Like many of you, I sit back and wait to see what happens. With our quarantine comes a period of great uncertainty – for the country, our people and our passion. In 20-plus years of work, I’ve seen two major setbacks in the fishing industry, this being the second. And while the economic downturn around 2008 was no picnic, unfortunately, our current situation could result in much worse.
From what I’ve heard on the inside, most major distributors of fishing-related items have withheld orders. Boat and engine manufacturers have laid off a great deal of staff, postponing much or all of their production. Tournament fishing, and the industry it supports, has all but stopped.
But the real hurt comes to those involved in guest-related activities. Outfitters, guides and lodges have seen nearly complete cancellations. Losses for some are in the millions.
Now I realize that, when compared to many other industries, fishing’s got it pretty good. I can only imagine how this is impacting those involved in group functions; say, the operators of theme parks, trade shows or movie theaters. Truthfully, they’re probably contemplating having any future at all.
Here in fishing, we’ll see an end to this at some point. But I don’t think things will ever be the same.
Regardless of how long it takes to get back to normal, all of America will learn from this challenge. Perhaps there will be less person-to-person interaction in the future, including everything from hugs to handshakes. It’s likely that we’ll all be better prepared for circumstances we once thought impossible.
The same will hold true for those who survive in the fishing industry. If they haven’t before, retailers will learn the hard way the importance of online sales and marketing. Current reports also indicate that e-commerce traffic has held steady over the last month. How couldn’t it? Personally, I’ve found myself shopping online a whole lot more than normal; I hate to know the damage my wife’s doing.
In any case, small tackle items continue to sell for manufacturers with the right channels. But what does this mean for the future?
For starters, it will continue to illustrate the importance of everything digital. To win the Internet, manufacturers have to be able to put their brand in front of more viewers than their competitors. They do so by utilizing more platforms: websites, banner ads, social media campaigns and the like.
While I’ve often been an advocate for grassroots marketing – seeing the value in terms of sales over views – our current setback will push this style further into the past. The days of hawking spinnerbaits on the tackle shop floor are limited. I’ll miss them.
Nope, today the power is in the hands of Internet influencers, as they’re called. It’s undeniable, and increasing all the time, and those who will continue to thrive in this game will have to harness the power.
Yes, I think it’s reasonable to look at the fishing industry’s future as a glass half-full, for the most part. Realistically, fishing is a very good social-distancing pastime. But I wonder about the future of some of its key players.
A resulting economic downturn is a real possibility for the country, and one that likely won’t be felt for some time yet. With it always comes a decline in sales of high-ticket and recreational items, including boats, motors, campers and more. Following close behind are losses and budget cuts from many of the companies that support professional bass fishing. So we’ll need to brace for impact.
Or will we? Maybe we’ll all come out of this with a renewed spirit for fishing, family and the outdoors. Maybe most of America will storm the doors of Bass Pro Shops with their $1,200 in hand and buy a frickin’ boat.
Hey, it’s possible. As I stated earlier, we engage in a very healthy, wholesome sport. Unless there’s a way for bass to get the coronavirus, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Americans fishing as a result of what we’ve learned.
I sure hope so. If nothing else, I hope we all find that life goes on, and so should the charter service, fishing lodge and fly-fishing school down the road. And the college bass team, the big sport show this spring and the championship bass tournament.
Many, if not all, of fishing will be facing challenges. Some will be greater than ever. For now, we wait.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)