Outdoor writers like nothing more an outdoor conference – a big outdoor conference – for gathering information for stories, photographs and online posts.

            That’s why many attended some of the 368 booths or listened to speakers at the Cal Expo Conference, which was held from Jan. 18 to April 15, 2024. Cal Expo is located at 1600 Exposition Blvd. in Sacramento (916-263-3000, [email protected]).

In order to expose writers to the outdoor experts, the Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) Board of Directors held its educational events and General Membership Meeting at the neighboring Sacramento Doubletree Hotel during the same days as the conference.

            “Welcome,” OWAC President Carrie Wilson told the board and officers. “We haven’t had a board conference since Big Bear in May, 2022.”

            She added that the 38-year-old OWAC places a high priority on maintaining its older members and attracting younger ones.

            “What we struggle with is that everyone is aging out. How do we capture those younger voices? Many of the writer’s associations share the same issue. So much is digital now,” said Wilson.

            Conference organizers sought to get youth involved by hosting events for them during the show with a Youth Fair Partners Program that was supported by California Department Fish and Wildlife, California State Parks, California Fly Fishers Unlimited, Golden Empire Scouting, Kids Outdoor Sports Camp, Hunter Education Instructors, Safari Club international and the Sacramento International Sportsmen’s Exposition.           

In addition to fishing, hunting and boating groups, off roaders and government agencies, conservation and membership groups attending Cal Expo included Trout Unlimited, California Fly Fishers Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association, Delta Waterfowl Association, National Rifle Association, Boy Scouts of America and more.

OWAC is a non-profit association of media professionals who communicate the vast array of outdoor recreational opportunities and related issues in California, the surrounding western region, and beyond. The membership includes newspaper and magazine staffers, freelance writers, book authors, radio broadcasters, video producers, editors, photographers, artists, lecturers and information officers.

OWAC was founded in 1986 to expand public information on outdoor recreation and conservation, provide professional craft improvement, and increase recognition of outdoor writing as a specialized field among media and educational institutions.

Supporting OWAC memberships are available to individuals, organizations and firms with an interest in the outdoors field and in supporting OWAC’s programs. OWAC’s roster included recreational equipment manufacturers, visitors and convention bureaus, tour operators, public relations agencies, conservation organizations and publishers.

OWAC’s spring and fall conferences, held in some California’s most beautiful outdoor settings and showcase the organization’s programs. These are the annual Craft Award Contest, where the finest work in the outdoor communications field is recognized and honored; the Californian of the Year Award, recognizing an individual who has profoundly improved the outdoor experience via conservation work or other good deeds; and the Outdoor Outreach grants, which are awarded to non-profit organizations that promote enjoyment of outdoor recreation.


Professional writers, photographers, and those working in other media to cover fishing, hunting, boating, camping, hiking, wildlife watching, adventure sports and other related active outdoor activities are warmly welcomed.                                                                     

 At the outdoor conference at Cal Expo, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Tom Steinstra and long-time supporter of OWAC made a presentation for Ed Rice, another outdoor enthusiast. Here’s is part of what he said:

“Ed is the founder of the show, a world-champion fly fisher who grew up outside of Chico. Like many country boys, Rice fished and hunted everywhere within range. By the time Ed was in his 20s, his range expanded around the world.

“He fished in 40 countries on six continents, across North America and had 88 different weeks in Alaska. In the process, he has caught 242 species of fish on a fly rod, more than anybody in the world. Rice is believed to be the only fly fisher to have caught (and released at the boat) the grand slam of the Caribbean twice in three days — the tarpon, bonefish and permit.

“As a maverick promoter, Rice invented the most copied sports show in the world. He featured instruction by experts, a model in North America. He also was the only promoter in America to donate free booth space to conservation groups and fly in world-renown anglers from across the hemisphere.

“Rice created sport shows in Sacramento, San Mateo, Southern California, Eugene and Portland in Oregon, Seattle, Washington, Denver, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona.

“He was also inducted into the Federation of Fly Fishers Hall of Fame.

        For his last trip, he asked me to take him to Rufus Woods in northeastern Washington. Though he was blind, he still was the top rod on the lake.

        At one trip here, he had 14 straight casts with 3- to 10-pounders. He missed the set on one and then had another run of 11 straight. All catch and release.

“At one point, driving up the lake, he asked me to move aside at the wheel. ’Are there any boats ahead of us?’ he asked. ‘No? Then I’ll take the wheel. Move aside my boy.’ He pushed forward on the throttle and powered ahead while I watched for obstacles.

    “‘Man, that fresh air in my face . . . feels good.’”


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Tom Martens

Tom Martens has worked as a reporter, columnist, photographer and editor for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years. He is an award winning outdoor writer for stories that have appeared in newspapers, including the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Wisconsin, Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek California, Green Bay Press Gazette, the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon and the Tahoe World in Tahoe City, California. He writes a regular column on conservation issues for the California Fly Fisher magazine, where he serves as Editor at Large. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters of Nonprofit Administration Degree from the University of San Francisco where he was a member of the Adjunct Faculty at USF’s Institute for Nonprofit and Organization Management. He lives in Davis, California.


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