75th Anniversary of Salt Water Sportsman

Looking back and moving forward — see the very first issue cover from 1939.

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Cover of the first issue, dated June 8, 1939.

Salt Water Sportsman celebrates a ­milestone anniversary this month. We've kicked it off by putting a fresh look on this special issue, drawing inspiration from the past to drive a commitment to keep looking ahead to promising waters. Over the past few months as we delved into the archives, sorting through piles of old magazines — some 22 cartons of them — we discovered an interesting mix of obsolescence and consistency through the years.

For instance: As part of our long-range planning, we’re looking at a story on catching trophy seatrout on ­topwater plugs. Once we turned our attention to sifting through issues from years past, what do you suppose we uncovered from the musty 1960s? Yup — a feature on topwaters for trout. The story worked then and will again, but with a much different take decades later.

Surveying old issues becomes a time-consuming endeavor, as the temptation to stop and read old articles proves irresistible, an impediment to rapid progress. Many of the stories we ran across described discovery, emerging fisheries, where anglers practiced then-new — but now rather primitive-seeming — tactics and strategies. While the fish and the quest remain the same, our knowledge, techniques and tackle continually advance.

That forward progression more often than not relies on the equipment we have available to us. With that in mind, since most anglers compulsively collect tackle, it made sense to look at the gear featured in our pages over the decades as a convenient way to put into perspective just how far we’ve come, though the goals clearly remain the same: enjoyment on the water, successful angling, and appreciation of the opportunity.

Much as there are three stages in an angler’s career — first, catching any fish; second, catching a lot of fish; and finally, catching the toughest or the biggest fish — what emerged in perusing those back pages was that, as a sport, we seem to have undergone a similar evolution: learning to fish in salt water; finding the kind of fishing we enjoy most and learning how to do it successfully; and making sure those fish have clean water and healthy populations so they last beyond our lifetime.

SWS boasts a rich history of ­leadership in advocacy for the sport and the resource. From the get-go, a strong ethic of conservation and wise use steered editorial policy, and it remains a core value. Editorials over the years, through a succession of editors, reflect this. Regular topics of discussion included voluntarily limiting your catch, the wasteful practices inherent in inshore netting, the degradation of coastal wetlands and inshore waters due to conflicts between industrial and residential development, water-management practices, and much more. In short, those are many of the same concerns we hold today. It's a legacy that those of us involved day to day in this institution strive to maintain, and take pride in.

In closing, I'd like to shamelessly lift portions of the editorial that appeared on the first page of the first issue of SWS in 1939:

“ ... [S]altwater anglers need some vehicle for the exchange of information; some source of knowledge about their sport, accurate reports on what fish are ‘in,’ where the best fishing is to be found, and a hundred and one other items of interest and value — and of course entertainment — to those who seek their sport in the sea.

"It is the purpose of THE SALT ­WATER SPORTSMAN to provide this medium ... to tell you where we KNOW you can take fish (if your luck is good) and how you can take them."

We’d like to believe that we ­continue to fulfill that mission after ­seven-and-a-half decades. In the coming weeks, we will be posting photo galleries dedicated to our past and the industry.