Why small tackle stores still matter

YAKIMA, Wash.— Jarod Higginbotham was working at a small, independent tackle store in the sun-soaked Yakima Valley when it started. A few miles down the road, a movement was beginning.

“They started off as the M2SP,” he says. “It stood for M2 special, since we already had a Flat Fish called the M2, but this one was so much different.”

The we is Yakima Bait Company, home of the legendary Rooster Tail and the red-hot Mag Lip. This week, Higginbotham is celebrating his fourth year at the company, but seven years ago, when he was manning the counters at a local, independent tackle shop, M2SP sales were less than special.

It was around that time, in 2009, that Yakima decided to shake the M2SP up. They repainted it, rebranded it, and dubbed it the Mag Lip. From there, it began to take off.

“I was ordering them so fast that you could still smell the paint when they came in,” Higginbotham recalls. “A few guys went out in early spring with the Mag Lip and caught six chinook salmon—which is crazy, only 1,000 fish had migrated upriver over the dam by that time—and people found out about it. They couldn’t buy enough of them.”

It didn’t take long for the legend of Mag Lip to spread from the central Washington valley towards neighboring Seattle and Portland. From there, the plug was on an inevitable crash course with the Great Lakes and the country as a whole. Mag Lip has become one of Yakima’s best selling lures, and its hot on the heels of the 50-plus-year-old Rooster Tail as a tackle box must-have.

But this story isn’t about the Mag Lip, it’s about how local tackle stores have the ability to define our industry.

Sales of the Mag Lip have been going strong since Higginbotham first started chain-ordering them seven years ago. Word spread from the local tackle shop to the regional ones, and from the regional ones to the national chains. That’s how the food chain works in this industry, and it all starts with independent stores—the buyers and retailers who can quickly adapt and sell new products, getting them on the water fast.

“It’s a grassroots movement,” adds Yakima Chairman Dan McDonald. “The products grow from being out in the field, we connect the dots with small dealers, and the feedback from them allows us to take the information to an Academy or Cabela’s or a Bass Pro or a Gander Mountain.”

Those stores, in turn, typically have the ability to reach millions of customers beyond the scope of a local, independent shop. But the big boys still owe their success to the smaller ones. Without them—without you, the independent tackle store—anglers around the country would be left in the dark.

“The independent stores are so important to us,” adds McDonald. “They tell us, ‘Hey, I want more of this. I want you to write my order because what you did for us last year had great sell-thru.’ That gets us the product placement, and once we have that placement in the market, we can start connecting the dots.”