Opportunities: Go Fish. And Take That Kid With Ya.

The outdoor industry and the fishing industry. The fact that these are two entirely different worlds has always surprised me.

If you talked to a few fish, they’d probably tell you they spend as much time as possible outdoors. As a result I’m sure that most fishermen would say the same. But nonetheless, the outdoor and fishing industries couldn’t be much more different – maintaining almost complete separation in terms of brands, retailers, tradeshows, environmental priorities, and even the participants themselves.

One thing they have in common, though, is this: they’re both facing the increasingly tough challenge of bringing new people into the fold. As participants age or wander off to other activities, how does the pipeline get replenished?

Turn off that game and go outside!

Video games. In saying it, we’re supposed to use a tone that implies: video games are destroying the lives of our children. Boo Mario! Down with frags! The Z button is the devil’s workshop!


Have you seen these games? They’re freaking awesome! If I was 12, it’s all I’d want to do too. Especially when the primary alternative a kid hears is “go outside.”

Is that it? Kids have an entire exploding world at their fingertips and all we can offer up is “go outside?” To do what exactly, just be? The Caribbean notion of limin’ does not apply to kids. They are not built to hang, chill, or veg. At least mine aren’t. Getting my 8 and 11 year old sons outside requires an objective/adventure/excuse. So we build catapults and terrain parks and yes, best of all, we go fishing.

Of course fishing is more than fishing. Fishing is climbing a tree to claim somebody’s abandoned bobber as your own. Fishing is figuring out how to set a hook and where to pee. It’s finding a chipmunk and then, with the help of a stick, learning firsthand the difference between sleeping and dead.

You see the best part about fishing is that it takes time. Me and my kids under a cloudless sky, browning like loaves. And then, and then! “Dad, I got one!” They’re the best words you’ll ever hear, in particular because everyone involved realizes they don’t come easy. We go out hoping to solve puzzles and, on occasion, we do.

It’s perfect because I want my kids to understand the upside of persistence. Fishing is optimism. Fishing is hope. Fishing is sticking a glove in the air fully expecting to catch a ball, based on nothing but the rumor that some other guy caught a ball in the same spot yesterday. In the end, fishermen are believers. What more could we possibly hope for in our children?

Come One, Come All

Of course, fishing isn’t just for the young. It’s for life if you want it to be – one of the few outdoor activities where you might actually improve over the years. Although we hate to admit it, our bodies change over time and we progress from ground, to pad, to cot, to bed. From skateboard to longboard to no board at all.

But not so with fishing. Sure the fisherman’s priorities change over the years: From quantity of fish, to quality of fish, to mostly drinking beer. But we still get out, in our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond.

As a result, the financial impact of fishing is ridiculous. As of 2008, more Americans fished (around 40 million) than played golf and tennis combined. Anglers generate in the neighborhood of $45 billion in retail sales. (American Sportfishing Association Report). This shouldn’t be a big surprise. The Bass Pro Shop’s spring fishing catalog wouldn’t contain 704 pages worth of stuff if people weren’t buying 704 pages worth of stuff.

Of course that’s not to suggest a fisherman needs 704 pages worth of stuff. And it’s not to suggest that your outdoor shop should carry 704 pages worth of stuff either.

What can an “outdoor shop” offer us die-hard fishermen? We of the non-ironic trucker hats, non-breathable rainwear, and flannel-on-the-inside sleeping bags? Well in terms of fishing gear, probably not much. The sheer volume of fishing crap we already own is stupendous.

But what about your existing customers? If you primarily cater to, let’s say, backpackers, there’s no reason you can’t effectively (and efficiently!) offer them everything they need.

How? Localize. Let’s say your shop is in the Rocky Mountains. That means you’re surrounded by trout water which eliminates at least 690 pages worth of the Bass Pro catalog right off the bat. Narrowing even further, your backpacking customer (as opposed to the serious trout fisherman), doesn’t need every trout lure or fly available. He or she just needs the right ones. So offer them a small lure kit that’s custom tailored to a specific place and season (read: here and now). Stock a few smaller easily packed rods. Let folks know you sell one- or five-day non-resident fishing licenses (cheap!). And most important, have somebody around who can answer questions and point your customers in the right direction. There’s a good chance you already have an expert on staff, even if you don’t know it.

When you approach fishing as an extension of what your customers are already doing, it doesn’t require carrying a ton of stuff (in your store or on their back). My wife and I, when backpacking in Colorado, bring a two-piece ultralight spinning rod, a film canister filled with tiny Panther Martin spinners, and a small forceps. That’s it.

A good-enough rod/reel combo retails for under $50. A selection of spinners will run about $15 and forceps another $3. Throw in $21 for a 5-day non-resident CO license and the total is about 90 bucks. Great additional sales for a backpacking shop, but not a huge hit for the backpacker in terms of cost or, for that matter, weight. Combined, we’re talking ounces here, not pounds.

I should probably note that “ounces not pounds” also applies to the fish we tend to catch while backpacking in Colorado. But know this: Small trout from high-country lakes and streams are the most beautiful creatures you will ever see.

And the places you catch them! You know that rock? Yes you do because every snow-fed lake and stream has one: that perfect rock you jump to for your initial survey of the surroundings. The one you stand on as water runs off your naked body, pooling cool and clear at your feet. Resisting that rock is futile. With a fishing rod, you have a reason to stand on it for hours. Cast and reel…Look for sheep in the crags. Cast and reel…Look for sheep in the clouds. Cast and reel…

When you boil it down, fishing is very much like backpacking, very much like most outdoor activities. It’s a physical-spiritual thing that connects us to ourselves and to our surroundings, to rocks and wind and water.

I want my boys, always, to be catchers of fish. I want them to be puzzle solvers and tree whizzers and tellers of tall tales. In the end, I want them to fish because I want them to understand, to believe in their soul, that one more cast, one more cast, one more cast can change everything.

I’ve spent my life fishing and, now, we fish as a family. There’s simply nothing in the entire world that I would rather do than be outside with my kids – watching the next generation of outdoor people doing outdoor things.

If you’d like to take a kid fishing and don’t know where to start, my sons and I put together a website with simple tips and advice: www.wormgerms.com


John Besmer is a principal and creative director at Planet Propaganda, a marketing and design company that focuses on the outdoor industry and passion-based brands.


Comments are closed.