The Indiana Fishing Expo actually started on a bet.
Ray Rigby was with a friend at the annual Ford Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show a decade and a half ago, and the two were complaining about the quality of the event from a fishing standpoint.
“I said, ‘I could do better than this,’ “ Rigby recalled. “And he said, ‘100 bucks you can’t!’ I was like, ‘All right.’ “
“Wrong guy to bet.”
On Saturday and Sunday, Rigby will put on his 14th Indiana Fishing Expo. The show will again be conducted at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
The event’s attendance has grown steadily over the years after drawing only about 500 people the first time. Rigby, a former competitive fisherman, was determined to grow the audience but admits that he had no idea how to do so.
“Getting guys to sell tackle and everything, that was easy; I knew everybody,” he said. “But getting the public there was a learning curve — a steep learning curve. It took me a few years.”
After using newspaper ads and message boards on fishing websites to spread the word in the early years, Rigby now relies heavily on social media. He also brings in new visitors each year by giving out free passes to local radio stations — a move he has found produces numerous repeat customers.
“I’m not the smartest guy around, but I ain’t that dumb, either,” Rigby said. “I figured out there was stuff out there I could use.”
Building from humble beginnings, the Expo now draws roughly 2,000 people each year. The same 40 or so vendors almost all come back annually, and there’s a waiting list of those looking for a table.
Rigby says he could fill a building triple the size of what he currently uses at the Fairgrounds, but he is — at least for the time being — content to keep the show a manageable size.
“If it was for money,” he said, “the first one would’ve been the last one.”
What does keep Rigby bringing the show back is the ability to pay it forward. He says that he grew up in a rough section of Indianapolis and could have easily gone down the wrong path, but someone introduced him to the outdoors and he fell in love with it.
The Indiana Fishing Expo, he says, is geared largely toward children and women. Every year, Rigby hosts the Indiana DNR’s Go FishIN program, the Johnson County Parks & Recreation and the Indiana division of the Student Angler Federation. He also allows Indiana Bass’N Gals to use the kitchen to raise money.
He hopes that will help give other kids the same chances he was given many years ago.
“Without some of those groups, some of these kids will never get a chance to go fishing or get a chance to go hunting or enjoy the outdoors,” Rigby said. “If I didn’t have somebody take an interest in me and show me that stuff, I don’t know where I’d have been as an adult.
“That’s the number one reason why I keep the show going.”
Indiana Fishing Expo
When: Saturday and Sunday
Where: Johnson County Fairgrounds
Admission: $4 for adults, free for children 16 and under. Parking is free.