You didn't have to be just a fisherman to attend this past weekend's 24th-annual Florida Sportsman Expo at the Lee Civic Center.
While rods and reels were the main draw, there were also fun things for fans of hunting, kayaking, all-terrain vehicles, and other merchandise, while classes and seminars were held by experts to help give weekend anglers the winning edge.
Capt. Rick Ryals, projects editor for Florida Sportsman magazine, said the event is made for anyone who enjoys outdoors sportsman activities.
Capt. Larry Finch holds a seminar on pier fishing at the Florida Sportsman Expo at the Lee Civic Center on Saturday.
"The room is packed. We think about 6,000 people will attend our shows this weekend," Ryals said. "What's always so gratifying is so many of the same people come, so we provide different speakers and new topics because the guy who learned everything last year can learn something new."
Of course, it isn't just seminars. Ryals said there often are better opportunities to buy quality tackle at wholesale prices. More than 150 vendors attended for everything from fishing to scuba diving.
Manufacturers had their own stage to show off their latest products, and if you were into boat electronics, that could change by the hour, Ryals said.
Ric Brehmer, of Fat Cats, came to promote their boats, catamarans with single engines which they custom build in patented designs that can be used inshore and offshore.
"We can have any design the customer wants. These boats can go from $49,000 to more than $200,000 depending on how we customize it," Brehmer said.
Dawna Young, of Ladies, Let's Go Fishing, was there for her non-profit organization that does seminars and fishing trips for women all over the state, including one coming March 12 in Matlacha.
"We teach them to rig a line, castnet, everything. We even have a trip to Costa Rica planned as well as two trips to Cuba," Young said.
Ryals added that in the past the only women who came to this event were essentially dragged there kicking and screaming by their boyfriends or husbands. Not anymore.
Ryals said about 30 percent of the attendees were females, with many more entire families attending and, for the first time, there was even a "ladies stage" with female presenters who have become prominent in the industry.
Among them was Ginny Pettinati, from Cape Coral, who was there with her husband, Bill. They were interested in scuba diving.
"It's good. We're members of the Caloosa Dive Club and I like to kayak and I'm getting into fishing soon," Pettinati said, a first-timer at the event.
"I didn't know what to expect, this being the first time. I think there could be more stuff like guns," Bill said.
There were numerous seminar stages and classrooms for inshore and outshore fishing, as well as stages for anglers on foot, kayakers and hunters. There were also castnet demonstrations and hands-on instruction on bait, rigs and tackle as well as flycasting and kids events such as an indoor archery range.