Not so wacky as you might think is the belief, widely held, that the Northwest Sportshow, opening Thursday, represents a seasonal tipping point in Minnesota. That the show is only four days this year because of convention-hall scheduling conflicts makes it no less so.
Even some Minnesotans don't understand that the fishing opener marks the beginning of summer, and that the first cool days of August suggest autumn soon upon us.
Similarly, the Sportshow signals the coming of spring. And the fact that it is primarily a gathering of commercial interests -- some exhibitors want to sell you a boat, others a fishing or hunting trip -- makes it no less so a feast of anticipation for Minnesotans, scheduled on winter's shank and spring's cusp.
When I was a kid in North Dakota, my dad traveled far and long to bring my brother and me to the Sportshow, then held in the old Minneapolis Auditorium. We didn't attend to gather hunting ideas; come fall, we had as much hunting as we could handle in the fields around Rugby. Nor, specifically, was it the fishing that attracted us, though certainly by dint of our location our access to good angling was limited.
Instead we traveled to the show for the inspiration that so often accompanies being with others of common interests and similar dreams. In that respect, for us the show was akin to religion: It held out hope of better things to come.
Critical for my brother and me at the show was to get our hands on a bagful of brochures. One might ballyhoo the brook trout fishing on God's River, Manitoba, another the walleyes of Lake of the Woods. Into long nights well after we'd arrived home these publications littered our bedsides, tantalizing us with possibilities, sparking our imaginations.
Because the show this year is only four days long it requires a sort of scheduling premeditation that wasn't needed long ago, when you had 10 days to take in the show. Ten days! There was a stage show then also, when the outdoor hotshots of yesteryear would dazzle leg-weary crowds with retrieving dogs, wild turkeys and casting demonstrations.
For a lot of reasons, I wish my dad would have lived longer than he did, among them so I could gain from him now his perspective on our trips to the Sportshow long ago. He didn't have a lot of money, and among reasons he bee-lined for Minneapolis in March each year was to swap company cars; to trade in a year-old model for a new one.
Dad preferred when a Chevy awaited him here in the Twin Cities, and was surprised in the manner of a jilted lover one year when instead he was awarded a Dodge with a push-button transmission. You would have thought he was asked to drive a space ship. "Push button transmission!'' he snorted as we climbed in, transferring our stuff to his new wheels and angling the big-finned bucket of bolts toward the Minneapolis Auditorium and its Sportshow.
Of course today the show is much fancier. The Minneapolis Convention Center is bright and gargantuan, and its floors carpeted. And all of the equipment displayed today is better than it was when I was a kid. This includes fishing reels, rods, and of course lures, many of which are fine-tuned in ways otherwise known only to physicists. Also it's probably true that as a group, hunters' and anglers' expectations are higher today than in the past, partly because we're all more mobile. Where there are birds, we hunt them. Ditto, fish, very few of whom -- no matter their relative isolation-- have not heard the whine of an outboard motor or seen above them the floats of Cessnas or DeHavilands toting arriving anglers and with them their keen anticipations.
Another difference today is that many anglers and hunters come to the Sportshow bearing high levels of expertise. Beginning with the efforts of Al and Ron Lindner in Brainerd in the 1960s, after Al returned from Vietnam, the education of today's sportsmen and women has become a very big business indeed. Turns out, Mom and Dad were right: Schooling matters.
And nowadays at the Sportshow, as at similar shows nationwide, seminars featuring everything from turkey calling to muskie fishing draw visitors who flat-out want to get better at what they do in the field.
The media, TV in particular, also have played big roles in development of the far more expansive mindset common now to many sporting types. Attesting to this, I was talking to a guy recently, jawboning about the financial difficulties nowadays of newspapering, and he said, "To me, Saturday mornings are for brewing a couple of coffee, grabbing the newspaper and sitting down in front of the TV, watching fishing shows.''
Absent the coffee, and sometimes the paper, that pretty much describes my kids. They know stuff about fishing and about places to fish that I couldn't even imagine as a kid. All from TV. Consequently, when they walk into the Sportshow later this week, they'll be well familiar with the big northerns available to fly anglers on Reindeer Lake, Saskatchewan, also the walleyes of Rainy Lake and the smallmouth bass of the Mississippi River and Lake Mille Lacs. These are their "home waters'' because they've seen them fished so often on TV.
The point of all this meandering is that while I'd still like a couple of days on the ice this month on Lake of the Woods, I'm pretty much done with winter.
I want the boat on its trailer and the trailer hooked to the truck. I want blue water and bluer skies and the kiss of southerly breezes.
Such are my anticipations, cultivated initially years ago during long rides to Minneapolis from North Dakota, my dad at the wheel of a Chevy or a Dodge, one set of wheels about to be traded for another, and a visit to the Sportshow soon delivered, as promised.
Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.