With more than 60 million anglers in this country, the market for fishing magazines would seem to be bottomless.
It is. Magazines with half their editorial space devoted to fishing probably number a hundred-plus in the U.S. and cover every branch of the sport from bullheads to blue marlin.
Although Massachusetts Outdoors or the Texas Fisherman may not appeal to local anglers, a number of magazines do contain material of value to the mid-Atlantic sportsman.
For many years the "Big-3" sporting journals, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, and Field & Stream, dominated the market. Lately, with increasing competition from smaller publications, the major magazines have been straining to stay atop the heap. Editors seem to come and go, and formats are changed as often. But the big three have maintained quality, in some cases improved markedly. They generally rank among the top 10 publications, circulation-wise.
Of special interest to local anglers are the "yellow pages" of Outdoor Life. Monthly installments contain solid material on where to go in the state and what gamefish offer good prospects for that month. Virginia residents who subscribe to Outdoor Life receive the Southeast supplement. Maryland residents, and those who pick up the magazine on local newsstands, receive the northeast section, that covers from Maryland north.
Field & Stream focuses on general-interest outdoor topics, with little attention given to local waters. The notable exception is the February issue, containing a solid roundup of regional fishing prospects.
Sports Afield does not run locally oriented material on any scheduled basis, but its regular features ae well-written and contain helpful information.
A recent trend in fishing magazines has been toward the didactic, how-to article. Clearly, a great deal of useful information can be conveyed in this fashion. Carried to excess, a magazine can begin to read like a textbook. Undercurrents of reader reaction to this technical-oriented trend already are surfacing.
Gray's Sporting Journal, a new Massachusetts-based magazine, focuses its appeal on those fed-up with the "how-to" approach, on anglers who have "heard enough from self-appointed experts discussing 'structure'." The less concrete aspects of the sport - the ritual and mystique of angling, the colors, sights, sounds, and smells of the fishing experience - are evoked in this classy journal. Some of the articles succeed well. If you can afford the $18 a year for seven issues, good reading for pure enjoyment lies in store.
A magazine with more modest ambitions is Fishing World, billed as "the largest circulation magazine for sport fishermen." Art director Vic Isola presents a visual package that is always a delight.
A format that has become popular with the current emphasis on giving the angler useful information on how and where to catch fish is the state magazine. In our area, state-oriented publications are run by the fish and wildlife departments, supported by the dollars from fishing and hunting license sales rather than advertisements.
The Maryland Conservationist is a bi-monthly magazine with a spacious, pleasing layout. Material on ecology, birds, plants, and sometimes hunting fill much of this magazine. Interesting pieces on fishing are often included.
Virginia Wildlife has retained a balance, often lacking in state journals, between the so-called "consumptive" and "nonconsumptive" wildlife users - those who hunt and fish and those who do not.
This is not the case in Virginia Wildlife. Of the dozen or more articles editor Harry Gillman includes each month, two to a half dozen are addressed specifically to the angler.
For many Washington-area fishermen, Pennsylvania is a home away from home. The quality trout, muskie and bass fishing found in the nearby Keystone State is hard to resist. An invaluable guide to fishing these waters is the Pennsylvania Angler.
This monthly magazine, published by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission, covers every type of fishing in that state. There is a strong emphasis on fishing as a family affair, and the tone of articles is crisp and exuberant. For eight months of the year the Pennsylvania Angler carries a column by one of the most talented fly tiers in the country, Chauncy K. Lively. Most fur-and-feather craftsmen will tell you they would pay the price of the "Angler" for Lively's column alone.
The regional magazine is another format gaining popularity. One such publication that has come on especially strong since being purchased by the Bass Angler's Sportsman Society is Southern Outdoors. Published in Montgomery, Ala., this slick, attractively packaged magazine covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and other states in Dixie.
Southern Outdoors is bi-monthly, with two bonus issues each year - one on hunting, one on fishing. The magazine emphasizes the how-to, but blends facts with descriptive prose to make for highly palatable reading. The graphics department is one of the best in the business, with excellent color reproduction.
Fly Fisherman Magazine was one of those basement-born publications that take considerable dedication and draining effort to establish. Most succumb in their infancy, but Fly Fisherman is on its feet and thriving. The magazine combines slick, polished packaging with "name" authors to appeal to the elite of the fishing fraternity. The detailed "Stream Watcher's Log" is a valuable guide to fly fishing waters within a day's drive of Washington.
Trout Magazine lacks the bulk and color of Fly Fisherman, but maintains striking quality through each quarterly issue. The official journal of Trout Unlimited, Trout is edited by the highly respected Dr. Alvin Grove Jr. Articles on stream improvement, fishing techniques, entomology and conservation highlight the pages of Trout.
Bass fishing is without question the current craze, featuring "in" lingo, shiny jumpsuits, the ubiquitous baseball cap and fast, imposing fishing rigs. Augmenting this paraphernalia are several bassing magazines, the grand-daddy of them being Bassmaster.
Available only to members of the Bass Angler's Sportsman Society, as part of annual dues payments, Bassmaster is a good magazine, loaded with useful information. Its "where-to-go Trip Check reports" are quite valuable, with listings of phone numbers and addresses for guides, motels, campgrounds, etc.
Predominantly a black-and-white publication, Salt Water Sportsman provides a lively mix of how-to and anecdotal articles.Hard-hitting editorials and a state-by-state survey of the monthly fishing outlook along the coast are featured.