Fishing industry alive and (mostly) well

If the folks I've talked to in the last week are to be believed, the tackle business is still at the bottom of a long, steep climb. But, it's making headway. Slowly.

At the Big Rock East Dealer Show last week, the mood was not so much upbeat as it was not somber, which could have been expected given the current state of the economy overall and news that consumers are still unwilling to make discretionary purchases.

Walking the floor of the trade show, which I have always seen as a harbinger for the upcoming season, manufacturers and retailers were warily optimistic. "We've seen over 100 dealers in the last three days," said the marketing manager for one company. "They aren't spending as much as they have in the past, when the market was really strong, but they are buying, and they say business is improving."

This is important news because the independent retailers who walk the show form the backbone of the bass fishing market; and because they know their consumers and their market so well, they are our best barometers for the overall state of the tackle business. That they were at the show in droves was a good sign, especially given all they've had to contend with in the last several years.

Everyone I spoke to said the same thing: The economy over the last half-decade has not been very kind to fishing, but the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf last spring really socked it to the industry. Just as things were starting to be loosed from the clutches of a merciless economic cycle, the oil spill dramatically cut back business in an area that comprises a large chunk of the sportfishing industry's business, the Gulf of Mexico. "Were it not for the oil spill," said the national sales manager for one company, "I think we'd be out of this mess.

We were just starting to see things turn around, orders going up, attitudes changing, people starting to spend. Then, wham! It was like someone cut the lights back off." Now, with the impact of the spill not as significant as initially feared, many are seeing signs that 2011 will be strong. If there are no more economic storms on the horizon, the industry's growing optimism might be rewarded.

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