Fishing tackle is a global business, but that doesn’t mean we all go about that business in the exact same way. This month, I’ll be taking a look at my homeland, and one of the most influential and idiosyncratic fishing markets in Europe: The United Kingdom. The U.K. is a varied, but also tradition-rich business arena that has several quirks and methods that U.S. retailers could learn a trick or two from.
To get a sense of what fishing tackle is like at a retail level in the U.K., my best advice is to befriend a fishing Brit and take them into a Bass Pro or a Cabela’s. Watch their jaw hit the floor, their head crane frantically in all directions as they try to take it in, and them start muttering to themselves in an attempt to talk themselves out of spending a small fortune. Shops in the U.K. simply don’t come on this same scale.
A cottage industry
Traditionally, British fishing stores are local, independent and much smaller affairs that are often family-run and have an important place in the community as a place to go for advice and information. The industry here has long been referred to as a cottage industry – a place where many of the retailers are anglers who turned their hobby into a job rather than savvy businessmen with heads for retail. Over the last decade or so, things have started to change, in part down to the growth of some of the bigger retailers and the gradual introduction of some chain stores, and in part down to an increase in professionalism among retailers. Now the U.K. has the likes of Angling Direct and Fishing Republic spreading their reaches around the nation and buying up independent stores of varying sizes along the way. The growth of these chain stores – and also the increasing involvement of general outdoor retailers such as Go Outdoors and Decathlon in the fishing market – would imply that fishing retail in the U.K. is in excellent health, but that is sadly not entirely true. A report by the U.K.’s Environment Agency recently revealed that since 2011, fishing licence sales in the U.K.have plummeted almost 40 per cent and the average amount spent by anglers on tackle annually is only about U.S. $500. Neither of these stats make for thriving retail trade – and with many smaller businesses lacking the nous or ruthlessness to make it work in tough conditions, many shops have been lost to this general decline. Those that have stayed and thrived are the ones that do things in the right way though, and tougher trading conditions have encouraged them to become better retailers.
Some of the retailers that have survived are the ones that have embraced online sales, and in fact, some of the bigger retailers are largely online-only affairs.
The two dominant styles of fishing in the U.K. are carp fishing and what’s known colloquially as general coarse fishing. Modern carp fishing was pioneered in the U.K. and the country remains the trendsetter for this style and the culture surrounding it. Many other European countries look to the U.K. and its premium carp brands like Korda, Fox and ESP for inspiration and guidance. There are many retailers who specialize only in carp fishing and often take larger units to be able to properly display some of the larger products involved in carp fishing such as bivvies (tents for overnight fishing), bedchairs, rod rests, wheelbarrows to carry tackle to your peg in and so on. Carp fishing is the main discipline that is attracting young anglers to the sport. The culture surrounding it appeals to young anglers who view it as cool and edgy. Check out Carpology and Monkey Climber magazines to get a feel for this unique scene.
Coarse fishing – the other main player in U.K. fishing – is basically a general term for most kinds of freshwater fishing for a multitude of species including roach, bream, rudd, tench, perch to name a few. Bait, both natural and man-made, is the most common way to fish like this, which means many tackle shops must have fridges and cold storage to keep things like maggots and worms in good condition. A sub-division of this type of fishing is match fishing. Often, but not exclusively, conducted with huge fishing poles of up to 18 meters in length, this is the main type of competition fishing in Europe with the winner being the one who catches the biggest overall weight of fish. Most fishing retailers will sell some tackle for coarse fishing of some type.
Other types of fishing that are common in the U.K. include fly fishing and lure fishing. Fly fishing has many of its own dedicated retail stores, whereas lure fishing items tend to be sold by general tackle stores or by carp stores in the winter as predator species like pike, perch and zander are targets for many carp anglers in these leaner months.
British fishing tackle stores do not really have a typical type of unit they occupy. Some are in smaller, simple shops in town and city centers, some are in specifically-made out-of-town retail outlets. Others are added on to fisheries or even things like garden centers or even pet stores. They are varied and they are vast. Staff are generally helpful and nearly always anglers themselves, so you can be sure of expert tips and advice in most stores. British anglers are generally quite price savvy – they like a bargain and they will certainly opt for the lower end of the price spectrum in many cases. There are of course those who spend a lot on their fishing tackle, but these are fewer and fewer.
Vital statistics on the U.K. tackle market
- Estimated number of anglers: 2 million
- Estimated number of tackle shops: 2,000
- Estimated number of wholesalers: 10
- Estimated number of manufacturers/brands: 250
- Estimated value of fishing to the U.K.’s economy: U.S. $2 billion