The Biggest Fishing Stories of 2017

Egg nog. Recipe: combine milk, cloves, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and cinnamon in a saucepan. Heat for five minutes. Combine with egg yolks and sugar. Whisk. Stir in rum, cream, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and nutmeg.

You’ll want a glass as you sip through the top fishing stories of 2017. These headlines, each shattering in their own right, have combined to deliver one of the most turbulent years the sport fishing industry has seen in recent memory. As the new year looms, we break down the biggest fishing stories of the year beside the yule log.

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Finally Join Forces

The long, slow tide of Bass Pro Shops’ merger with Cabela’s drew closer to its high water mark this year, as Cabela’s shareholders and government agencies finally approved the multi-billion dollar transaction in July. En route, the deal faced major hurdles like a prolonged FTC review and a workaround for the sale of the Cabela’s credit card portfolio. Now, as the final bells toll on paperwork, the industry sits back and awaits the brick-and-mortar impact of the sale. Already, consumers are furiously exchanging Cabela’s gifts cards for Bass Pro gift cards (and vice versa). And in small town Sidney, Nebraska, locals are left wondering about the future of a major job provider.

Yet, the true impact remains to be seen. As critics remain skeptical of the deal, Amazon squares its sights on the outdoor industry.

Gander Mountain Files for Bankruptcy

In March, big box retailer Gander Mountain filed for bankruptcy. Customers pointed their fingers at pricing issues. Manufacturers told FTR that Gander was long suffering from an identity crisis, and eventual new owner Marcus Lemonis—TV star of “The Profit” whose Camping World would acquire Gander’s assets for $380 million in April—cited a misplaced faith in the gun market as a cause for Gander’s downfall.

This month, the restructured Gander Outdoors opened its first store. That building, in metropolitan Minneapolis, should be a litmus test for the future. Lemonis’s team says they plan to open between 55 and 60 more Gander Outdoors locations by April 2018, and experts are speculating a retargeted focus on selling to the hiking and camping audience, while maintaining a foothold in hunting and fishing.

Maurice Sporting Goods Files for Bankruptcy

For over 100 years, Maurice Sporting Goods bought and sold fishing tackle from the Chicago suburbs. However, over the past several years, rumblings grew among trade experts that the venerable Midwest distributor was stumbling. In April, as Gander Mountain was finding a new owner, Maurice received notice of a pending lawsuit from Ardent reels for unpaid debt. That was joined by another from Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, and the dominos began to fall. By October, Maurice was in negotiation to sell to rival distributor Big Rock Sports; however, that acquisition fell through. And, by mid-November, Maurice would officially file Chapter 11 bankruptcy with more than $50 million in trade debt.

The publicly released figures were grizzly. Court documents claim Maurice owed six figure numbers to major players in the fishing industry like Shimano, Rapala, Pure Fishing, Zoom, and Gamakatsu. Ardent wasn’t listed in the Top 20 debtors; but Yamamoto found themselves near the top of the list with nearly $1 million owed.

This story is still very much in development, as Maurice seeks a buyout from a Northrbook, Illinois-based private equity firm for a number ($39 million) far less than the trade debt owed. The straw that broke the camel’s back? In court, Maurice put the blame on Gander Mountain.

Hughes Named Future ASA President

Glenn Hughes is a staple of the industry. The American Sportfishing Association V.P. of Industry Affairs can be found from the halls of Washington D.C., to the conservation battlegrounds of the Florida coast, and the lure plants of the country’s heartland. That ubiquity with the sport reached a pinnacle at the 2017 ASA Sportfishing Summit, when Hughes was named the future president of ASA. The former Bonnier executive will officially take over from longtime president and CEO Mike Nussman on April 1, 2018, and he’ll have a boat-load of challenges to tackle at the helm of one of sportfishing’s premier organizations.

Lew’s Purchases Strike King

Big box retailers weren’t the only industry players making earth shaking moves this year. In early November, a resurgent Lew’s brand grabbed ownership of one of the strongest names in fishing lures—Strike King. Lew’s CEO Gary Remensnyder said the two companies share a common vision focused on product innovation, exceptional customer service and outstanding marketing. Adjectives aside, the two companies have long moved in sync, often overlapping media events and co-sponsoring programs together. The move saw former Pure Fishing Senior V.P. Ken Eubanks move into the presidents office at Lew’s, while private equity firm Peak Rock Capital will oversee the cutting of checks for both brands.

A price for the purchase was not disclosed.

B.A.S.S. Gets a New Majority Owner

This story came like a thief in the night. Though hushed speculation of a B.A.S.S. sale had been floating around the professional fishing world for a couple of years, primarily around the Outdoor Channel and Major League Fishing, the October sale of a majority share in B.A.S.S. to Anderson Media Corp. came as a surprise to many. Overnight, the 500,000-member organization—one of the most prominent brands in fishing—was welcoming a relative unknown to its conference table. That unknown’s resume came with a diverse spattering of Americana like TNT Fireworks, Yogurt Mountain and Books A Million.

Despite the initial industry shockwave, the impact of the new majority owner in Birmingham seems subtle. Anderson representatives promised “business as usual” and so far that’s been exactly the case. As B.A.S.S gears up for its 2018 Bassmaster Classic, the machine keeps rolling steadily along, though the break room presumably has more yogurt.

Garmin Acquires Navionics

In a turbulent mapping industry rife with lawsuits and closely-guarded technology, Navionics has been a relatively neutral party. The Italy-based mapping company has long worked with major players like Furuno, Garmin, Humminbird, Lowrance, Raymarine and Simrad. In October, Garmin announced that it had acquired the storied mapmaker for an undisclosed sum. Garmin says that Navionics will continue to source maps for its competitors; however, rival brands are now in a quandary.

The move came as the back-and-forth legal duel between Garmin and Navico swirled again. In July, courts awarded Garmin $37 million in a patent infringement battle with Navico. In September, courts ruled in favor of Navico on a separate patent dispute for $38 million.

Zinke Plays Hero and Villain

In March, freshly-crowned Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke withdrew a decree that would have phased out lead bullets and fishing tackle on more than 300 federal wildlife refuges. The move was lauded by tackle manufacturers, and for the first several months of his tenure Zinke drew acclaim from sportsmen, manufacturers and environmental watchdogs like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP).

Fast-forward to December, and Zinke has left a muddied trail from D.C. to the American west, where his unprecedented revenue of national monuments resulted in widespread public marches and protests and the decimation of the the Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. Zinke is now being condemned by conservation groups like Trout Unlimited and the TRCP, as well as retailers like REI CEO Jerry Stritzke. And, while the new Secretary SCUBA dives with Mark Wahlburg in Johnny Morris’s fish tanks, protections—like the ones that could have prevented more than 26,000 tons of radioactive waste from contaminating Lake Powell and the Colorado River—have been removed.

Zinke has pledged to improve access to public lands for outdoorsmen, which sounds like a worthy goal. Yet, he’s also improving access to those lands for the mining industry.