Each year in early December, the television commercial would appear. A trumpeting elk buck and images of people rushing off to that annual rite of passage known as the International Sportsmen’s Expo, Sacramento. With a very heavy lean towards fishing and hunting pursuits, informed regulars know it as the “hook and bullet” show. Clearly popular, the Cal Expo parking lots are packed each of four days. I have a passion for California and outdoor recreation, but had resisted joining the throngs. I don’t hunt. And while I have enjoyed a few fly-fishing excursions including California’s Lower Owens River and Montana’s Big Horn River, I am hardly the avid angler. In 2013, I was an ISE virgin. My curiosity got the best of me and decided to take the plunge. Years later, no longer a novice, 2024 extravaganza will offer new exploits.
The energy at the show is palpable. Vast exhibit halls and numerous outdoor displays house hundreds of vendors, seminars and demonstrations. Come well-rested, wear comfortable shoes and bring a schwag backpack and your outdoor adventure spirit. I am not squeamish, but am aware there’s plenty of taxidermy and maneuver around some of those exhibitors. My love for the outdoors is more than sated by the wealth of hiking, biking, kayaking, off-roading, camping, boating and (yes) even cooking and food suppliers. Remember, the show is H-U-G-E! Despite the Expo map and exhibitor listings, it can be challenging locating certain vendors or displays. Wandering the aisles and buildings is half the fun, but a plan of attack is highly recommended.
Representatives from some of my favorite California destinations attend the ISE Sacramento. A devotee of the Eastern Sierra, I customarily make a beeline to Mono County Tourism and look forward to time with Visit Bishop. At the California Delta Chambers and Visitors Bureau booth, I’m reminded that many extraordinary adventures are in my own backyard. These folks know all the hidden gems. Lots of people vacation in the same place and never venture anywhere else. The ISE provides new perspectives for birding, photography and wilderness outings. Even for this seasoned traveler, there’s plenty to learn and vendors are eager to answer all questions.
I look forward to connecting with CalOHA (California Outdoor Hospitality Association) who will be back with their just-published free Camp-California guide. CalOHA will teach you to “camp like a pro”- with pets, outdoors like a pro, cook like and campfire like a pro, and learn campground etiquette.
Anyone who wants to go outdoors—first-timer to expert—should attend. For newcomers, the Expo is the perfect trailhead to adventure. Many destinations sportfishing and hunting, but most lodges and resorts offer other activities from boating and watersports, to hiking and other fun things for couples or the entire family. Visitors can research and book trips—in California, around the West, or to Mexico, Canada, Alaska and Africa.
What can you expect to see and do? Half of the several-hundred exhibiting exhibitors spotlight destinations. The other half sells new outdoor gear. This is also the largest sportfishing-boat show in Northern California. There are four sit-down areas: Adventure (hunting) and Fishing theaters, a giant bass-filled Demo Tank, and a Sporting-Dog Arena—all with free hourly seminars. Three retailers have set up large stores: Fisherman’s Warehouse, Fly Fishing Specialties, and Turner’s Outdoorsman. California Department of Fish & Wildlife has indoor and outdoor displays, where folks can talk face-to-face about anything and everything outdoors in the state. And kids can climb a rock wall, catch and release a trout, tie a fly, try archery, learn shooting safety, race in a Pinewood Derby, build robots, and play a variety of games!
Yes, it's true. At the International Sportsmen’s Exposition, I’ll run out of time before I run out of fun. My favorite Costa sunglasses are an ISE regular. I’ll drool over dozens of kayaks and recreational vehicles. I’ll be tempted to plan another Alaska or maybe a houseboat vacation. The possibilities are endless.
Check the schedules, arrive early, and stay all day! For more information: www.sportsexpos.com/attend/sacramento
Originally published in Mountain Democrat.