Editor’s note: This story came from a content conference B.A.S.S. had with key partners in the Little Rock studio of Bassmaster LIVE. Here are two more stories from that week: T-H Marine's Gene Eisenmann, Mustad's hooks guru.
Never in his wildest dreams did Andrew Wheeler think fishing around southeastern Australia in his youth would lead him to his jet-setting life with Abu Garcia.
The Business Brand Manager, who now lives near Abu’s headquarters in Columbia, S.C., has seen a lot of the world since his days of fishing for estuary species around Wollongong. Overseeing products heading to shelves and marketing them takes Wheeler to all the major fishing shows, as well as company facilities across the U.S., Sweden and Japan. Fishing in Mexico was his latest stop before visiting B.A.S.S. meetings in Little Rock, Ark.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “When I look back and think about fishing in general, growing up fishing, what I studied in university to what I’m doing now, it’s a crazy jump.”
Fishing had always been his passion, so much so that he worked at tackle retail store while studying environmental science at the University of Wollongong. When he earned his degree in fisheries management, Wheeler was asked by a friend in the industry if he’d be interested in a product development role at Pure Fishing. He enjoyed his 3 1/2 years there then sought out bigger fish.
“I really loved it and thought I needed to take the next step,” he said. “Australia is not a big country. The fishing industry is not massive.”
It just so happened that asking about a position in the U.S. was quickly answered.
“They had actually been looking for somebody for eight months and told me I might be perfect for the role,” said Wheeler, who applied, flew over to interview then went home trying to figure out all the visa paperwork for his move. (He’s since married an American, which has cut down on the green card paperwork.)
Wheeler said he feels fortunate to work with the iconic brand. Abu Garcia makes everything from rods and reels – entry-level to premium – as well as myriad hard baits and soft baits in other countries for predator fishing. Wheeler’s work on the broad portfolio of products has him crossing paths with pro anglers, consumers, retailers and manufacturers.
“It’s really a combination of working with consumers, to see what they want, getting feedback from pro anglers, to see what they want,” he said. “You might get some information from the most random sources – a consumer makes a random comment. ‘I wish this product would do this.’”
Therein lies a prime example that resulted in an improved drag system in the Revo reels. Wheeler said the angler told him of an issue, and he and the Abu team went about tackling it.
“We had 20 pounds of drag in our last system,” Wheeler said. “He said, ‘I love flipping and pitching heavy cover, but every reel I use, no matter what I use, I crank the drag down as hard as I can, and I go to set the hook and the drag still slips a little, and I don’t get a real solid hookset.’
“You kind of put that comment in your back pocket. I’ll take that away and let’s go work with the teams. You talk to your engineering team.”
The problem was eventually solved by taking the drag system from one of their larger reels and working to condense it and pack it into the smaller, low-profile bass reels. Projects like that can take several years to come into fruition, Wheeler said.
“You can have an idea and maybe it’s three to five years down the road before see the tangible product in your hand,” he said.
Overseeing that improvement and then creating a buzz for the masses when it’s ready drives Wheeler and his teams.
“I love what I do,” he said. “If you’re an angler, you can get into this industry, but then I think it’s hard to get out of it. I love working on the brands I work on. Abu has been a staple for me for a long time. It’s something I’m super passionate about. I love working with the brand and the products.”