FISHING FACTS JACKET UNLOCKS HISTORY
While acquiring some old fishing tackle from a gracious 97 years young widow, she showed me her late husband’s fishing jacket. It was covered with Fishing Facts award patches that she planned to remove, and then donate the jacket to Goodwill.
Many times as we worked to collect, preserve, and share old fishing items and their history, we found, too late, that our greatest competitor, the trash man, had taken these items to the dump where they are lost for all time. This time would be different. This time we wrote the story of this important artifact.
A GREAT FISHING COUPLE
After many visits with Bernice Stevo Schweikler, I became impressed with her graciousness, vitality, enthusiasm, and artistic talents. Her story is one of a woman who has lived through tough times and has persevered with a great, positive, friendly attitude.
Her father died in an auto accident when she was just five years old. In order to make ends meet, her mother put her in a day nursery while she worked. The nursery tried to force her to eat oatmeal but she refused. When they threatened to put her in the baby nursery, Bernice responded, “I’ll wake up every baby.”
The next day she had the boys push the slide in the exercise yard by the fence so she could climb the steps and escape. She had counted the houses on the way to day care so she had no trouble finding her way home.
Her mother then took her to her godmother’s on Fox Lake in northern Illinois for care. This was a sort of paradise for Bernice as a priest roomed there who taught her how to fish.
After graduation she modeled for the Florsheim Shoe Company, then worked at a gift shop in Logan Square. Logan Square was a very close knit community where people worked, shopped, ate, and recreated together. While living there, people encouraged her to get together with Willis “Red” Schweikler, whose mother had also died when he was five years old.
He worked at a Logan Square haberdashery and was crazy about fishing. In fact, his wealthy father had offered to buy him an auto dealership, fishing resort, and other businesses but Red said it would take too much time away from fishing. Eventually he became a car salesman, which provided ample time to enjoy his favorite fishing spots.
Bernice took her friends’ advice and began seeing Red. They wed November 21st, 1941 after dating for 30 months. She was 25 and he 31. Her father in law warned her that Red had a bad heart and would be lucky to live past 50. Even though his father had given that warning, he built them a home next door to his and also advised her, “Learn to fish good, or this marriage won’t last a year.” She did and when Red’s bad heart kept him out of WWII and, in an era of food shortages and rationing, their fishing and hunting provided sumptuous meals.
Buck Perry came to Chicago in 1957 and stunned the Midwest with his catches from fished out water. His ideas sparked more ideas from fishermen that we now know well, like Ron and Al Lindner, Bill Binkelman, and more. These men began using new tools, such as the Fish Lo-K-Tor, and began to unlock innovations in our sport.
The Schweiklers joined the Lake Geneva Fishing Club, studied fishing and fished a lot, many times on the same lake as Binkelman. The Schweiklers were part of a new era of fishing discovery and subscribed to the Fishing News that Bill Binkelman, of Milwaukee’s Boston Store, produced.
Fishing News made a major announcement with their special 12 page June 1968 issue. By then George Pazik had become the publisher and the name was changed to Fishing Facts and Secrets.
Up to that time Neither Pazik or Binkelman had taken any pay for all of their work. They only had 15 cents left over after producing and mailing a two year subscription. Back then it was an exciting time when fishermen loved learning and sharing and gave little thought to money.
One of their previous announcements was a revision of their Big Fish contest that had issued trophies to readers who made big catches using their revolutionary baits and methods. So many trophies were won in 1967 that Bill wrote, “The point has been made – you can do it – our methods work – and so the Big Fish contest is no longer needed. You proved it to us.”
Cards, letters, phone calls, and personal visitors protested! Readers wanted the contest to remain but agreed to a lower, more affordable program.
The new rules were, a first qualifying lunker fish was awarded a “Fishing Facts Expert” patch and a certificate. For four or more lunker fish entries a “Fishing Facts Master” patch and certificate were won.
Eligible fish included largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, catfish, lake, rainbow, brook and brown trout, musky and coho. The contest ran from March 30th through October 31st, 1968. Over the years awards were refined and the Schweiklers won many patches, which were proudly added to their fishing jackets.
Red and Bernice’s jackets testify to the success learned and earned through Fishing Facts. In April of 1984 Red’s heart was failing. He agreed to an experimental operation to replace a heart valve with that of a pig. Five days later he passed away but what was learned has helped heart health today. Bernice then learned to drive and continued to fish and be involved with the Lake Geneva club.
In 1999 Gene and Gail Laulunen, publishers of Midwest Outdoors acquired Fishing Facts magazine. Though they could have sold them to publishers in other areas for more money, it was purchased last year by their long time advertising sales manager, Dan Ferris, keeping it, and many loyal, long time employees, in the same location.
Dan shared, “Since the purchase of Midwest Outdoors and Fishing Facts, Midwest Outdoors magazine has undergone a facelift, which people saw first-hand in the January issue. We will also launch a new Midwest Outdoors website in January.”
Fishing Facts was the first magazine in America that was dedicated solely to the purpose of helping people improve their fishing skills, and at one time was the largest publication of its kind. They are currently exploring new opportunities to again make Fishing Facts one of the top fishing magazines— specifically, it will focus on what occurs under the water, what to use, and how to use it. The prospect of integrating Fishing Facts magazine with additional media platforms like TV and digital is exciting.
The team enjoys reminiscing about the past while looking forward to the future and the excitement of new destinations, lures, and methods to share to help increase enjoyment in the great out of doors.
Dan Basore is a fishing historian and steward of the history of the sport. In his efforts to preserve fishing history, Basore is always on the lookout for information about early lure makers, old lures, pre-level wind reels, manufacturer catalogs, tournament casting items and the like. If you possess information or materials that can help, please contact Dan Basore, Historical Fishing Display, at 630-393-3474 or 1-800-347-4525.