Fishing shows are to women what shopping malls are to men.
My dad used to dutifully tag along with my mom on her expeditions to New Jersey Megamall Universe, joining scores of other men sitting glassy-eyed and slack-jawed on benches outside stores and looking for all the world like the rows of fish on shaved ice at the supermarket.
Wander around almost any fishing show and you'll see the revenge of the mall men.
I'm here to tell you ladies that it's not that bad at the shows. For one thing, there are no lines at the restrooms.
The Fishing Expo and Boat Show at the Maryland State Fairgrounds this weekend has been no exception to the gender rule.
After ducking out of Capt. Tom Hughes' seminar on light tackle fishing and stopping by the TidalFish.com booth to have a non-chat room chat with Webmaster and Chief Angler Brandon White, I spied BASSMASTERS Classic winner Mike Iaconelli talking shop with a group of men.
At the fringe of the action, eating from a cellophane cone of cinnamon-coated pecans, was an endangered species - a woman.
Sidling over, I asked if one of the men was hers. She nodded.
Was she enjoying the show?
"Hardly," she said, adding a small smile.
Just then her other half of 17 years wandered over. Don and Penny Cave have been coming to the first night of the show for the past decade.
"She's a good sport about it," he acknowledged.
And he goes to malls with her.
"I'll game it out, but the one thing that gets me is when she begins trying things on," he said. "You're standing there scrunched against the coat racks, waiting for her and the looks you get from women in the underwear department are pretty strange."
Penny Cave grew up in a fishing family and does a fair amount of it herself, when the weather is nice.
The Essex couple knows each other's limits of patience.
"When she says she wants to leave, I'll go," he said of their fishing trips.
"I usually end it when he wants to go look at boats. He can go back on Saturday," she said of the fishing expo.
What makes their arrangement work?
"We'll leave here and go to Outback Steakhouse," she said, smiling. "His treat."
Today is the last day for the Timonium show and for the Fly Fishing Show at the Reckord Armory in College Park. Both shows open at 9 a.m. The fly rodders close at 5 p.m. The expo closes an hour later.
The highlight of the final day of the College Park show is a "ladies only" casting class at 2 p.m. with author, photographer and casting guru Cathy Beck.
At Timonium, Hughes' practical and funny seminar has a repeat performance at 1 p.m., followed by guide Ken Penrod's tutorial on GPS units. The lecture hall's grand finale is commanded appropriately enough by outdoors writer emeritus Bill Burton, who will bring the memories of warmer days to the Cow Palace with his talk on summer striper fishing on the Chesapeake.
White did his part to tease the season to come by displaying a version of the photo that accompanies this column.
Although White's fishing buddy, Tom McMurray, released the 28-pound fish, I could almost taste rockfish on the grill (or baked and stuffed with crab meat).
McMurray got Moby Striper on a Rat-L-Trap in the Upper Bay in about three feet of water.
"There are still some big ones up there in the shallows," said White.
If you still have some post-holiday money and space in your gear locker, here are some other places to hide out until the weather gets better:
The 12th Annual Greater Philadelphia Sport, Travel and Outdoor Show runs Jan. 21-25 at the Fort Washington Expo Center in Montgomery County, Pa. It has 300,000 square feet filled with gear, guides and gab (seminars). The hours are noon to 9:30 p.m., Wednesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday. Admission: $9 for adults, $3 for children; free for children under 5. Information: www.phillysportshow.com.
The Chantilly Sportsmen's Show and the Old Virginia Fly Fishing Show puts fly rodders, worm drowners and hunters all in the same place from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. The shindig, formerly known as the Capital Sportsmen's Show, is at the Dulles Expo Center, just off I-66 at Route 28, north. The hours are 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday. Admission is $9 for adults and $3 for children 5 to 12. Information: www.osegsportsmens.com or 703-802-0066.
Known by one and all as "the Harrisburg show," the 48th Annual Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show will run from Feb. 7-15. It is the largest outdoors expo in the country, attracting more than 500,000 visitors. If you can't find what you're looking for at the more than 900 booths and displays, you're awfully picky. The hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Feb. 7 and Feb. 9-14; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Feb. 8; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Feb. 15. Admission: $10 for adults and $4 for children 6 to 12. Two-day passes are available for $18. Information: www.easternsportshow.com.
The best and most popular local gathering of gear and grub is the Pasadena Sportfishing Group's flea market on Feb. 14 and 15.
I hesitate to mention the show because we all remember what happened last Presidents Day weekend, right? The storm started Friday and didn't stop until it had plunked more than 20 inches on us. But lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place, well, not often.
So make plans to get to the show this year, keeping in mind that Sunday is a little less hectic than Saturday. The fire hall is at the intersection of Ritchie Highway and Earleigh Heights Road. The hours both days are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $3. Information: www.heyfish.com or 410-HEYFISH
Finally, the Free State Fly Fishers Swap Meet is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 21 (rain date Feb. 28) at the Davidsonville Family Recreational Center, Davidsonville. Buy, sell and swap, and you need not be a member. Call Mike Price, 410-320-0080, or John Scarborough, 410-757-6411.