Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but also is considered a land of innovation.
Case in point: The Northwest Sportshow, in its 83rd year and a marketplace for all things outdoors — an indoors ecosystem of hunting, fishing, travel, boating and camping products, services and seminars. Minnesotans continue to have a prominent place in that ecosystem.
The five-day show, which opens Wednesday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, has exhibits featuring the newest outdoor products. With as many as 500 vendors mainly from across North America, the show called “the longest continuously running sports show in the nation” is a gadget and gear junkie’s utopia. More than 40,000 people are expected to attend.
“We have vendors and exhibitors from as far away as South Africa and several from Minnesota, in and outstate,” said show manager Darren Envall, who grew up in Duluth and now lives in Minneapolis. “After a long winter, people have cabin fever and want to get out and see what’s new.”
Envall says Minnesotans attend the show for different reasons. Some attend for the seminars, to learn some new tricks about fishing or hunting. Others attend to research a potential dream trip. Still others attend to find the next big thing in outdoor gear and accessories.
“When you talk about new products, Minnesotans are as innovative as anyone and have a history of developing some pretty ingenious products,” said Envall, adding that Al and Ron Linder revolutionized walleye fishing in the late 1960s when they invented, and successfully marketed, the Lindy Rig. “You could say Minnesota is the land of innovation.”
Here are some Minnesotans who will have their places at the show:
Five years ago, Curt Cich was bowfishing for rough fish so much that his wife told him he needed to figure out a way to “make a living at this.”
He did. Cich is the owner of Edge Bowfishing in Maple Grove, which offers guided bowfishing trips throughout Minnesota. “Business has exploded,” said Cich, who is also president of the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association. “It has really taken off. I have people chasing me down at gas stations and in parking lots when they see my boat. I had to hire seven other guides to keep up.”
An avid outdoorsman, Cich describes bowfishing as “a combination of hunting and fishing” that appeals to many people. “You don’t have to be experienced with a bow to do it,” he said. “We teach people all the time before they go out.”
As his business has grown, Cich developed a portable, 2-foot-high bowfishing platform that’s adaptable to most watercraft. It’s similar to a casting platform used for fishing. “The platform gives you a great vantage point for bowfishing,” Cich said. “They’re pretty popular.”
Jim Orvis, developer of the Beachroller, grew up in Crosslake, Minn., where spending time at the family lake cabin was a summer rite. “I’ve been on lakes my entire life and one constant is weeds, particularly in swimming areas and in and around boat docks,” he said. “Most people don’t like weeds.”
Instead of buying an “expensive automated device” to get rid of weeds, Orvis developed the Beachroller, a hand-held tool that has six custom-made blades that “cut, rip and pull up weeds and muck.” The 2-foot-long roller comes with a 15-foot handle.
“I wanted something that was inexpensive, easy to use and rolled the lake bottom and cut out the weeds, but only in a few small areas,” he said. “I’m a firm believer there’s a solution for every problem.”
Orvis said he’s invested a lot of money in his business. “I started working on the Beachroller nine years ago and have gone through several prototypes. Like any small start-up, there’s risk involved.”
The Beachroller has been on the retail market for the last six years. “Business has been excellent, knock on wood,” he said. “We’ve doubled our sales in the last three years and hope to do it again this year.”
In some cases, the state regulates aquatic plant removal. Call the Minnesota DNR (888-646-6367) for information.
# Just Encase muskie boxes
Just Encase owner Bob Schmitt of Waconia, Minn., is an idea man. He also likes to fish for muskies.
To eliminate what he called the “hassle factor” of storing and retrieving muskie lures, he developed a line of clear cases. They’re made from polycarbonate and, he said, are more durable than regular plastic tackleboxes.
“They’re virtually unbreakable,” he said. “The biggest challenge with muskie fishing is finding the lure you want to use when you’re on the water. Time is of the essence, especially for muskie fishing. The clear cases allow you to switch out lures a lot faster.”
The cases have ventilation holes to help with water drainage and air circulation, which helps prevent lure rusting. “Muskie lures are expensive, so you want to protect your investment as much as possible,” he said. “The cases also provide UV protection so your lures don’t fade.”
Schmitt also manufactures “casting deck cases” that are made from the same polycarbonate. The cases, Schmitt said, are used for tackle storage and can double as a casting deck.
Schmitt said he does brisk business, that spreads mostly by word of mouth. “I’m getting some great feedback from anglers,” he said. “It’s been busy. It’s just me and a few family volunteers who are helping me make the cases.”
Tori J. McCormick is a freelance outdoors writer living in Prior Lake. Reach him at email@example.com.