
“I’m the luckiest guy on earth,” he said. “To have been able to make a living doing something I love and helping others in the process has been an inspiring experience. I’ve been very richly blessed. If you’ve ever watched one of my casting exhibitions you know I always say the same thing at the end. I think it’s appropriate to say it here again now. It’s simply this: The next best thing to fishing is to have a chance to write or talk about it. I thank God and I thank you for giving me that opportunity again here today.”
After reading Stan’s articles for over 30 years, I finally got to meet him in person in October 2012. We met at his home in Sun City, AZ where I would conduct this interview. Knowing him as a prolific writer and caster, I sat eyes wide open as he told me of his life experiences. The one planned day at his home turned into several other visits over time and we became what I consider close friends.
On one of those visits, he took me to his office where he shared several war-time memories with me. His two bronze stars, a cloth combat map of Mindanoa Island, a marked paper map of the Mapia Islands, and his steel-bound war Bible are some examples of things he shared with me.
Stan also shared with me original photographs he’d taken over the years, some that had been published, others that had not. He gave me a signed copy, his last copy, of his book, Catch More Bass, and several other fishing-related items I’ll be sharing over the course of time.
I feel blessed to have been welcomed with open arms into his home and into his life. I will forever be grateful to him for what he’s done. Thank You SGT Fagerstrom for your sacrifice for our country and for teaching us all to be better anglers. We will never forget.
Stan Fagerstrom passed away on June 11, 2019 at the age of 96. He is sorely missed by all of us here at the Bass Fishing Archives.