Indy sportsman show happy to be back after pandemic hiatus

INDIANAPOLIS — The motto of the 67th annual Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds was appropriately defined for a sprawling, multi-pavilion event covering 750,000 square feet of space.

“Wear comfortable shoes,” event spokesman Todd Jameson said.

That is good advice to anyone who wishes to see all of the 500-plus exhibitors spread across five buildings in booths offering helpful hints, booking access and ideas on every aspect of the outdoors.

The two-section show, which was this past weekend and continues today through Sunday, provides information about hunting, fishing, boating, camping, bicycling, kayaking, canoeing, hiking and just about anything else anyone can think of doing in the woods or on the water.

Still to come, over that last group of days, is the Deer, Turkey and Waterfowl Expo, which includes a lengthy list of experts conducting seminars and a Hoosier Record Book Trophy Deer Display.

Thus far, the enthusiasm has been palpable, tracking a renewed sense people have developed for outdoor activities solo, with groups of friends or with their families in response to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing demands of the disease.

“So many new people discovered the outdoors,” Jameson said.

The Indianapolis show, the largest of its kind in the nation, was a one-year casualty of the pandemic. The event had just concluded in 2020 when the virus began its dominating spread. It could not be held in 2021, but people explored outdoor activities in new and open-minded ways, creating a resurgence of participation across the board.

It was a case of you-name-it, people-did-it. People can and did take family camping trips, journeys into the forest with the family and RV trips absorbing nature.

“Everybody and their mother came out,” said Chris Fouke, who was manning a booth representing Indiana State Park Inns. “No one could do anything else.”

That group is just wrapping up winter special stays in properties but will almost immediately begin offering spring specials. As for summer reservations for campsites and RV parking places, Fouke recommends calling early and often. The weekends fill up rapidly at state parks.

During this show’s first days, Fouke sensed people were glad to have it back in operation and continue to appreciate what Indiana outdoors has to offer.

The sheer scope of the Indy show is impressive, connecting vendors with prospectors for new ideas, new places to go.

Not only might a state group such as the inns be encountered, but the Indiana Department of Natural Resources sets up shop for the duration, making it handy for citizens to renew fishing and hunting licenses onsite.

Youngsters may be enthralled by the sights and sounds. They were not forgotten in the planning. The kids fishing pond allows youngsters to cast for trout for $5, though they are allowed to reel in just one.

Ohio angler Dan Armitage, who will give his presentation again Saturday and Sunday, offered a tutorial for spiking fishing enthusiasm among kids, complete with recommendations.

“Minnows are one of the best baits out there,” Armitage spoke of a simple approach.

In one area in one pavilion, little tykes may be wooed by the opportunity to put on crash helmets and ride dirt bikes with training wheels.

A visitor might run across Roy Garrett, 83, a proselytizer for two-wheel vehicle travel. Garrett is not too old to take a dirt bike out for a spin, and he teaches classes in how to do so.

Garrett grew up in Columbus, lives in Plainfield and raced motorcycles for 25 years.

“I own four dirt bikes,” Garrett said.

He said when he got his learner’s permit at 15½, it allowed for him to ride a scooter on the road.

“That’s what got me into two wheels,” Garrett said.

He wanted to race cars but couldn’t afford it and stuck with his continuing passion. At his age, he is proof anyone can ride.

“We get a good range of everyone,” Garrett said. “I’ve had kids that are 6 years old, and I’ve had 70 years and older take the class.”

Activities of all sorts are included at the show. Who knew there were so many different types of pontoon boats? Never mind such a variety of recreational vehicles, some so plush (and deep into six-figure cost) the owner might not want to ever come outside after driving somewhere.

Fishing outfitters are doing their best to lure anglers to Kentucky Lake in Kentucky, Norris Lake in Tennessee or closer to home for Hoosiers, Patoka Lake in Indiana, all drivable destinations.

It is possible to book a hunting safari to Africa or an outdoor excursion to Alaska under one roof while investigating paddling a kayak or canoe in Indiana or the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Ely, Minnesota. Certainly an airplane will be involved for Africa or Alaska and maybe far northern Minnesota, too.

The Canoe Country company is based closer, in Daleville, offering paddling trips on the White River. It should be noted the river is 362 miles long, and while it runs through Indianapolis, this paddling is through more bucolic settings.

Daleville has about 1,650 people.

“The scenery is a lot better where we are,” said Canoe Country’s Tanner Brubaker. “You’re just out in the country.”

The firm’s motto is an outdoors tease: “Wouldn’t you rather be canoeing than what you’re doing?”

It might be said the entire sportsman’s show makes a similar suggestion.