McALLEN – If there’s anything that matches the scale of attendance and participation here at the 31st Texas Hunters and Sportsman’s Expo this weekend, it’s its growth after evolution from humble beginnings to one of the biggest events in South Texas.
Saturday’s turnout was an indication that interest in the show wasn’t slowing down anytime soon, as thousands continued to show up for the three-day event.
Of course, it helps that the Rio Grande Valley, which hosts the event annually, is an ecotourism and outdoor living destination, attracting birders and hunters from all over the world – and that’s right up the alley of exhibitors, presenters, vendors, and attendees.
The event began Friday and is scheduled to run through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the McAllen Convention Center, located at 700 Convention Center Blvd. In McAllen.
According to Chris Curl, one of the show’s curators, the show saw about 10,000 participants on Friday and he hopes to see more over the weekend.
The family-owned Fisherman’s Show first started after Kerl’s father, Jerry Kerl, decided to bring a fisherman’s show and sportsman to the Valley after attending a similar event in Houston. The opening ceremony was held 30 years ago at the old convention center in McAllen which saw an attendance of about 3,000 people.
Now as the event enters its 31st year, attendance averages 35,000 to 40,000 over three days.
“Now what I see are the kids that were coming in when my dad was doing it,” Chris said. “Now they come to me and say, ‘Hey, I used to come when your dad owned the show. I used to come 20 years ago and now I bring my kids.’”
Hector Gonzalez, 58, remembers attending the event with his father when the show first arrived at McAllen.
As he looked around at the various sellers of fishing gear, Gonzalez spoke of his father who would take him fishing since he was 5 years old.
“I love hunting and the outdoors, so I enjoy going out here every year to see what’s new on the market,” Gonzalez said, adding that he now hopes to continue the tradition with his daughter. “I am continuing his legacy.”
Although the event kicks off on Friday, Fabian Hernandez believes sellers are seeing the most productivity on the weekend.
Hernandez, 40, and business partner Sam Robles were among the vendors participating in the event. They own an Edinburgh-based company called 7 Day Addiction Outfitters, which sells custom fishing rods that they build from scratch.
Their business has also evolved with the fair over the years, and they have learned how to present their products in a way that is more attractive to event attendees.
“It’s planning… putting things strategically where people can see them a lot better, a lot easier and where people can see the elements that we already have. Planning is taking a long time,” Hernandez said, adding that their engagement is their seventh year.
Hernandez might believe the old adage that if you want to make money, you have to spend a little, considering that he has invested a little in finances and faith to achieve success on the show and in their business.
“You want to invest too much money just because you want to have enough stock,” he added. “The last thing you want is to have a product that sells too heavily and you don’t have enough of it. We definitely earn a lot more than we invest in.”
Valerie Pena, 28, of Harlingen, said her attraction to the show is a lot simpler: It’s a family affair.
She and her husband and daughter, Robert and John Valdez, 36 and 8, respectively, attended the event together to get all the sights and sounds associated with the Texas Hunters and Sportsman’s Expo, and according to the trio, it didn’t disappoint.
“I’m here for fishing and pickles,” John, who looked like he was dressed in a baseball uniform, said excitedly.
For Robert, an avid fisherman, the event gives him an opportunity to purchase equipment for him and his daughter, who is accompanying him on fishing expeditions.
“You never know what you’re going to come across,” he said. “You might find this diamond in the rough thing you were looking for, and there are a lot of different things they offer. This is the best way for them to advertise it and for you to find it.”