Generally it is impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but as we keep saying over and over, this is 2020 and anything is possible.
A good example. During the midst of a pandemic that resulted in a nationwide shutdown followed by a tepid restart to life, only to be followed by social upheaval, hurricanes and millions of acres of wildfires, America has rediscovered outdoor activities.
One of the biggest areas of resurgence has been fishing. In Texas fishing license sales between March 1 and Aug. 31 soared from 416,297 in 2019 to 639,955, an increase of 35%. And that number only includes those requiring a license. It does not count youth 16 and under or those fishing within state parks.
That is the trend across much of the country as Americans got back outdoors whether walking through their neighborhood, playing golf, target shooting or catching a mess of fish.
It was good news for a lot of fishing guides who saw their business struggle early in the spring when the country initially shutdown. Lake Tawakoni striper guide Joe Read was one of those who saw a surge in fishing interest. Read said he experienced a lot of cancelations in April and May, but after that business picked up with a number of new customers coming out. He said he also had a lot of former customers who have not fished in several years make reservations as well.
Crappie guide Clay Gann experienced a similar year.
“I did have several that wanted to get out of the house. I had a couple that were first-time fishing and a lot there were first-time crappie fishing,” Gann said.
Of course it was not all new fishermen on the lakes. A lot of those sent home from work for an extended time also found their way to the lake. Ramps, normally vacant during weekdays, were suddenly full. That caught many retailers and manufacturers off guard and put a strain on tackle supplies that has not completely caught up yet.
“The most exciting thing we are seeing is the fact it is people who haven’t fished are starting to and liking it. The joke is (in fishing) anyone can win,” Creme Lures CEO Wayne Kent said.
By virtue of the fact its creator, Nick Creme, invented the soft plastic worm, the Tyler-based company is the oldest in that segment of the industry. Without giving exact numbers, Kent admitted this year’s orders nationwide have topped Texas’ license sales increase percentage.
“It is nationwide. It is not just us, it is our industry. Everyone has had a hard time pumping up to get the inventory there. Nobody anticipated a surge this big coming,” Kent explained.
While ramping up production across all of its lines, Kent said his company has had some issues acquiring components like hooks. Creme makes all of it products at its plant near Lake Tyler, simplifying production and delivery somewhat easier than for those whose products are made outside of America.
Kent said some retailers have been desperate.
“We have had them call yelling ‘Where is our stuff? We need merchandise.’ We have had some call and ask if we had anything (they could buy),” he said.
Across town Bonehead Tackle is still a relative newcomer to the crappie bait industry, but has been enjoying year-to-year growth as it expands into new markets. It also saw a jump in sales this spring and summer.
“Since Covid started it has increased our sales. More people are out fishing. They have more time and with social distancing they want to get outside and fish, hunt or just walk,” said the company’s Jensen Lockhart.
Lockhart said he suspects business has more than doubled in recent months. While normally that kind of unexpected growth would cause issues for an inhouse lure producer like Bonehead, it did not. Part of that was because the company had already been ramping up production, but for a different reason.
“A lot of our products are made inhouse. As far as raw materials we have been able to maintain supplies. We were gearing up for major growth because we were going into Walmart and some Scheels. So we were building up our inventory for that and the day we got into more big box stores,” Lockhart said.
He said one issue did arise with the company’s specialty rods it has manufactured in China. Since the coronavirus outbreak the company has looked for manufacturers in a number of other countries, but has not found one yet. It has considered an American-made option, but that would raise the price three-fold making them too expensive for the market. In recent weeks production and delivery from China has caught back up with demand.
There has been a similar run on guns and ammunition this summer, but a lot of that has been because of social and political unrest. The increased interest in fishing is strictly recreational and for fun.
“It is a good time and exciting. We needed more to come in and participate. That is the good part of all of this. What is the shake-out, nobody knows how many will stick,” Kent said.