“Many (people) go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish that they are after.” Henry David Thoreau ~ (1817 – 1862)
Craig Amacker releases almost every catch. It’s not fish he’s after, but the experience of a day on the water, tiny moments of time when he’s directly connected to nature by a thin nylon filament. “It’s my escape, but it’s also my occupation,” Craig said as we cast our lines over the Wisconsin River.
“It’s all about when that fish strikes and you know there’s something alive on the end of your line.”
Craig splits his days between a full-time job as the fly-fishing manager at Fontana Sports in Madison, Wisconsin and guiding anglers on excursions around the world. As an outdoor retailer he’s in the business of sharing his knowledge and experience with others. And each year in Salt Lake City leaders in the trade come together as a community to share their passion for their favorite pastime that also happens to be their vocation.
Outdoor Retailer Summer Market welcomes fly-fishing professionals from across the globe. They come to find the latest products as well as connect with fellow anglers with similar interests and common challenges in navigating the torrential waters of a highly competitive retail environment. In the business all his life, John Bailey looks to OR as the place where he can engage his customers and suppliers in deep discussions on the state of the industry.
“Having gone as an attendee for several years I saw a lot of dealers there,” said the second-generation owner of Dan Bailey Fly Fishing in Livingston, Montana. “You want to have in-depth conversations with people and maybe meet some new ones. Now as an exhibitor, we’ve met more people at the last OR show than at the last several fly-fishing shows we went to.”
With a broad array of workshops and seminars during the four-day trade show, OR gives attendees the tools to directly translate their passion for the sport of fly fishing into genuine experiences for their customers to enjoy. David Leinweber, owner of Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs, said advice gleaned through programs at OR led by the trade group the Outdoor Industry Association, helped to transform his store. By providing his customers, who had previously complained that local rivers were too crowded, with a detailed list of 60 fishing destinations within a two-hour drive, Leinweber made a critical shift in the success of his business.
“It all about customer engagement,” he said. “It’s about identifying what your customers want and giving it to them.”
With more places to fish in relative solitude, Angler’s Covey customers rewarded the retailer with increased sales. But as the fly-fishing demographic remains heavily populated by the aging baby boomer generation, companies are faced with the growing necessity to introduce the sport to new consumers. Women, children and urban adventurists offer retailers a great opportunity to grow the ranks of anglers. Bart Bonime at Patagonia says his company’s new program called Simple Fly Fishing offers an all-in-one kit, complete with a tenkara rod, flies and a how-to guide, that can get anyone out casting for under $300.
“The entire focus of that is to make fly fishing easily understandable, affordable and accessible,” Bonime said. “The learning curve is immediate and it’s appropriate for all ages.”
Available to fly fishing-retailers this summer this new kit just might help open the sport to a generation of users who are interested in a comprehensive outdoor experience. “There’s a lot more crossover than people realize,” said Tom Bie, editor of The Drake Magazine.
“People who fly fish are also rafters or standup paddleboard users. All the camping equipment ties in. What I also like about Outdoor Retailer is it has a strong conservation component as well.” It’s not fish they’re after. Specialty retailers aim to create a community of shared values. And though the industry can certainly provide the equipment and expertise necessary to get the fish to bite, OR also offers the opportunity to create a direct relationship with nature and fellow anglers who love it just as much.
This story originally ran in the 2014 Summer issue of Angling Trade Magazine
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