When the nation shutdown right after the Bassmaster Classic, the fishing industry sat wondering what the future would bring. Many stores were closed but they still had online retail options to subsidize a loss in sales. And then one-by-one factories and warehouses closed across the country. Fear of the unknown set in while state, city and federal leaders scrambled to decide what we could and couldn’t do. Leave the house? Stay in? 

Thankfully, as gyms and yoga studios were forced to close, it was decided that citizens in most areas could leave the house to exercise. Many parks and boat ramps remained open. Likewise, several cities deemed bait and tackle stores “essential,” and these stores were able to reopen and stay open. Americans started fishing—many for the first time.

Fishing license sales rose across the board, nationwide.

On the public relations and communications side of the industry, endemic brands began to bounce back and non-endemic brands began to see opportunity in sportfishing. One such brand was Nissan, whose top competitors have been taking advantage of marketing opportunities in fishing for years.

Nissan’s big idea

Nissan’s communications team often sends automotive writers out onto the highways of America to test and review their new trucks, cars and SUVs. However, with many urban destinations closed at the onset of the pandemic, Nissan was facing a dilemma that they believed the fishing industry could help solve.

When it comes to products in the outdoor space, Nissan has a good story to tell. The Titan and Frontier pickups, along with the Pathfinder and Armada, SUVs are built for the rugged outdoors and can take fisherman off-road to their favorite “honey hole.” From hauling a couple of kayaks or towing just about any size boat their trucks and SUVs are specifically designed with features including easy trailer hook up, trailer light check and trailer sway control.

Nissan’s communications team wanted to get their new products out into the field, while ensuring they promoted something that was safe and fit the lifestyle of those who buy Nissan trucks and SUVS.

“When the pandemic hit, and everyone was sheltering in, we were trying to figure out the best way to tell our truck and SUV story,” said Nissan North America’s Manager of Corporate Communications Steve Parret. “One of the first things we thought of was that we should offer a surefire cure to the cabin fever so many of us were feeling. Fishing fit the bill. It’s an activity enjoyed solo or with friends, and it’s easy to comply with social distancing rules.”

Parret’s research suggested that many Americans wanted to get outside this summer, albeit in a safe and socially distant manner. And whether it was heading to the lake to celebrate a holiday weekend or traveling cross country, well over half of the respondents in a Nissan-commissioned survey indicated they would feel more comfortable getting away in their car. In fact, 71% of Americans surveyed said they were more comfortable traveling by car than air; and 28% of Americans said they have intentions of buying or renting a vehicle capable of towing over the next few months.

In a merger of worlds, Nissan wanted to deliver fishing equipment to automotive writers and send them out to review and test their vehicles in the wild. However, they had a slight problem—most of their automotive writers did not know how to fish.

Educating first-time anglers

Major League Fishing star Fred Roumbanis hosted a “Fishing 101” Zoom for automotive writers. Photo: MLF

To get automotive writers into the field, Nissan decided to put together a “Fishing 101” Zoom class with them to offer tips, advice and answer questions they may have before they embarked on their trips.

Major League Fishing Pro Fred Roumbanis stepped up to host the class from a lake near his Arkansas home. Over the course of an hour, Roumbanis demonstrated basic fishing techniques and how-to tips from the water. “I taught them how to spool a spinning rod and reel, rig a drop shot and basically go almost anywhere and try to catch a fish,” said Roumbanis. “Most of them had never done that before.”

From there, it was up to the automotive writers to take their “Fishing 101” lessons on the road.

Nearly six months after social distancing began, the sportfishing industry is breathing a sigh of relief. Millions of new anglers are fishing, teaching their children to fish and loving it. It’s likely that we will never see such a rapid increase in newcomers to the sport as we have during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As fishing industry professionals, it’s up to us to educate and motivate new anglers.

Soon, youth sports and group activities will be back and once again be in competition with fishing. It’s imperative that we retain newcomers to the sport. And there are lessons we can take from these non-endemic writers and their non-endemic host company. After all, most of these writers are new anglers playing in a new space.

Yes, they need to know how to drop-shot. They also need to know how to launch a boat, how to tie knots, how to hold and unhook a fish, how to safely release a fish, or—maybe—how to cook a fish. Those are questions that tackle stores and tackle manufacturers can help them answer. And just like Nissan, companies that reach out to newcomers may just gain some customers in the process.