Things are Tough ... But Not All Over

ORLANDO — The annual International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades is more than just a trade show. It's a mixture of fun, function and folly. In addition to creating an opportunity for media and buyers to view (and in a few cases actually test) new products, it's also an opportunity to take the pulse of an industry that's been hit very, very hard in the past decade.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 hit all Americans on a very personal and profound level. They also dealt a blow to the sportfishing industry as consumers became more conservative with their leisure spending.

Since then, rising gasoline prices and a stumbling economy have combined to be the second part of a wicked 1-2 punch that has threatened many of the big players in the fishing industry and crippled or killed many of the smaller manufacturers.

The sportfishing industry is in dire need of some good news, and ICAST 2009 may have provided it. At the very least, it may be a foreshadowing of better things to come.

To be sure, the boat and outboard motor industries have suffered the most in recent years, as evidenced by numerous bankruptcies. Sales of many big-ticket items like top-end rods and reels have also been sluggish for some manufacturers in recent months.

But there are areas of good news. Some tackle manufacturers are reporting terrific sales and growth. In fact, Strike King is introducing more than 500 new SKUs to the market in the next few months. They wouldn't do that without strong sales and an optimistic view of the market's immediate future.

And Strike King isn't alone. Dozens of other top manufacturers are rightfully excited about new products they believe will stimulate anglers to reach for their wallets. Not all of them are inexpensive, either.

Seaguar, long a top name in fishing line, is introducing a new fluorocarbon line that will retail for more than $50 for a 200-yard spool, the sunglass market continues to introduce models that sell for more than $150, and Hobie Cat has a kayak that goes for better than $2,000.

The news is also good for consumers. Flagging sales of expensive rods and reels are causing many manufacturers to create new products for a market that is balking at high-end price tags. Due to advances in technology and some recent lean times, there may now be more top-quality rods and reels in the $75 to $200 range than in more than a decade.

Is the sportfishing industry out of the woods? Not by a long shot. A tough economy will always threaten leisure industries, but even in tough times certain aspects of the fishing industry will thrive. If we're not buying new boats, we'll buy the items necessary to keep our old boats afloat. If we're not buying new reels, we'll buy the parts and cleaning tools to keep the old ones cranking along. And it seems we'll always buy the best-looking new lures.

All-in-all, most of the exhibitors and retail buyers at ICAST 2009 reported a very successful show. The international economy may not have yet made the adjustments necessary for a quick return to prosperity, but the tackle manufacturers seem confident they're making the right moves to keep the fishing industry strong.