State of the Fishing Industry: What to Expect in Fall 2020

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Surely I’m not the only one who’s ready for 2020 to pack its dang bags and leave forever. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been an incredibly challenging, strange and frightening year for most of the world. Families have been shattered, jobs have been lost and many of the things we love seem to have been taken away overnight.

I think it’s important that I write this piece to let you all-the anglers-understand what’s happening in the fishing industry right now. Like every other industry in the world, fishing businesses have certainly been affected. To be quite honest, however, it all hasn’t been bad. But there are some new inconveniences that have been caused by COVID-19 and it’s quite important that we understand them and adjust accordingly.

When this pandemic began, many forms of recreation seemed to have disappeared. With social distancing guidelines implemented, there wasn’t much for people to do. You couldn’t watch any sports on television, you couldn’t go play any sports and most recreational facilities were closed indefinitely.

You can only sit on the couch, eat junk food and watch Netflix so much during quarantine before you start going absolutely stir crazy. And in the fishing industry, we saw exactly that happen right in front of our eyes. People essentially got sick and tired of sitting inside staring at the television. They wanted to safely get outside while maintaining social distancing, but many didn’t really know how to go about it.

Here’s where fishing enters. Folks who have never touched a rod and reel in their lives decided to give it a shot. They were bored stiff and figured it might be a great way to get some fresh air and spend some quality time with their families. As a result, fishing license sales skyrocketed to all-time highs, boat sales exploded and of course, fishing tackle sales went through the roof. Perhaps most importantly, children who may have never had the opportunity to fish otherwise got to experience it. 

When this all happened, it was both a blessing and a curse for the fishing industry. We always want more people spending time outside with a fishing rod in their hands, so the incredible participation surge we saw was a much needed bright spot for us during a very unsettling time; people were finally learning what makes this sport so special. The huge increase in tackle sales was awesome too because of course, we all want and need our jobs.

So did the fishing industry escape untouched? No, it sure didn’t.

Both manufacturers and raw material suppliers make very specific and careful forecasts each year. A hook company knows how many miles of wire it needs from its suppliers before the year even starts. A hard bait company knows how many split rings to order from its suppliers and the list goes on. With absolutely no way to predict a global pandemic, those normally accurate forecasts were fairly useless.

To add to the challenge, factories, if opened at all, were running at 20 to 25% capacity which drastically reduced output and production. The factories that were open dealt with significant staffing issues as well. This caused fulfillment problems which led to backorders.

Essentially, demand quickly and very unexpectedly exceeded supply; the supply chain had a giant wrench thrown into it. In simpler terms, everybody suddenly bought it all. It’s the same reason you couldn’t and still can’t find a roll of toilet paper anywhere. The dude who never owned a tackle box went to the store and filled up his cart with $500 of random stuff that simply looked pretty. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But you just can’t forecast that stuff.

This is evidenced by a noticeable shortage of supplies at retailers throughout the country. Anglers have been contacting us recently and telling us that huge outdoor retailers have practically zero tackle in some states. I’ve seen a few photos of fishing sections and to be honest, it just looks weird. Where there used to be thousands of bags of soft plastics, now there are a few dozen. So what was, at first, a pretty big positive for the fishing industry now presents some unique challenges for us all, including the consumers.

Rest assured, this will be fixed quickly. We work closely with some of the best tackle companies in the world, both domestic and overseas, and they’re working their hands raw getting orders caught up. This minor inconvenience won’t last long and in fact, things are already noticeably better than they were just last month.

But for the consumer, it’s imperative to understand the importance of pre-planning your tackle needs this year. With fall fishing approaching, you need to be ordering your favorite fall baits right now. I ordered some braided line in June and I didn’t get it for four weeks, so we need to be patient and like every other industry right now, expect shipping delays. You don’t want the autumn months to sneak up on you and get stuck with a depleted selection of lipless crankbaits and topwater plugs. So if you have any particular favorites, especially if they’re from an overseas company, take a few minutes and get your orders in. Heck, they could be on your doorstep in just a few days. But personally speaking, I’m not going to risk a potential delay.

Also worth noting is the current boat shortage right now. For the same reasons discussed regarding the fishing tackle supply chain issues, it’s nearly impossible to find new boats right now. One of my best friends is the manager for a large boat sales group and they’re having to send drivers across the country just to find boats for customers. So if you think you’re in the market for a new boat, you need to make a decision and submit your order as soon as possible. I suspect that within the month, most boat manufacturers will be 12 weeks behind on production. Outboard motors are hard to find as well.

While that’s not particularly great news for the buyer, it’s excellent news for the independent sellers. If you’ve been mulling over the idea of selling your boat, now is the time to pull the proverbial trigger. I’m seeing used bass boats being bought after just hours of being on the market. People are even paying cash and buying sight unseen.

On the flip side, in this seller’s market with rapidly rising demand, buyers need to be prepared to make a quick decision when looking at a used boat. If you’re indecisive and plan on trying to nickel-and-dime the owner, you’re not getting that boat. Just be prepared to buy. The market is that hot right now.

Last but certainly not least, this pandemic has definitely affected professional anglers. Many of them are nervous. With no crowds or fan interaction at tournaments, the anglers are quickly learning the importance of aggressively creating quality independent content. This has also made social media engagement an enormous factor for everyone when contract time rolls around. 

This pandemic and economic climate has taught many pros that they can’t just make one social media post per week anymore and expect their bosses to be happy about it. Demonstrating quantifiable value is of the utmost significance right now. Proactively producing digital content and seeking out media opportunities is critical. And once that content is completed, understanding, carefully tracking and reporting monthly performance analytics should not be overlooked. The emphasis on these things is at an all-time high for companies, regardless of an angler’s resumé.

As we slowly crawl towards the fall fishing season, it’s important that we practice patience and continue to climb this hill together. Anglers stick together and it’s up to us all to support this wonderful industry and the local tackle shops. As long as we plan our tackle needs and think ahead, we’ll continue right along without missing a beat. In the meantime, stay healthy, happy and covered in fish slime.