A Shared Demo Day – Cooperation as a Model

Puget Sound Fly Company Demo Day

Walk into any fly shop, even one loaded with high-end gear, and you’re looking at a very small business. The industry itself is very small.

Field and Stream’s Fly Talk blog (see link) reported last year that a study done for  American Fly Fishing Trade Association found that sales for the entire industry were only about $750 million – less than some brands of candy bars.

And do you know what sells the most?  The study found it was flies. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. I noted in a recent post (see here) that the highest percentage of sales in May/June 2013 was flies, followed by tippet.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to a shop I may buy three each of three or four patterns.  Even for the saltwater patterns, that’s looking at a total purchase of less than $60.  And I’ve seen plenty of people walk in, look around, and leave. I don’t always buy. Sometimes it’s nice to just go in, listen and see what’s new.

My point in the above is that every fly shop is hungry for customers – lots of customers. Because for every  $800 Orvis, Sage, or Winston rod they sell, they’re looking at lots of sales at less than $100 – often much less.

Fly shops have to compete with each other implicitly whether they want to or not. When a customer can buy the same rod in two or three places (or from an online retailer) a fly shop wants that rod to be sold at their shop.  Brands carried, events, classes, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a loyal customer base are needed to survive. And it is survival – with rent and utilities to pay, salaries for the hardworking but underpaid staff, and maybe being able to stash some money for one’s growing family.

So why do I bring all this up? It’s because of the event I attended today.

Many fly shops hold demo days – events where manufacturers reps are on hand, rods are available for casting, and everyone talks fly-fishing. Many times there are giveaways and prizes. And sometimes there’s even free food!

But not every shop hosts an event that includes other fly shops. Often fly shops will be at the same event that’s hosted by some other organization. But an event where a fly shop invites other fly shops, that’s something unique. And maybe it’s something we need more of in this increasingly hyper competitive society.

Puget Sound Fly Company (Tacoma Washington) hosted a demo day today with two other fly shops invited. When I got there later in the day, Orvis was still there along with Puget Sound Fly Company.

The shop owner from Puget Sound Fly Company (Anil Srivastava) was there. Orvis was ably represented by the beach fishing legend, Leland Miyawaki, and Jason Cotta, their fly fishing manager.

So here’s a couple of fly shops, admittedly separated by 40+ miles, still sharing an event and demonstrating that one can be friends with other people you’re competing against. The thing about it is that the only way all shops will survive is to promote fly fishing. It may mean a lost sale, but the more fly fishers there are, the more all will thrive.

On a planet of diminishing resources, two fly shops in the Seattle / Tacoma  demonstrate the wisdom of cooperation in which all win or all lose.  As individual, regions, and countries that might be a good lesson for us all.

Latest Angler Trends Media Report

AnglerSurvey.com has just released its latest angler trends media report, covering May-June 2013. The results are captured in the graphic below.

It’s interesting but should be obvious that the top two types of items purchased are flies and tippets. Those are basically consumables that have to be replaced as previous purchases are used up (tippets) or lost (flies). Rods and reels in comparison represent about one-third the percentage purchases of flies and tippets. That’s to be expected given the several orders of magnitude (100X) differences in price. What wasn’t reported, at least in the publicly available report, was where those items are purchased.

The perceptions of many commentators I’ve read, and believe, is that most purchases of flies and tippets are done locally, but many purchases of rods and reels are done online, where prices are better, taxes are avoided, or there’s something free thrown in (e.g., a fly line on a reel). The challenge for local fly shops is to capture as much of those 20% of sales (rods and reels) as possible. Or we will soon lose more local business – in this case our local fly shops.

Angler Trends May to June 2013

Strikes, But No Sets

Lower Low

Last Sunday I spent the last hour of an ebbing tide fishing at a local state park beach that I had not fished before. In that time I had at least 6 firm strikes on my popper with two to three other probable, but was unable to land any of them.

That in itself isn’t remarkable or noteworthy. Many fly fishers get strikes but don’t get the hook set before the fish looks for a meal elsewhere.

What was remarkable to me was the frequency of the strikes indicating the fish were there. Failure to land could have been timing, technique, or fly size.

The popper had a size four hook and it’s possible the fish weren’t getting the hook far enough into their mouths. But I’ve seen photos of small fish with large flies (and hooks) in their mouths, so I think that can be discounted.

Timing is the same as in fresh water: feeling the fish take the fly and then setting the hook. There was wind on Sunday and I was using a floating line in the very shallow water and it’s possible I was missing the first tug due to the rippled water. But that’s too easy an explanation.

That leaves technique, or lack of it, as cause. The standard technique for setting the hook with fresh water species is the rod set: feel the strike and quickly raise the rod on the tight line, setting the hook. In saltwater, a strip strike is used: the rod is kept pointed at the fish and line is stripped to set the hook. The strip strike is thought to be more effective with the harder jaws of saltwater fish. I did see one of the strikes at the surface. It was a small eight inch or so cutthroat trout. Given that, I think I should have been successful with a rod set.

That I wasn’t means I didn’t maintain tension while stripping in of the line. After I got home and thought about it, I recognized I wasn’t using my rod hand and line hand in proper sequence. As I was stripping I released the line pressure with my rod hand. Then, as I came to the end of a strip (short or long) I should have used the index or middle finger of my rod hand to maintain a tight line as I repositioned my line hand for another strip.

The obvious cure for that is practice, practice, and more practice.

And the noteworthy thing? To me it was that I was having a blast even without landing a fish. The excitement of feeling a connection with a living thing at the end of my fly line was incredible as always. It’s been the same every time whether I bring the fish in or not. I think it’s the sense of connecting with something natural and wild.

So it was a good day of fishing. I had fun and I taught myself a lesson.

Still next time I think I will use a smaller fly.

The Rod Maker’s Journey

Tom Morgan is a custom rod builder, and is the former owner of Winston Fly Rods (1975-1981) where he built the reputation of Winston rods first in bamboo, then in fiberglass and graphite. But he is more than a good businessman; he is an artist of the highest order. To own a Tom Morgan rod, which I do not, is to hold an object of art that links one back to a tradition of master craftsmen.

Tom Morgan would be renowned as a fly rod maker alone, but what makes his life special transcends the mechanical aspects of rod building. For you see, Tom Morgan has Multiple Sclerosis and hasn’t touched one of the rods he builds in many, many years. The rod building is done by his wife Gerri Carlson and two other workers. She is now the master craftsman of Tom Morgan rods – a journey that started with her knowing nothing about rod building when she met Tom.

And in addition to demands of filling the orders that come in from around the world, Gerri takes care of her husband through the daily struggles of supporting someone unable to do even the simplest of things most of us take for granted. From shaving to the “poop wars”, she embodies unconditional love.

There is a remarkable article about Tom and Gerri on ESPN.COM. It is inspiring and touching. Read it and think about the tears in Tom’s eyes as he watches a friend cast, wishing he could pick up a fly rod and cast just one more time. And read about the remarkable woman who loves him and builds Tom Morgan rods.

The article is located here.