Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of European fishing tackle brands I’ve witnessed who have tried to export and grow their brands in the United States. The size and health of the American market has long been watched with envious and ambitious eyes by fishing tackle brands in Europe (and the rest of the world for that matter), so it’s really no surprise there have been so many attempts to ‘break America’.
A resolute few have managed to make an impact – think Savage Gear, Salmo and the likes. Many, many others have tried and failed, and sometimes at great cost to their companies. It’s not an easy thing to do for numerous reasons – a key example being the difference in fishing styles.
The bass fishing dominance in the USA simply doesn’t exist in Europe, and many of the fishing styles in my home continent do not translate stateside in big numbers, if at all. There are also other hurdles to overcome such as the fierce loyalty American anglers have for brands they already know and love and the allure of the big chain stores. Many European brands think you simply need to get into Bass Pro Shops, and you’ve made it, which is quite obviously not the most sustainable approach. It’s been interesting to see how different European brands have embarked upon it and what they deem as success, but over the last couple of years I have noticed that the tables are turning on this familiar pattern. After some tentative beginnings, more and more American brands are starting to pour their products and brands into the European market for a whole variety of reasons. And the differences in approaches are fascinating…
Lures are seeing a popularity boom in Europe
One of the main instigators for this has been the growth in popularity of lure fishing in Europe over the last decade. In the USA, lure fishing is king, mainly because of bass fishing. In Europe, fishing with bait for coarse fishing species like carp has always been the most popular. But lure fishing has been on a steady growth curve, and as such, European anglers are experimenting with ways to catch the main species we target with lures (freshwater: perch, pike, zander and chub, saltwater: seabass, seatrout).
This growth has clearly attracted the attention of some American brands, watching European lure brands grow and succeed. These days, it’s not unusual to spot names like Z-Man, Berkley and Gary Yamamoto in tackle shops in Europe. But what’s even stranger is that many of the products are lifted straight from ranges found in America. Many bass-style lures or creature baits have become popular among European anglers to catch species like perch, as well as the same methods. 10 years ago, the idea of fishing a Carolina or a Texas rig would have had European anglers scratching their heads. Now it is much more commonplace.
Tackle tastes are changing
It’s not just lures where this influx is happening, it’s with tackle too. One example comes from Lew’s – part of the Rather Outdoors group, which also owns one of the UK’s biggest tackle firms Fox International. Fox is best known for carp fishing tackle (it does also have its own lure brand called Fox Rage), but it has been introducing many baitcasting rods and reels into the European market as lure anglers here experiment with different methods. The colorways and styles are something quite unusual in Europe. That’s not to say baitcasters didn’t exist here before, of course they did, but they were not heavily used at all.
I have definitely noticed this start to change as Europeans look to learn from countries where lure fishing is the most developed fishing style – mainly Japan and the United States. American brands are seen as leaders in the field for baitcaster reels and rods, and so far the uptake on Lew’s as just one example has been pretty good. We have also seen a number of non-lure-specific tackle brands find some traction in Europe – Eagle Claw helped make a range of fishing hooks for carp fishing with British firm Rueben Heaton, while I see tags for components brand American Tackle on more and more rods on retailers’ shelves.
Aesthetics make an impact
Another interesting case study is that of 13 Fishing. The Florida brand burst onto the scene at ICAST a few years back with sleek aesthetics, high-quality products and badass marketing. It attracted big attention – so much that Finland-based global fishing superpower Rapala bought a minority stake in the company in 2019. The deal meant that 13 Fishing would carry on operating as it is in the United States, but Rapala would take care of spreading the brand globally, including in Europe. The approach here has been very methodical, patient and with great attention to detail.
“We have done plenty of homework before entering European markets,” explains Rapala’s Director of Growth and Innovations, Jari Kokkonen.
“Due to our very strong position with the Rapala brand, we have professional pro staff teams all over the region. We have spent numerous hours together listing the needs of today’s fishermen who are highly demanding. Based on this, we have designed wide ranges of rods and reels for European anglers which have some unique and cool features. We will only sell the US offering in European bass markets.”
Jari and his team believe that while creating a range of European-specific products is an essential part of the plan, the perception of 13 Fishing as a high-profile American brand will strike a certain chord with European anglers. He said: “What 13 Fishing brings on top of innovative performance is edge and attitude, something that other brands seem to lack. When you fish with 13 Fishing, it’s like the equivalent of driving an American muscle car. You’re still getting from A to B, but it’s far more exciting than doing it in a family sedan. You feel the rush and you feel the power.
“Sport fishing in the USA is developing more than in any other parts of the world at the moment. For example, tournament angling is growing and expanding to College and Junior Leagues. We see such influence as being important for Europe to help attract a younger generation to join fishing. Perhaps our youngsters may even find new bass angler idols to follow!”
Whether American brands are simply applying the parts of the ranges they think are relevant to Europe, or creating whole new European-specific tackle ranges, it seems that more and more are looking to export to this part of the world. And there are probably a million reasons why. Perhaps the American market is just too crowded, or perhaps export is seen as a more sustainable and long-term type of business path to go down. Whatever the reason, with the way multimedia is today, it’s much less difficult for anglers an ocean away from you to recognize and relate to your brand, and that is probably half the battle.