Tackle Observations from Sea to Shining Sea

“You can’t force them to. People try every year.” The words carried north from the sweltering Mississippi Delta to the temperate, dry air of Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. The words were my own, and an answer came from 800 miles away, through 35 years of industry experience…“No, you can’t.”

We’re talking about new products, of course. Every year, they come and go. Every year, someone has an idea that will “revolutionize” the fishing industry. It’s a “true game-changer” they say.

Except, most of the time, it isn’t. And if it’s not, you can’t force it to be.

“This industry has always been dictated by the fishermen,” the other voice explained.

It belonged to FTR-founder Clem Dippel, and it’s a voice that’s been heard in tackle stores, conference rooms and across fisheries from Alaska to the Caribbean since well before he took the reigns of FTR 35 years ago. Clem is 80 years young now. In some eyes, he’s a legend in his own time: he’s the man who allegedly, (probably?) shared drinks in a Key West bar with Ernest Hemingway, or used to sky-hop from boat-to-boat in Lew Childre’s cockpit. In other eyes, he’s the man who hounded and hounded you to buy ads until you finally became a believer in trade magazines or paid him to go away.

In my eyes, Clem is a co-worker and a friend. But no matter how you view him, the man has a point.

New products come and go, fads come and go, but the industry is always dictated by the fishermen. If they believe in a product, it will succeed. If it doesn’t work—or they never catch on—it’s doomed for the garbage pit.

That’s why observing the longterm trends and minute fascinations of this industry is such an intriguing process.

Some products rocket off of the shelves for a few months then fade away. Think of the plastic worm colors that were all the rage a few decades ago — black grape, motor oil, scuppernong. Where are they now?

Some products are so innovative that nobody can quite wrap their head around them until years later. Big swimbaits had been on the market since the early 1900s. It wasn’t until the ’80s that they really caught on.

But some products never die. Items like terminal tackle, live bait and cold beer will probably never stop selling. Add a handful of legacy lures to that list: spinnerbaits and plastic worms, trolling plugs and chuggers, jigs and spoons … rods and reels.

The reason they don’t die? The fishermen.

Anglers buy these products. Anglers have always bought these products. Anglers will probably continue to buy these products for decades to come.

Two years ago, I came into the tackle industry as a 26 year old rookie with an unwavering faith in technology, new media and the inescapable future that is “the next shiny thing.” But something funny happened in the 31 months after I joined FTR—I began to observe. First, from a cramped office in western Tennessee; later from mobile offices all over the country. From the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from the bays of the Atlantic to the cliffs of the Pacific. Along the way, I visited a ton of tackle stores; chummed a few waters and began to put together a picture of what works and what doesn’t work on store shelves.

Decades ago, Clem Dippel probably learned the same thing:

New products are nice.

The future is still inescapable.

But—correct me if I’m wrong—legends never die.