On Sundays, it was The American Sportsman with Curt Gowdy. Now, I grew up watching The American Sportsman--the original American Sportsman. When they started to do the ballooning and rock climbing stuff, I was out of there.
I remember a former Outdoor Life editor telling me one day: “Son, you’re 25 years old and that’s way too young to reminisce.” He was right then, but that was more years ago than I’d like to remember. While fishing one of my favorite ponds the other day, I got to thinking about how I fished this exact place when I was a kid–and the things I miss about those days. What’s baseball got to do with fishing? Everything. Way back when, finding a ballgame to listen to on the transistor radio–even in the afternoon–was easy. That’s when the All-Star game actually began around 6 in the evening and kids could listen or watch the entire mid-summer classic. I still hate Pete Rose for ruining a great day of bass fishing when he ruined Ray Fosse’s career back in 1970 with this play at the plate.
I read Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton’s controversial tell-all book, Ball Four, that same summer and the kid who used to spend each summer day between fishing trips writing every major league team trying to get free team and player photos, suddenly didn’t care so quite as much about that.
Before the Bass Pro Shops catalog, there was Sears and when they introduced their line of Gamefisher boats (promoted heavily by Ted Williams), well I just knew that I had to have one. I never got one, of course, but their two center storage wells were just the most awesome thing on the planet.
Shakespeare’s Wondertroll trolling motors were perfect for our little 12-foot aluminum cartopper and small pond–and it was, too. I forget how many junkyards I visited to get old car batteries that would hold their charge, but that little motor helped us catch more largemouths than anyone has a right to catch in a lifetime. Incredibly, the motor still works superbly well–especially with those new-fangled, deep-cycle batteries.
In the late-60s and through the ’70s, Burke Fishing Lures was likely the biggest name in soft-plastic baits. Their real-looking nightcrawlers even smelled like dirt. When they introduced their line of Flex Plugs (as I recall their were three in all: Bassassin, Pop Top and Top Dog), I was hooked. I picked up two Bassassins–a white and a black–and went to town. Whether their real-life feel made fish hit harder and hang on longer (their claim), I’m not sure. I do know that they worked great.
Remember hook bonnets? You can still find them in various fishing catalogs, but it doesn’t seem like anyone uses them anymore. My favorite pursuit is to try and catch a fish with the bonnets in place. Their bright colors brought lots of strikes, but I don’t think I ever achieved that goal.
Delong Kil-R worms were the hands-down the best soft-plastic worms we ever used. Hook rigs were molded directly into the plastic and each was impregnated with anise scent. Perhaps the forerunner of the ‘do-nothing’ lineup of worms, Delong is still around and making lures.
Heddon was also one of the biggest names in lure manufacturing. Whereas the Lucky 13, River Runt and Tadpolly might have been the most popular, I loved to fish the Tiny Crazy Crawler and the Heddon Hi-Tail. The Hi-Tail was a bizarre little whale reproduction that had a swimming action that seemed to infuriate bass into striking.
In terms of fishing reels, I was partial to Garcia Mitchell and although my brother was adamant about the virtues of the 410, I was partial to the 440 and its first of its kind automatic bail. To cast, just touch the bail and throw–no more having to touch the line.
Automatic fly reels hit the market with much fanfare in the ’70s and proved to be as popular as the Edsel. My cousin owned a Sears model whereas my older brother went for the Garcia Mitchell 710. Still not really sure if there are any virtues to having an automatic fly reel, but it did have a certain “coolness” factor back then.
Could there be anything more awesome than a homemade minnow trap? To make them, we used large Hellmann’s mayonnaise jars with a cone-shaped plastic coffee cup taped to the top. We’d bait it with bread or salmon eggs, tie a rope to it and let it sit overnight. By the next day, it was usually full of newts or baby sunfish–both of which we used as bait.
Don’t quite know how many metal clipped stringers we’d go through during the course of a fishing season, but it was a bunch. Nowadays, if you came back to the boat landing holding a stringer of fish like this, you’d be ostracized.
Does anyone remember Gadabout Gaddis–The Flying Fisherman? Long before the days of The Outdoor Channel, there was Gadabout who, each week, would hop on a plane and fish some far off destination. Shows typically aired in mid-winter just before some ski flying competition on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Or maybe it was before the World Wrist Wrestling Championships from Petaluma, California.
On Sundays, it was The American Sportsman with Curt Gowdy. Now, I grew up watching The American Sportsman–the original American Sportsman. When they started to do the ballooning and rock climbing stuff, I was out of there.

The days before braided fishing line and Gulp! were filled with the innocence of youth. Here’s a look back at fishing as it used to be.