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A new Bass Pro Shops store open in the Rocklin Crossings shopping center and marks the Missouri-based company’s Sacramento region debut. Will they threaten small fly shops? Walmart did it to untold numbers of small town ‘downtown’ shops in rural America.

The big fish gobble up the smaller fish 

By Skip Clement

It is bound to happen. Walmart showed Wall Street how the world of retail works. Costco, Sam’s, Home Depot, and other big-box operations copied the philosophy in another way – sell everything produced in foodstuffs or building products, which has lead to owning the suppliers. Amazon has done it online – it’s cut-throat for vendors. 

Will the fly fishing industry be swallowed whole or in part?

Request a copy of Bass Pro/Cabela’s [Bass Pro owns Cabela’s] 2021 FLY FISHING Specialist Catalog. A fly fishing only pamphlet with every square inch of space hollering with the worst possible fonts imaginable on a layout designed by Jackson Pollock to assure readers get a headache before they get to page 60.

The products viewed in ads of the 2021 FLY FISHING Specialist Catalog were those seen in print magazines that cover fly fishing: Outdoor Life, Trout, Field & Stream, Atlantic Salmon, and Fly Fisherman – and so were other blue-ribbon products. 

From Amazon, the Sage Foundation Fly Rod is $350, at Red’s Fly Shop in Ellensburg, Washington, $350. So, you say no advantage, not so – think again.

The blinding light of the Specialist Catalog was not its attempt to have a respectable layout [based on its ‘look’ of previous print sales announcements]. The ads were by the big-name rods and reels companies and it captures attention: Sage, Greys, Redington, Douglas, Hardy, Orvis, Fenwick, Penn, Waterworks Lamson, TFO, and more. Not long ago, almost all the brands only available at a fly shop.

Will loyalty to fly shops last? If one major goes AWOL from fly shops allegiance the flood gate opens. A CEO will never tell the board, “We’re not going to double our sales and increase profits.”

Also, scattered within the 60 pages of the ‘Specialist Catalog’ were accouterments that look like products from the same major suppliers but labeled Cabela’s or Bass Pro’s White River, or Bass Pro Shops’ new brand they call World Wide Sportsman [WWS], the latter, I suspect, the launch vehicle and flood gate.

White River products have little to recommend themselves to beginners or even casual fly fishers. Cabela’s, with a little tweaking could be the heart and soul of ‘let me introduce you to fly fishing and fly tying.’

The WWS name was kept when Johnny Morris [Bass Pro Shops] bought it from his friend and angling icon, Capt. George Hommell [now deceased]. The WWS is a famous Islamorada, Florida, fly shop that George  opened for business in 1967.

At the WWS, George introduced me, on separate occasions, to the two men who changed the course of saltwater fly fishing, Billy Pate and Tibor “Ted” Juracsik – think tarpon.

George Hommell, Jr., was very very helpful to Capt. Andrew Derr and me – introducing us people and pointing the way while writing Fly Fishing the Florida Keys.

So, what’s the point here? 

The point is that we might be looking at an Amazon variant, like Costco, but for fly fishing, and that bodes ill winds for mom and pop fly shops now enjoying a cash register gold rush like the movie A River Runs Through It created in the 90s. This windfall, however, the product of death and devastation to hundreds of thousands of families – COVID 19. It ultimately meant shelter in place, lockdown, and social distancing – the latter a perfect storm for getting outdoors. 

COVID sent people who fly fish and newcomers who joined them in droves to answer the call to social distance but enjoy it 

Rivers and lakes, marinas, and saltwater flats have been, and continue to be, spring high tides of people, and many of these new folks rushed to fly shops and bought out stock. These shortages were baked in because of shuttered manufacturing caused by COVID 19.

One small fly shop I visited [they requested anonymity for obvious reasons] appeared to have been invaded by Brood X cicadas emerging for the first time in 17 years. They had only four new fly rods for sale, and a waiting list for already ordered rods [in April], with delivery forecasted for August. The flies tables offered less than half of what is usually available.

Perfect example of struggling is the unique new Henry Fly Rods‘ lightweight, ultra-short Dave Redington designed ‘Power Boost’ series  of 3-through 10-weight fly rods. Designed to lessen if not eliminate upper body pain [arthritis], and make less physically taxing casting while adding the distance older anglers were used to in their more youthful days, less nimble fly fishers enabled to hit those tight pockets.

A big box store might have friendly people, but it’s like talking to the apprentice compared to the owner of a local fly shop.  

Note: My big box store is Cabela’s in Acworth, Georgia, and just as my former big box store in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Bass Pro Shops, notorious for dropping calls when asking to get connected to the fly fishing extension to inquire if they have, as advertised, a product in inventory. Usually, there isn’t anyone at the fly fishing section, so someone from the next-door fishing department is sent to help, but of course, they are not sure of what you want. 

A drive over to the store will sometimes prove an errant errand because they are out of the product stated online that they have in stock. So, an hour and 41-minutes later, I’m home and still unable to finish my project, but it doesn’t matter; I’ve lost the will to live by then.

Coming in another issue, some enlightening fly fishing statistics as researched and compiled by industry watchdogs and an opinion on what it all may mean


Author Skip

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