Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Biography of Gadabout Gaddis by Robert Matarazzo

Today we are delighted to have a piece on Gadabout Gaddis written by Robert Matarazzo. I've gotten numerous questions over the years about who exactly Gaddis was; I hope this great biography helps explain why he's one of the most important fishing icons of the 20th century.

Baby Boomer Hero: The Flying Fisherman
by Robert Matarazzo
©2009 by Robert Matarazzo

Born at the end of the nineteen century, Roscoe Vernon Gaddis enjoyed a successful career as a sales representative for the Shakespeare Fishing Tackle Company from 1929 until the early 1960's, when he became a television star known as "Gadabout Gaddis, The Flying Fisherman". He acquired the nickname "Gadabout" due to his wanderlust, and as such had a hard time confining himself to any one location for more than a few months at a time.

Vern, as he was known in pre-Gadabout days, had a passion for fishing and traveling. Having only a bare bones formal education and having given up a chance at a career as a major league baseball player, he took to the rails and traveled about the country on freight trains, fishing whenever he got the chance. This way of life occupied his younger years before eventually settling down with a wife. He always managed to find a way to keep himself afloat, in spite of not having any permanent roots. Making a dollar using his fishing skill through guiding, selling his catch, and countless odd jobs, he was able to live in his relatively carefree chosen lifestyle.


But married life required some stability. This would come in the form of a position as a tackle sales representative with one of America's most reputable fishing tackle companies. The career proved to be a perfect match for him as he had a knack for inspiring people to fish and thereby acquiring the tackle with which to do it.

During these years he had developed the side hobby of filming his fishing trips. As the quality of his films improved, he began getting requests to show them at fishing club meetings. The soundless films would be narrated on the spot by Gadabout in an informal folksy style that would come back to serve him well in later years. The films proved to stimulate his tackle sales even further as he continued to produce and show them.

In 1938, Vern was asked to do a radio show on WGY in Schenectady, NY. It was at this time that he acquired the nickname "Gadabout". He filled each 15-minute show with general fishing talk and of course some mention of the latest Shakespeare fishing tackle, Shakespeare being the show's sponsor.

When the United States entered WW II, Gadabout wanted to do his part. He joined the Air Corps and spent three years entertaining the GIs with his films as well as arranging fishing trips.

Wanting to be a flier during the First World War and frustrated by circumstances which had prevented it, Gadabout finally got his wings in 1952. He had been taking flying lessons on the sly for many years, and in this year got his license and purchased a small plane. The plane gave him the means to squeeze in a distant fishing trip every now and then without disrupting his work life.

As the media of television began to develop and take off following the war, Gadabout had five different live television shows in five different cities. The grind of this activity began to take its toll. Consequently, Gadabout made the switch from live shows to filmed shows, creating twenty-six black-and-white fifteen-minute shows for a small production company. This series was called Going Places with Gadabout Gaddis and appeared in the early 1950's. For reasons which remain unclear, this particular series was not successful.

In the early 1960's, Gadabout hooked up with producer Nick Russo and the show "The Flying Fisherman" was born. This was a 30-minute show, in color, sponsored by the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. It was via this television show that Gadabout Gaddis flew into the living rooms of America. Each week, he would fly his Piper Cherokee to a different location and most of the next 30 minutes would show Gadabout tangling with the local fish or simply enjoying what the location had to offer. The plane travel aspect was in part an illusion. Not all trips were necessarily preceded by a plane flight, but the appearance of a plane landing during the show's opening sequence was suggestive of such. Some trips were in fact filmed close to home (he maintained a number of different residences).

The Flying Fisherman was much different than today's outdoor shows, which seem to be infomercials in disguise and which have left the domain of network television. Although Gadabout's background was as a tackle salesman and much Shakespeare tackle was used on the show, there was no explicit "selling". A brand name was rarely mentioned. The tackle sold itself. The white fiberglass Shakespeare rods were a natural for television. On either a color or black-and-white set, they were clearly visible and often seen throbbing with life as Gadabout played his catch. Not an effect you'd likely get on one of today's graphite rods.

An interesting segment of some of the shows was a lure offer pitched by Gadabout himself during one of the commercials. This consisted of a set of six spinning lures which viewers could acquire by sending in a dollar. These lure sets were basically sold at cost and served to promote interest in the show as well as to provide a gauge with which to determine the number of viewers. One of these lures is still being made today and is known as the Al's Goldfish. The lures were all made by the Al's Goldfish lure company of Indian Orchard, MA.

Gadabout's show was filmed without audio. Some sound effects and music would later be overdubbed in the production studio, and Gadabout would add his narration. His pleasant sounding mid-western voice was a natural for television. The style was informal and unscripted. The occasional awkwardly turned phrase would be left as is. This was all part of its charm. The effect was as if Gadabout was sitting next to the slide projector at your fishing club's monthly meeting talking about his latest adventure.


Gadabout Gaddis lived to the ripe old age of ninety, leaving the world in 1986. A small air field that he had built near his home in Bingham, ME is now known as Gadabout Gaddis Airport and is the site on an annual fly-in each September. During the 1980's a series of video tapes were available (VHS and Beta) containing eighteen of The Flying Fisherman Show episodes in its six volumes. Additionally, a film called Fishing USA, originally produced in the late 1960's was also available in video tape at this time. This was basically a compilation of a number of The Flying Fisherman episodes in abbreviated form, and serves as a good overview of the entire series. While no longer in print, these video tapes show up on the used market from time to time. For more details on the life of this most interesting man, the autobiography "The Flying Fisherman" is highly recommended reading.

Thanks Rob! For more information on Gaddis, Click Here.

-- Dr. Todd

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