Almost everything around Trait Zaldain's boat and truck is cast in shades of pink. From sunglasses on her face to rods held in both hands, it’s all about pink.
Not everything has always been so pink for Zaldain, the 30-year-old Texan in her sixth season of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens series.
Pink is not even her favorite color. As a girl she so disliked pink it was never part of her wardrobe.
“I thought pink was weak, like playing with a Barbie Doll,” she said. “I played, acted like a boy, thinking that was the image of being strong.”
Zaldain matured into a woman with strong character, lots of confidence and lofty goals. Pink became a sign of strength, not weakness.
“I think that’s the exact opposite of how it should be these days,” she explained of the change in pink. “I am a woman and the one color we have is pink.
“Sometimes we avoid owning who we really are, and pink to me is being a woman, owning your femininity."
And that not-so-favorite color is now helping introduce fishing to new anglers.
Zaldain honed her bass fishing skills with hand-me-down tackle from her father. Her inquisitive mind turned as she learned more about the sport. The beefy rods were an awkward fit. Hook sets were sometimes difficult. She accepted the shortcomings as part of the learning curve.
Tournaments came into view and missed strikes and lost fish became a big deal. Zaldain realized the problem wasn’t hers but the tackle. Then came the first turning point.
“I was going to the tackle store and guys were telling me exactly what I needed, no questions asked,” she said. “It was very intimidating, feeling out of place, not getting asked about my needs, being the target of flirts.”
After hearing enough of nothing she realized the problem, which she turned into opportunity. Rods were force-fed to a market in denial. Zaldain learned she was not alone with facing the intimidating environment inside a tackle store.
“Rod makers didn’t realize that a woman has a different hook set,” she explained. “We are not as strong, don’t have the brute strength of a man.”
Zaildain experimented with rod actions. Late nights were spent brainstorming and drawing technical diagrams of rod actions and designs.
“I realized rod actions could make a huge difference," she said. "A rod with a longer pull could compensate for the difference in hook-setting strength between a man and woman.”
She continued dreaming of the day when a woman’s rod line filled the void of a neglected niche.
That turning point came with a phone call from Angie Thompson, the vice president of events and sponsorship activation for B.A.S.S. Thompson already had a proposal from Zaldain about her plans for such a rod line. Walmart was interested in stocking products designed specifically for women. Thompson believed Zaldain’s ideas might fit that need.
Timing was perfect. Wright & McGill, the eventual vendor, had similar plans. The brand engineers just needed help with practical knowledge of the market and sport.
“Mommy bloggers complained to Walmart about only having Barbie rod-and-reel combos to use,” she said. “They felt insulted and Walmart reacted.”
Zaldain had complete, unfiltered freedom to design, test and give the nod to the first round of products. The outcome was a rod-and-reel combo.
“We designed quality into the price point required by Walmart, showed that women wanted to fish and it went crazy,” she said.
Crazy indeed. Sales projections for an entire year were met within months. Ironically, the chosen color for the combo was pink. Zaldain embraced the cause and even championed a social media campaign that grabbed unplanned attention.
On her Facebook page, Zaldain posted a photo from one of the first customers as a token of appreciation. More photos came, many of which were taken at the point of sale inside Walmart stores. A surprising number of young girls posed with the pink combos.
“It was an honest, genuine gesture of thanks that turned into marketing success, I mean it just blew up,” she recalled. “It was the best thing that ever happened.”
Wright & McGill took note, since the spike in sales occurred during a soft launch. Zaldain came up with the #PinkRods hash tag and is active through all available social media channels. The hash tag is highly visible on both sides of the truck used for towing her Phoenix Boats tournament rig.
“We all embraced the power of social media, how being personable is such an influencer for customer engagement,” she explained.
The spinning and casting combos, sunglasses, and separate casting rod are part of the Walmart lineup. Zaldain’s dream of a complete line of rods designed by and marketed for women will soon become reality. Tackle Warehouse will offer six rods designed by Zaldain.
She is swelling with pride and deservingly so. Still, the ultimate goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series remains.
“I was told by many potential sponsors that I had no value as an angler to them until I made the Elites,” she said.
An idea rejected as foolish by another rod maker is now selling lots of product. More importantly, more women and young girls are picking up fishing rods, and enjoying fishing for the first time. Mission accomplished with more to come.
“The reason why I’ve never given up is there still are no women in the Elite Series,” she said.
She spoke with passion when posing these provocative questions:
“Why are we waiting? There are so many women anglers out there, so why wait to get them involved in fishing like me?”
Trait Zaldain has already answered her own questions. She is well on the way to achieving that goal, even before punching her ticket as a pro in the Elite Series.