After a few weeks of uncertainty in March, the fishing industry exploded in April and has continued to see record sales throughout the summer months.  Our article from the end of April outlined what brands and retailers were experiencing during the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic.  We now take a look at where they are now after several months of everyone adjusting to Covid-19.

Frequent anglers and first-time anglers quickly realized that fishing was an effective way to get outside and social distance.  Fishing license sales soon started jumping across the country, with several states seeing record license sales with large increases over the same periods for 2019.

Boat ramps across the nation were experiencing record traffic with packed parking lots during the week and not just full on the weekends.  Nice weather and great Spring fishing across the country coincided with other activities being limited and people looked to fish for the first time and to fish more often. Numerous people that were laid off or were now working from home used their newfound time to fish for food and entertainment, pushing license sales up for nearly every state.  Even states that had closed outdoor recreation like Washington state in March and April saw license sales rebound quickly when they reopened those activities.  The Chinook Observer reported that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported $300,000 of license sales in a single day on April 27.

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation along with reported the 3.1 million new participants, the most in five years and 50.1 million total participants the most in 12 years in 2020.  Female participation was also at an all time high.  Other key figures showed youth participation up over a million participants over the last seven years.  Hispanic fishing participation hit an all time high at 4.4 million and fly-fishing saw record levels as well at 7.0 million.  Fishing and camping also saw a lot of cross over participants with an increase of 7.7%.  Camper sales sky-rocketed as states loosened stay at home orders and people chose to buy campers and use them for vacations this summer, with many of those trips including fishing.

Tournaments also returned in May with new policies to insure social distancing and safety for the anglers. Online registration, texting updates, no pre-tournament meetings and distanced weigh ins allowed events to proceed safely without any Covid-19 outbreaks. Participation returned to pre-pandemic levels and even increased to larger than previous fields.

What specific trends did retailers and manufacturers see in the fishing industry into the summer?  As in the early weeks, online sales continued to surge, leading established online retailers and new online retailers to record sales numbers in April and May.   In many cases those sales have continued to surge into later summer. Online orders that normally shipped the same day now saw lead times up to 14 days as order volume grew to record levels and companies were not at full operating capacity as their staffs worked under social distancing guidelines.

Often the ICAST show in July causes a bump in sales around the launch of new products., but 2020 has seen sales above normal levels even in the later parts of summer.  As retail stores re-opened or transitioned to longer hours their demand and traffic surged as well.  Many shoppers felt more comfortable visiting smaller, local retailers rather than large chain stores, resulting in sales surges for independent retailers.  First time anglers visited retailers at all levels and sought out equipment to help them get started fishing.  Demand for hooks, weights and beginner rod and reel combos surged to never seen levels with retailers quickly selling out. Keeping inventory for brands has also been a challenge as they see a deluge of re-orders.  Customers that normally have done $3,000 of business in a year are now ordering $3,000 at a time with 3-4 orders already this year.  One retailer in the Midwest that had been in business since 1973, had the biggest sales month in the history of their store during the month of May.  Nimble retailers have learned to adapt to a different business model incorporating a blend of tactics that were previously successful with a new mix of tactics to comply with changes from the pandemic.  Many retailers that were resistant to delivery and customer pick ups have now embraced it.  Others that resisted wearing masks are now wearing them full time in their stores for their protection, but also to give customers confidence their stores are a safe place to shop.  With the pandemic this year, ICAST went to a virtual show with mixed results for the brands that participated.  Media coverage has become an important part of the ICAST show and this year was much different with the event not being in person. Brands and media members all found new communication platforms to transfer new product information. The biggest challenge facing most brands during the virtual ICAST was that the buyers in many stores were so busy trying to keep up with inventory that they have had little time to focus on new products coming out in the next month. Nearly all their focus has been on immediate replenishment rather than pre-booking new products arriving in the coming months.

Saltwater anglers continue to take advantage of the lower gas prices to take longer trips offshore for less pressured fish or different speciies.  Sales of bait like ballyhoo for those offshore trips continue to be very high and some tackle stores will now even deliver bait right to your boat.  Bottom fishing equipment and safe release equipment sales have surged in the Gulf states as anglers targeted snapper in season.  Surf fishing continues to be strong, even in areas where beaches are closed to other activities.  Sales of rigs, sand spikes and tape measures have never slowed down this summer. As people are taking more regional vacations, these coastal areas have seen a continued surge in anglers this summer.

Demand for basic terminal items like hooks from Gamakatsu or swivels from SPRO spiked in freshwater and saltwater markets.  Most stores quickly saw their pegs emptied for basic terminal items and were unable to re-fill those pegs as manufacturers and distributors were sold out also. Brands with their own manufacturing or domestic manufacturing have been able to react more quickly in many cases, but the demand has even pushed domestic manufacturers way behind on shipping orders.  Jigheads and lead products have been virtually non-existent for many retailers. Lead sinkers, split shots and bullet weights are sold out and companies like Big Bite have seen unprecedented demand for jigheads during this period. Typically, companies see a slow down in August and September, but this year brands like Big Bite have remained much busier than usual for this time of year. Tungsten sinkers have also been in short supply.  Brands have been sold out of key sizes. Denali launched their Kovert Series weights during the period and saw them sell out in less than two weeks.

Fluorocarbon and braided line sales have seen the most growth in recent years as they gained favor with anglers in all markets.  This year saw the largest surge in nylon line sales in the past 10 years as new anglers purchased nylon to take on their initial trips. Nylon lines are often the choice of first time anglers, due to lower price points.  Companies like Sunline that are known for their fluorocarbon also experienced a surge in nylon sales.

While all retailers saw a surge after the initial closures, those retailers that offered products in six key categories found the perfect retail mix for the pandemic. Guns and ammo, bicycles, fishing, fitness and camping categories all surged during the pandemic to the benefit of retailers like Scheels and Academy. Academy reported net income of $157.7 million on revenue of $2.74 billion for the six months ending August 1st this year, following net income of $73.8 million on revenue of $2.31 billion in the same period last year.

Retailers that offered boats and marine repair also saw record demand in that category. Many boat retailers are now sold out of boats and motors and have their service centers booked out for more than six weeks in many cases for repairs.  There is a Boat Buying Frenzy-June 03, 2020 from “From all over the country, we are now getting reports that a boat buying frenzy is playing out at many dealerships. One financial institution is saying its boat loan business is up 31%. BoatTEST has seen a huge spike in boat research on its website, something echoed by virtually all major online classified services.” also reported in a reprint from Soundings Trade Only —

Marine dealer sentiment shot to their highest levels since 2018, with the outlook on current conditions measuring 76, versus 19 in April, according to a new survey.

“The ‘family’ has recognized due to the pandemic, vacation is out for this year,” wrote one dealer respondent. “No amusement parks, hotels, cruises, destinations closed, etcetera. So, let’s look at boating!”

The pandemic has created “a surge in interest in socially-distanced outdoor activities, but the true impact on retail demand is hard to parse — even for those in the industry,” read the Pulse Report. “I’ve never seen a buying frenzy like this,” wrote one retailer. “Is this a short-term bump or is it a long-term change in consumer habits?” Used Boat Sales Picking Up, Too. “Preowned is moving fast, and not just extremely clean product.” However, another remarked: “Deals getting tougher to do, as trade values are trending way above book value.” Used lean inventory and higher used boat prices support higher levels of new boat sales — a positive for OEMs. “Our checks support anecdotal evidence that consumers are shifting their leisure time and dollars to socially-distanced outdoor activities,” said the report.

The kayak segment of the market has seen the same sales trend as the larger boats. Sales for kayaks and kayak equipment have been on fire across the country.  Kayaks give anglers a lower price point to enter the boating market and the chance to access many smaller fisheries located close to their home, even in urban areas.

The biggest challenge most retailers are facing in late summer is getting enough product to fill their shelves back up.  Dealers placing weekly orders of $20,000 with distributors may only be able to get $4000 worth of product even when using multiple sources, because the distributors are struggling to get inventory from the manufacturers.  While basic terminal items continue to be difficult to source, the availability challenges have also extended into higher retail items like rods and reels which are now sold out for months in many cases. Denali Rods was expecting a major down-turn in the first weeks of the pandemic and now are seeing record sales and challenges to keep top sellers in stock. Electronics sales have also swelled as anglers fished more and sought out new electronics to upgrade their current boats or outfit a new rig.

What has happened with clothing and gear during the pandemic? Leading clothing brands like AFTCO initially saw dramatic drops in sales and orders during the early weeks of the pandemic.  That quickly turned to exploding sales that aligned with planned 2020 goals. Unexpected at the start of the year, facemask sales continue to upsurge as more and more parts of the country recommend the use of face coverings.  With anglers fishing more they also are looking for better clothing to be comfortable on the water, pushing clothing sales higher even if they are not trying it on first in retail stores.

Many brands and retailers were offering sun shields for their customers in previous years, but the pandemic exploded sales on those products as they became used for face masks in addition to sun protection. Fishing retailers quickly became a reliable source for consumers looking for facemasks and many acted quickly to secure additional inventory from any brand that had them. Their was certainly an initial surge when masks were first recommended, but the demand has remained strong as activities and schools have opened back up this Fall.   Clothing brands like AFTCO quickly pivoted production to increase output and launched charity initiatives around the mask sales, to give away one for each for each one sold. In AFTCO’s case it has resulted in the donation of over 200,000 masks to charities to this point.

The industry remains very positive and expects the balance of the year to finish on a strong note.  Brands in many cases already have orders for the coming 30-60 days and expect to see above average demand in the Fall as more anglers continue to fish and rescheduled tournaments from the Spring now take place in the Fall.  Brands continue to ramp up production to build inventory and deliver new product launches. Retailers will continue to search any available sources to fill their pegs.  Retailers will also need to adjust this fall to virtual shows for many of the popular distributor shows.  Several of those have already been changed to a virtual format for Fall, so retailers will need to learn the most effective way to order and learn about new products digitally instead of attending shows where they normally see all the new products and place their orders for the coming season. Many retailers are working hard to manage their hunting and shooting business, while also working to secure additional fishing inventories to support the rest of the season and insure they have full shelves in the Spring.

Anglers are traveling safely to reach fishing destinations around the state they live in but are also taking out of state trips this Fall. With many activities still being limited or not taking place, fishing will continue to be a safe way to socially distance thru the Fall fishing season.