August 2, 2009 by David A. Brown
PITTSBURGH - With the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup recently completed, Greg Hackney and Brad Roberts may have won their respective pro and co-angler titles, but there was another group of winners - the throngs of fishing fans who visited the FLW Family Fun Zone at the David Lawrence Convention Center. The free event, held daily throughout the four-day tournament, featured games and activities, product displays, lots of giveaways, and opportunities to meet and talk with the top anglers of FLW Outdoors. A veritable sensory feast of family-friendly entertainment, the Fun Zone provided a strategic link between Pittsburgh's hardcore fishing fans, who wouldn't miss a moment of weigh-in action, and those of casual interest. Venue logistics necessitated holding the Fun Zone at the convention center while the weigh-ins took place about a mile away at the Mellon Arena. City tour buses shuttled visitors between the two - perhaps subtly reinforcing the Fun Zone theme of connection. BP pro Ray Scheide, who won the 2009 FLW Tour event on Arkansas' Beaver Lake, noted that unlike most other professional sports, FLW pros are readily accessible to fans: "That's how we're different from, say, NASCAR. You can come out and talk to (FLW pros), whereas you can't just walk up to Jeff Gordon every day. "That's what makes bass fishing and the Fun Zone special - you can interact with us one on one. We're really approachable." FLW Director of Operations Mark Dorn said: "We try to keep everything really open because that's what drives the sport and gets kids interested. We've always been a no-barriers type company, where we keep open access as much as we can." Fishing, fun and freebies Along with the Forrest Wood Cup, FLW hosts Family Fun Zones in conjunction with its Walmart FLW Tour and Walmart FLW Series events. Local vendors vary by location, but visitors can count on a fantastic lineup of FLW sponsor exhibits with plenty of interactive and educational elements. Sponsor teams are on hand to autograph their trading cards, T-shirts and hats while passing out lots of sponsor-logo items such as Frisbees, pens, key chains, tote bags and fishing bobbers. The Evinrude folks brought clappers and Light Up Bam Bams - inflatable tubes for showing the fishing spirit at FLW weigh-ins. Snack samples are plentiful at the Fun Zone - from bite-size candy bars to Land O'Lakes cheese. At the Pittsburgh event, Cabela's fried up samples of Atlantic cod, seasoned in Cajun and lemon pepper fish fry, from the company's line of outdoor cooking products. The National Guard had a strong presence at the Pittsburgh Fun Zone with a pedal-car course, paintball simulator, a rock wall, an elevated-ropes course, bean-bag toss, and live music by local acts and the National Guard band. The most popular National Guard activity was the wave simulator - essentially the surfing equivalent of a mechanical bull ride. The National Guard NASCAR vehicle and a Humvee enhanced the attraction. The Snickers moonwalk/slide was a big hit with the kids and the coloring tables, bounce houses and arcade-style basketball hoops at the FLW Coloring Corner kept the younger ones busy. At the Goodwill booth, young anglers used rods with magnets on their lines to "catch" objects in a small pool and win a handful of candy. Kids even had the chance to tug on live fish at the Land O'Lakes Trout Pond and the Cabela's Pond stocked with bluegills. The Bass Federation also offered its Reel Kids Casting Skills activity - this one, a dry field. Adults and youths competed on a more advanced level at the FLW Casting Pool - a timed course with targets set up to simulate actual fishing scenarios. In the Cabela's booth, video games for Xbox, Playstation and Wii gave visitors a taste of virtual-fishing fun. Entertain and educate Ever wonder what the inside of a bass boat and its engine look like? Fun Zone visitors got a good look with a cross section of a Yamaha outboard and a Ranger boat. Nearby, the Lowrance booth provided working models of the latest in navigational electronics for examination. Complementing this perspective, the Walmart and Kellogg's bass-boat simulator rides gave visitors an idea of how it feels when FLW anglers drive to work. Berkley offered another multifaceted booth with interesting product displays, informal rigging seminars and a walk-through trailer with displays explaining how Berkley baits are designed to appeal to a fish's senses of smell, sight, taste and sound. Berkley pros fielded questions at their autograph table and conducted fishing instruction at the hog trough loaded with smallmouth bass. Elsewhere, anglers from the BP, Castrol, Land O'Lakes, Yamaha, Chevy, Pringles, Febreze and Iams teams patiently fielded fishing questions from visitors eager to tap into their well of insight and experience. Scheide said: "The people who come to the Fun Zone are thirsting for knowledge. This is a great venue for us to share what we know and get people interested in bass fishing. This is all about promoting the sport - that's what we're here for." For Chevy pro Jay Yelas, Fun Zone visitors are typically most interested in learning more about their own waters. "People want to talk about the local fishery - they want to know how you were catching fish (during the tournament), where you were fishing and what baits you were using." And while Fun Zone visitors are always welcome to enjoy the event at no charge, FLW clothing and logowear from various sponsors is available for purchase at special show pricing. Many take advantage of this opportunity to buy hats and shirts for angler autographs. Visitors also have the opportunity to speak with National Guard recruiters and learn about membership opportunities with FLW Outdoors and The Bass Federation. There's also a sign-up station for the exciting FLW Fantasy Fishing - the very program through which Terry Moberly of Berea, Ky., received a $1 million prize for finishing the 2009 season with the most points during. His check was awarded on day three of the Forrest Wood Cup weigh-ins. Why it works In the proverbial nutshell, the FLW Family Fun Zone provides a diverse array of entertainment aimed at connecting all age groups with fishing. Newcomers and lifetime anglers alike will find many points of interest, but you'll always see a strong emphasis on children. Modern society offers endless distractions that pull kids away from the water or inhibit their initial introduction to fishing. By presenting the sport in a high-energy package of free entertainment, FLW provides a convenient venue for families to connect with the nation's top recreational activity. Yamaha pro Ish Monroe said the Fun Zone makes him appreciate his own early introduction into fishing. "The Fun Zone is great because there's so much for the kids," he said. "When you get the kids involved, they want to go fishing, and when they want to go fishing, the parents have to take them, so it grows the sport. I think it's important that parents get their kids involved in fishing early so they want to do that and nothing else. That's what I wanted to do as a child. I was 2 years old, and there I was with my fishing rod. I couldn't even talk yet, but I just wanted to go fishing." Charlie Bridge of Cecil, Pa., brought his son Charlie and their neighbor Shane Checca to the Fun Zone. Both young boys enjoyed watching the different fishing activities, but, as with past fishing events, meeting all the angling celebrities was the highlight of their day. "Now whenever we watch (fishing shows) on TV, they ask, `Did I meet that guy?'" Bridge said. Six-year-old Pittsburgh resident Joshua Bass fishes often with his stepfather, Tim Kist. Joshua's favorite part of the Fun Zone was the Berkley Hog Trough. "I like the tank with the fish because you can see the bass, and that's my last name." California pro Brett Hite, who won back-to-back FLW events at Florida's Lake Toho (FLW Tour) and the California Delta (FLW Series) in 2008, represented Dunkin' Donuts Coffee at the Fun Zone. Hite notes that FLW's sponsors make a lot of good things happen for a lot of anglers. "People who come to the Fun Zone can see our sponsor brands and know who supports fishing," Hite said. Of course, those supporting entities get a lot out of Fun Zone participation, as well. Yamaha District Marketing Manager Jerreth Bain said these events provide a twofold benefit. "An event like this helps us touch base with our customers in local markets, see how our products are working in the field and how much loyalty there is to our brand. "It's exciting to know that there is a continuation of fishing in the families. You can give a kid a fishing bobber with the Yamaha logo on it, they'll remember it for a lifetime, and someday you may get the opportunity to sell them an engine."