It was the summer of 1967 when my father Karl Wickstrom took my brothers Drew, Blair and me on our very first fishing trip. We were off Mexico Beach, Florida, in a jon boat with a tiller outboard and one fishing rod. Action was non-stop, and each time Dad reeled in a fish, he would alternate saying that one of us had caught that fish.
That was the day we all caught the fishing bug. The next day, Dad bought us all Zebco 202s. We spent the rest of that vacation catching fish—actually catching our own fish.
Upon returning to Miami, we began fishing together often. At Dinner Key Marina on Saturday, we’d rent a 16-foot tri-hull and catch mackerel, trout, jacks and snook. I remember it was like shooting fish in a barrel in those days.
An investigative journalist and publisher by trade, Dad began reading all the fishing reports and literature he could get his hands on. Not finding a magazine dedicated to fishing in Florida, he decided to start one. It was a perfect fit considering he already had an office, a staff, and one magazine in production. Karl had begun publishing National Airlines’ inflight magazine, Aloft, in 1968.
In the summer of 1969, Karl launched Florida & Tropic Sportsman with the help and consultation of good friend and Miami Herald Fishing Editor Vic Dunaway.
Bill Hallstrom was recruited over from his post as a fishing writer at The Herald to be the executive editor. The rest of the new staff took over positions at both F&TS and Aloft. My mother, Pat Pinkerton, was the copy editor and proofreader. Girard DeWitt was art director, Robert Mitchell advertising director and Jane Oberholzer, office manager, production manager and everything-else manager. The office was a simple suite in a building on Red Road near Sunset Drive, mostly full of dentists. The smell of fluoride, not ink, was the first thing you would notice upon entering the building.
To supply authentic, credible articles and images for the bimonthly magazine, Karl decided to place most of the workload on local Florida freelance writers and photographers. From the beginning he decided this was going to be a how-to magazine, and not a glorified tourism piece full of fancy destinations, perfect weather and articles about celebrities fishing on big yachts.
The first issue, which was mostly a prototype to see if the concept would float, proved extremely popular. Subscription payments of $4.95 began rolling in; newsstand sales, too, at 50 cents a copy.
By the time the second issue came out in December 1969, the office was relocated to a much bigger space on Ponce De Leon Blvd next to the Lincoln Mercury dealer. Theodore Baker came on as the new art director. Faith Spencer was brought in as a production assistant and F&TS was off to the races. As a teen I started my first job then, too, stuffing renewal notices in envelopes and licking all the stamps a couple nights here and there.
With the December 1970 issue, the staff had determined that the main direction of coverage was going to be for the Sunshine State, so to make the name more specific, Tropic was dropped and the more-familiar Florida Sportsman arrived. The next major milestone was in February 1978 when FS went from six issues a year to 12.
In 1999, Blair Wickstrom took over the publisher’s role, while Karl continued his longstanding advocacy and conservation work as editor-in-chief. These were major times of growth for the print magazine as well as the expansion of new media to the mix. The Florida Sportsman Fishing and Boat Shows (now Expos) and FS Live Radio were launched in the early ’90s, and on online presence and website went live in 1995. Florida Sportsman TV and a related series, Shallow Water Angler, began broadcasting in 2004.
The turn of the century was also notable for Wickstrom Publishers being acquired by Primedia, Inc, a large publishing conglomerate with national resources and oversight. However, the sale was contingent on the local staff and management continuing to operate the magazine and associated businesses.
Since then, there have been two other ownership changes: Intermedia Outdoors acquired FS in 2007, and the current owner, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (Outdoor Sportsman Group), bought FS in 2014.
Through the decades, many fine people, both fulltime and freelance employees, have worked for FS, some for as many as 30 or 40 years. No history of the publication would be complete without mentioning some of them.
FS Outdoors Team
As an award-winning investigative reporter for the Miami Herald during the 1960s, Karl Wickstrom took on crime and corruption. As a legislative aide in Tallahassee, he helped draft law-enforcement reform legislation. That same mentality and zeal served him well when he decided to challenge the status quo to improve the lot of fishermen in the state of Florida.
Wickstrom quickly established a following for his conservation work through his Openers column. Between his column and the regular On the Conservation Front department in the magazine, Florida Sportsman never stopped fighting for Florida’s anglers.
“No one has any ‘right’ to take our commonly owned or managed wild animals in great quantities while the next man on the beach is limited to a single fish or two,” Wickstrom reasoned.
Florida Sportsman led the efforts in achieving gamefish status for redfish, the push for fishing licenses, for merging marine water management with the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, a ban of fish traps, and probably the most notable effort, a three year effort, which culminated in 1994 with a ban of gill and entanglement nets in state waters via a constitutional amendment.
But what kept record-setting renewal rates among subscribers for decades was a direct result of quality writing, photography and award-winning layouts.
“Our goal is to make every outdoorsman’s moments in the sun more enjoyable—and more productive,” said Karl Wickstrom early on.
That mindset is still followed today by editor Jeff Weakley and his very capable Outdoors Team.
Entering our 50th year, the Florida Sportsman editorial team consists of experts in all sorts of outdoors subjects: George LaBonte, Boating Editor; Rick Ryals, Projects Editor; Mike Conner, Conservation Editor; Carolee Boyles (hunting); David Brown (bass fishing, saltwater fishing); Corky Decker (offshore fishing); Grant Gilmore (ecology); Peter Hinck (kayak fishing); Willie Howard (offshore); Doug Kelly (travel); Tom Levine (humor and freshwater); Tim Lewis (bowhunting); David McGrath (Gulf Coast); Frank Sargeant (fishing, hunting); Peter Slis (surf and fresh water); and Eric Wickstrom (photography, magazine history).
Regional where-to, how-to expertise is brought to the magazine each month by the 11 Field Editors, many of whom have spent 20 or more years writing for FS. Today’s regional team consists of Pepe Gonzalez (Keys), Alan Sherman (South), Steve Dall (10,000 Islands), Brenton Roberts (Southeast), Ralph Allen (Southwest), Bill Sargent (East Central), Ray Markham (West Central), Tommy Thompson (Big Bend), William Greer (Northwest), Chaz Heller (Panhandle), Brett Fitzgerald (Tropics).
Some notable contributing and field editors of the past include Lefty Kreh, Bob Stearns, Charles F. Waterman, Jim Martenhoff, Al Pflueger, Herb Allen, Don Mann, Timothy O’Keefe, Chico Fernandez, Dan Dunaway, Bill Miller, Red Marston, Jim Hardie, Bob McNally, Robin Smillie, Bernie Schultz, Chris Christian, Mark Weintz, Rick Farren and Larry Kinder.
But, nothing gets printed until the staff editors put the final touches to it. And from the beginning in 1969, Executive Editor Bill Hallstrom took charge of the editorial office duties which included assigning work, collecting it, editing it and paying for it. He also wrote his popular monthly column “In the Current.”
In 1978, when FS became a monthly magazine, Bill left and Vic Dunaway, already “Editor,” took over the office duties. “At 50 years old it’s the first time I’ve ever had a regular job with regular hours in my life,” he reportedly commented. Vic also started a new column, “Waterfront View,” which instantly became a favorite. “I started out doing half news columns and half humor,” Vic once said, “but the humor was so popular, I eventually went with all humor.”
As FS rolled into the 1980s, the magazine was hitting its peak. Issues were regularly 200 pages, even as much as 250. To keep up with demand for “must-read” where-to and how-to content, Biff Lampton and Glenn Law were brought in as Associate Editor and Assistant Editor. A proofreading specialist, Bryan Henry, also was employed for a time. With a full team of editors, quality was synonymous with quantity.
One of the more tragic events in FS history was when Biff and his 16-year-old son Derek were killed in an automobile accident while returning from a spring turkey hunting trip in 1995.
By that time, Vic had semi-retired back to “the field,” so FS hired a recent Stetson University graduate, Jeff Weakley, as editorial assistant under Glenn Law (promoted to editor) and Doug Kelly (managing editor). Weakley continues to work for FS, today as editor in chief. Other in-house staff editors from recent years have included Mike Conner (currently Conservation Editor and Expo co-director), Mike Holliday, Frank Bolin, Jerry McBride, David Conway, Joe Richard, Sam Hudson, Terry Gibson, Dave East, and Brenton Roberts (current).
If you’re an outdoorsman in Florida, meaning you enjoy time on the water or in the woods, odds are you’ve bought more gear than you probably need. “It’s what we do,” said Vic one time when opining about some of the silly products that came across his desk. But not so silly are the products that really do help outdoorsmen in the state, and many of you found them via ads in Florida Sportsman. And fortunately, FS had Bob Mitchell as Advertising Director from day one. Mitchell’s tenacity and organizational skills fueled the pages that kept FS in motion, all the way until his full retirement in 2016. Mitchell was also the de-facto staff IT guy who cobbled together a bunch of computers in the early ’80s for the editorial and advertising departments.
For over twenty years Florida Sportsman led all other fishing and outdoor related magazines in the total number of advertising pages run in a year. The reason that’s pertinent to you as a reader is that the number of ad pages dictates the number of editorial pages.
Rob Killgore joined the sales staff in 1978. Killgore once said he never worked a day in his life; living to talk to boat builders, rod manufacturers and other industry folks, he connected readers to these companies for 28 years. Charlie Buchmayr called on similar accounts in the northeast for 20 years.
Blair Wickstrom began handling accounts in North Florida in 1985 while working out of St. Petersburg, until moving to Miami and the main office in 1998. That’s when Rick Ryals, the FS Radio Director at the time, took over reins for the North Florida territory. Jim Langone came on board, at first to sell primarily online, but soon selling the entire suite of FS media. In recent years, Trey Wheeler and Rhett Nelson have been added to the sales team. In addition to the ad sellers here in Florida, much of the national non-endemic business has been done by team members in NY, California and several points in between.
Great edit spreads and fancy double-truck ads go nowhere without the production department. Generally, over our 50-year run, that responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of a single person. It’s not exactly herding cats, but meeting monthly deadlines with hundreds of ads and upwards of twenty features and departments has led to a few salty words directed towards the ad and edit departments.
Martha May was the first to take on the task full time, followed in later years by Cathy Nicholson, and now Jean McElroy. McElroy, in classic FS fashion, is a multi-tasker who contributes proof-reading skills in the editorial department and often takes a lead role in organizing special events.
Once the ads are sold and the stories written, it’s time to bring the pieces to life. And no one has done it better than the art directors of Florida Sportsman. After the inaugural FS issue, Theodore “Ted” Baker moved in as Art Director. In fact, Ted painted artwork for every cover from 1970 to 1976.
When Ted began, text was manually typed on an IBM Selectric Typewriter, cut up and glued on layout pages with smelly rubber cement. Headlines were composed on a stat camera the size of a Smart Car. In 1975, Janis Soffin joined FS as a full-time typesetter on a fairly modern typesetting machine, and this style of page layout and production was used all the way up until 1999.
After Ted retired in 2002, Karen Miller and Ron Romano both held the art director position until Drew Wickstrom came back to FS fulltime as Creative Director in 2005. As an avid angler and former art department staffer, Drew brought a new perspective to the art department.
He not only knew what images made the best layouts, he personally shot countless covers and magazine spreads. As in the past, the Art Director does more than lay out the monthly magazines; this person is responsible for creative control of the Florida Sportsman brand, work that includes logo designs as well as creating the many books and other products sold.
The circulation department handles newsstand sales and subscription fulfillment. In the early days, circulation was simple and local, and our loyal do-everything staffer Jane Oberholzer managed small lists of names and supervised labels being stuck on each copy for the mail. Over subsequent years the department was run by Deborah Derringer, Margie Betts, Liz Elias, Glenn Law, and Todd Richter. I took my turn, too.
But, for the last 20 years, FS circulation has been a centralized service overseen by several people with specific roles, with Peter Watt, VP Consumer Marketing, leading up the team for going on two decades.
In 2005, Florida Sportsman brought in Paul Farnsworth to bring the pages of Florida Sportsman to life via television. Paul’s background with television production was with ESPN and the Golf Network, not exactly ideal for someone expected to create our first TV show. But, he could tell a story, and brought an entirely new look and feel to fishing shows, the off camera interview style, that’s replicated in fishing shows across all networks now. Editors Jeff Weakley, Mike Conner, Terry Gibson, David Conway and Publisher Blair Wickstrom hosted the Florida Sportsman and Shallow Water Angler TV from 2005 to 2012. In 2012, we took a web only show which featured fishing trips with Forum members from the computer to the big screen with Capt. George Gozdz and Reel Time Florida Sportsman which aired for seven seasons. Cavin Brothers, who started with Florida Sportsman as an online intern, ended up producing all seven seasons of RTFS. And then in 2019, we made a change to a new show with a water advocacy theme called Florida Sportsman Watermen hosted by Benny Blanco and produced by Dan Diez.
In addition to a fishing television show, Florida Sportsman has two boating related fishing shows. Florida Sportsman Best Boat debuted in 2013 with Boating Editor Dave East as the host of the show. Rick Ryals joined Dave as a co-host in season two. Currently Boating Editor George LaBonte, Rick Ryals and Lori Hargrave host the show in 2019 going into its seventh season. FSBB is produced by two more former online interns with Florida Sportsman, Chris Collins and Scott Sanders through their company Deep See Visuals.
The second boating related show, Florida Sportsman Project Dreamboat, currently in its fourth season launched in 2016. The premise of the show follows the very popular magazine column, One Man’s Dreamboat, where we follow the builds and projects of angler’s outfitting, or in some cases building, their boat of their “dreams.” The TV show has been just as popular as the magazine feature.
The first three seasons were shot out of Marine Customs Unlimited, but in season four expanded to four different shops.
Chris and Scott, through Deep See Visuals shoot and produce this show as well.
FS editor Doug Kelly and others at the magazine brainstormed an idea of hosting a consumer show as a fundraiser at the Miami Fairgrounds to raise money for the Ban The Nets campaign and the Florida Sportsman Fishing Show was born. In the fall of 1993 and again in spring 1994 the Fairgrounds gates opened and several thousand paying attendees flooded in to see the latest and greatest gear and boats and meet the Florida Sportsman staff and other area experts. For most anglers, the best part of the Show was hundreds of retail booths filled with the latest and greatest fishing gear as well as a fleet of new fishing boats of all sizes packed into the fairgrounds Expo Hall.
Then in November ‘94 when the net-limitation initiative passed by a 72% margin the Fishing Show looked like it was going away, a rare victim of success. That’s when prominent net ban volunteer, writer and photographer Robin Smillie, of Stuart, was hired as the new director of the Florida Sportsman Fishing Show.
“Those were exciting times,” said Smillie. “That first year—1995—we did four shows starting in Fort Myers, then Jacksonville, West Palm Beach and Miami. I remember standing in the rain at the entrance to the parking lot of the very first show in Fort Myers, looking down the highway wondering if anyone would come. Finally the left turn signal of a car filled with a family blinked on and I did an audible fist-pump, ‘Yessss!’ The parking lot soon filled and even overflowed as over 6,000 anglers and their families came to that first show. We were off and running.”
The Fishing Shows had hourly saltwater fishing seminars on two stages, Offshore and Inshore. Attendees chatted with Florida Sportsman editors and other fishing experts, sat in on hands-on bait-rigging and knot-tying lessons at the Offshore and Inshore Riggin’ it Right Academies, learned to throw a castnet in the castnet pit and learned flycasting from expert casters at the 60-foot Flycasting Pond. Shore anglers sat in on Angler on Foot seminars to learn about fishing on beaches, bridges, and piers, and kayak fishermen learned from experts at the Kayak Stage. “Kids had lots to do, too,” Smillie recalled. “At the kids casting pond, everyone was a winner of a tackle pack and the best casters won rod and reel combos. The FWC stocked a couple hundred catfish into the pond in front and hosted a fishing tournament.”
Later shows were added in Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee, Space Coast, Panhandle, Sarasota and even Mobile, Alabama. Robin Smillie managed 102 shows until 2006 when he retired, and Denise Oyler, Show Manager for several years, took the helm. Currently, Conservation Editor Mike Conner and his wife Michelle run the Expos with team members who have helped for years, such as Mo Argenziano, Doug Martin, Dan McCarthy, Rick Ryals, Ray Markham and several others.
Online & Social
In 1995, I was tasked with creating a web site for FS. At the time our office was full of 17-inch amber screened DOS/ASCII computers, no e-mail, no Internet. I picked out my first Windows computer, with 3.1 OS, and bought a copy of Websites for Dummies. In the last 25 years, after several site updates, with another one about to launch, it’s clear to say we’ve come a long way.
In 1998 people were amazed with people’s desire to share so much information about their catches via the Florida Sportsman Forum. In what today seems second nature via Instagram and Facebook wasn’t the case prior to 2000, you just didn’t see people posting fishing reports before even washing the boat or cleaning the catch, these posts were a true phenomenon in the early days of the FS Forum.
A lot of magazines tried to follow the success of the FS Forum, but early on staying true to the community is what made the Forum special. Not just for members but for the Admin and Moderators. Ken Whitley “Griz” was and is the steady force behind the community. Ken has personally approved over 100,000 members. A true feat in itself. Other long term Admin and leaders have been: Rich Ruggieri “Triple Threat”, Mark Wilson “Docked Wages” and Dave Arm “Nuevowavo”. Other moderators that have been impactful over the years include Dave Gill “kajo”, Gary Colecchio, Paul Bauman “DEEP”, Billy Goodson “Mullet”, Jack Hexter “Jack Hexter”, James Rigby “james14”, Larry Witkowski “larrywitt”, Long Nguyen “fish2nguyen”, Louice Bredice “capt louie”, Robert Gsegner “ferris1248” and Tim Fletcher “Fletch”. We’ve had others too over the years.
It’s been a great community, it was responsible for countless people meeting and fishing and enjoying the outdoors. The community lives on, not generating 10 million page views a month any longer, but still the place to go to find a friend to fish with.
Now, much like the Forum was in its infancy other social media platforms have become the place to post photos and catch reports. Facebook seems to be the choice of the older socially engaged and Instagramlooks to be the choice of the younger anglers and hunters. And Florida Sportsman is working to keep up with the developing technologies. In today’s world, even twenty miles from a paved road in the woods or ten miles off the coast, outdoorsman stay connected and are taking video and photos more than ever. And they expect to see a steady stream of fresh, interesting and compelling content. And Florida Sportsman is working daily to give you what you’re looking for, fresh catches from all points of Florida.
It was Saturday April 6, 1996 and Florida’s fishermen were about to get the ‘word from the water’ in a whole new way. Instead of waiting for their local newspaper to bring them last week’s fishing report, fishermen every Saturday morning, in the six markets across Florida, were going to get intel directly from the boats already on the action. Florida Sportsman Live Radio was an instant hit.
In Jacksonville, Capts. Rick Ryals and Kevin Faver hit the airwaves on Sports Radio 930 bright and early and immediately started getting reports from the partyboat Miss Mayport about what the ocean conditions were like, where the bait was holding, and what was biting. In Orlando, John Cave and Al Bernetti were dialed in on both the freshwater areas around Orlando, as well as over on the east central coasts. From Palm Beach, Capts. Eden White and George Labonte broadcast the offshore news on ESPN 1410, and in Miami, George Mitchell and Doug Kelly were blasting all the way to Islamorada. In Tampa Bay, Capts. Gary Folden and Dave Mistretta went live, and in the Panhandle, Walt Kostevicki, and Ed Fish were talking everything fishing on WEBY. April 6, 1996 was the first day Florida’s fishermen could tune in their favorite sports radio station on their way to a Saturday fishing trip anywhere in Florida, and find out what conditions they were going to face, before they ever launched their boat.
Many stations celebrated their 500th show anniversary, but the great recession in 2009 shrunk the network to three. As of the summer of 2019, with the launch of Florida Sportsman’s Action Spotter Podcast, which Rick Ryals is hosting, Jacksonville remains the only radio station airing Florida Sportsman Live radio.
FS began to expand beyond the print magazine, introducing numerous products such as fishing charts which Vic Dunaway and Al Pfluegor introduced in the late 70’s and then were expanded to the entire state in 2000. Books came shortly after when Dunaway introduced the most comprehensive tackle, knots and rigging book with Bait, Rigs & Tackle. A best-seller which has since sold more than a million copies in four editions, 20 reprints and three complete redesigns. The most recent revision FS Project Editor Rick Ryals brought in the latest rigs and tackle.
In 1993, David Blackwell was brought in as a full-time FS Product salesman. While I was designing new products, David was beating the streets, the phones and the copy machine. Within three years we tripled sales to over $500,000 per year.
And books were the driver, other very popular books were the five-part Sport Fish book series, illustrated by Kevin Brandt and written by Vic Dunaway. The most popular, not surprisingly was the Sport Fish of Florida, but the other four were in demand for years. Still are. The next book series that still is in demand today is the Sportsman’s Best series, which included: Snapper & Grouper, Inshore Fishing, Sailfish, Offshore Fishing, Redfish, Kayak Fishing, Sight Fishing, Snook, Trout Dolphin, Surf Fishing and Boats. We look to have these continue as eBooks into the future.
Another product that has been in demand and very popular for decades has been the Florida Sportsman Lawstick, both the folding lawstick and the milar boat sticker. Way cheaper than taking your lawyer fishing with you.
Other products consisted of shirts, hats, calendars, Fishing Planners, DVD’s and a few other items.
And speaking of Florida Sportsman apparel we have a new lineup of shirts, hats, hoodies and sweatshirts launching fall of 2019.
In the FS office, as with any office, a good office manager is key. As mentioned already, Jane Oberholzer was just that. Later, there were expanded positions in the administrative staff including Robert Nicholson, Diane Lambert and Diana Matthews. Among other valued members of the FS front desk alumni: Patti Gibson, Jeffrey Schramm, Heylen Bicelis, Jennie Glassgold and Gail Jaworski.
It’s hard to believe, 50 years in a blink of an eye, what was started as a simple way to help people enjoy Florida’s outdoors has grown to be much more, and because of you, the reader, it continues to be so. Thanks to all of the Florida Sportsman family, staff, contributors and readers for making Florida Sportsman truly special.