Joe SillsWritten by

How COVID-19 Is Impacting the Retail Fishing Industry

Industry News| Views: 1956

Eight weeks. That’s how long the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is currently recommending you avoid gatherings of 50 people or more in the United States. Eight weeks from now is early May. There is no facet of life, no industry, no sector of American culture that will not be affected by the spread of COVID-19, the fast-moving illness that was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

By now, COVID-19 news is inescapable. If you’re one of those pouting about the media firestorm, I get it. The last few years have made many Americans question which reported news is and is not true. But if you don’t trust the media, I ask if you trust a few other entities.

  • Do you trust that Las Vegas likes to make money? MGM has closed all of its Sin City properties in preparation for what’s to come.
  • Do you trust that the NCAA likes to make money? March Madness isn’t happening either.
  • Do you trust that airlines—who nickel and dime you over the last ounces in your checked bags—like to make money? American Airlines has grounded most of their wide body jets for the foreseeable future.

A few days ago, Shimano became the subject of industry conversation when they decided to pull out of the Bassmaster Classic Expo. Now, they look like fortune tellers. But I’m not here to convince you that COVID-19 is a threat to be taken seriously. If you’re not doing that by now, you’re risking your own life and those of your loved ones. I am, however, here to tell you how the fishing industry is reacting to the COVID-19 outbreak so far.

Tournaments

B.A.S.S. has postponed its Elite Series event on Lake Chickamauga, scheduled for March 19-22. The decision came has Tennessee cases of COVID-19 roses to 18 last week. Today there are over 50, and hospitals in the Volunteer State are reporting patients who are displaying symptoms but were denied testing due to lack of equipment.

Major League Fishing and FLW have suspended public gatherings. Though an ongoing Major League Fishing event at Lake Fork was not postponed or canceled, the organization has suspended all fan meet-and-greets associated with the Bass Pro Tour and the attendance of all non-essential staff at all FLW tournaments, including weigh-ins. FLW actually shifted the start of its Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit event at Lake Martin, originally slated to begin on Thursday March 19, to Wednesday March 18 while adding, “By its nature, the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit allows for social distancing as anglers compete widely dispersed on thousands of acres of water.” The event will proceed without marshals with participation limited to pros and essential tournament staff only.

FLW has rescheduled all other tournaments through April 5.

The Bass Federation has cancelled high school bass fishing tournaments in Louisiana and Georgia. FLW officials will be closely scrutinizing whether to hold future events going forward.

All IGFA-sponsored events scheduled for the next eight weeks are being postponed, and the IGFA headquarters in Dania Beach, Florida will be closed. IGFA staff are working remotely.

Retailers

Gary’s Simpson runs Gary’s Tackle Box in Gainesville, Florida. It’s the kind of legendary tackle shop where anglers from all over Central Florida swing by to grab bait and chat it up with an old friend—Gary. “Things had really starting hitting on all cylinders for us by the end of February,” said Simpson. “We were very busy, and things were going along very healthily. About a week ago, when the gravity of the situation really fell on everybody, we saw a pretty noticeable drop-off in the number of people that came by.”

Simpson swung by a local lake over the weekend and found a packed parking lot with plenty of anglers out on the water. “There’s no problem with folks heading to the lake, but they’re obviously thinking twice about coming into the store.” Simpson says the store has bottles of hand sanitizer available for customers and the staff. “You’ve got guys coming in that still want to shake your hand, and I’m good with that. That’s what I’m here for. Then you have guys who want to get and go, and that’s fine, too.”

In the remote Arizona/Utah border town of Page, Mike Stickler of Stix Liquor and Sporting Goods says he’s benefitting from spill-off traffic from desert tours. The Navajo Nation closed tribal parks—including nearby Antelope Canyon—on March 13, leaving Page-area tourists with extra time on their hands. “People are looking for things to do, so a lot of them are taking one day fishing trips (on Lake Powell) and I’m seeing them come in to buy licenses,” adds Stickler. “I’m not sure what will happens,” he adds of the coming weeks. “We’re just coming into our season. It just now warmed up last week, so it’s hard to say how it will affect us.”

According to Stickler, crowds in Antelope Canyon can sometimes be 60 to 80 people deep, all standing shoulder-to-shoulder. “It usually picks up this time of year because it’s spring break in our area. Looking around town, though, it’s not picking up. It looks like it’s at a stand still.”

In the town of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, three hours north of Minneapolis, Grant Prokop runs Thousand Lakes Sporting Goods. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people up here who think it’s a joke and it’s not really going on,” Prokop says. He’s expecting a tight spring, but one that his company will survive. “We’ve seen the economy slow down big time in the last four days. We’re not too worried on the tackle side of things—especially in a county with 1,000 lakes. These people up here will still fish, because that’s what they’re passionate about. I’ve already sold 80 or 100 jigs today, and I’ve had to build wax worms five times, so bait is going out the door.”

Prokop says he has slowed orders for soft goods, and he’s cutting down or and asking manufacturers to hold partial shipments for rods and reels. “There are so many customers here that live on bodies of water. If the state decides to limit people to where they can go, a lot of them will still be fishing in their back yard. My only concern is if we have to close completely.”

In Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey—about 60 miles from Philadelphia—Patrick Gill’s Tackle Direct has enabled all employees who are able to work from home. An annual Spring Sale is going all digital. “Our operations will be impacted, but in a limited manner,” Gill said. “We will not allow more than 20 people into our store at any one time, and with an onsite staff reduction we are not going to exceed a recent Governor’s mandate to have less than 50 people in a building or space at any one time. We are also changing retail store procedures and sanitizing payment terminals to protect staff and employees.”

Gill says his business has limited reliance on its brick-and-mortar space, and while he anticipates a negative impact on sales, he can continue eCommerce business as long as UPS, FedEx and USPS continue operations. “We have not heard any discussions that shipping operations would end, due to the importance of moving goods to our economy,” he concluded.

Manufacturers

Lexington, South Carolina-based Lew’s Holdings has also encouraged as many employees as possible to work from home. Additionally, Lew’s has restricted all non-essential travel and has advised workers to exercise social distancing, while listening to all WHO and CDC guidelines.

Florida-based J.L. Marine Systems, parent company of Power-Pole has suspended mobile service crews, outside sales representatives and tournaments support as a precaution. The company will remain closed to the public but otherwise open for business.

Near Copenhagen, Denmark, Westin Fishing is several days ahead of the United States in its response. Marketing Manager Andreas Aggerlund reports, “Being based in Scandinavia, Westin has been affected locally since March 12, when our government closed all schools and public workplaces; but we have been dealing with the consequences of COVID-19 since it started in China, where most of our factories are located. To make sure we get ‘back to normal’ as soon as possible and that Westin does not contribute to spreading COVID-19, the management immediately chose to follow government guidelines and send the majority of the staff home. Our sales reps have stopped visiting customers and most of the back office has been working from home since March 12. The employees critical for daily operations are working isolated, in individual offices at our headquarters and warehouse.”

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