Casting a wider net: Fly fishing gaining ground at outdoor retail

Retailers, trolling for something new to offer customers? A growing number of Outdoor Retailer exhibitors have a message for you: Go fish.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 - Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Retailers, trolling for something new to offer customers? A growing number of Outdoor Retailer exhibitors have a message for you: Go fish.

Fly-fishing is riding a wave of popularity this Summer Market, as more retailers are seeing the connections between the rod-and-reel set and their more traditional customer base of backpackers and paddlers. “People don’t just fly-fish,” said Kara Armano, public relations representative for Redington. “A lot of them might be backpacking to a lake anyway, so why not pack a rod?”

This growing appeal extends to adventure travel, too, said Hook & Tackle President Abe Rudman. “So many fly-fishing shirts cross over to the travel market,” he said, citing their light weight and packability. “It makes the product more versatile.” Other exhibitors predict the continued growth in stand up paddleboards will reflect on them. “I like to see more people using the water, because maybe they’ll want to fish, too,” said John Bailey, president of Dan Bailey.

And expanding into fly-fishing gear makes good business sense, said Orvis Southwest Regional Business Manager Hutch Hutchinson. After meeting with a retailer interested in adding fishing to his store for the first time, Hutchinson said, “Not only will he be growing his offerings to his customer base, he’s growing his customer base.”

For all these reasons, fly-fishing manufacturers are cementing their place at Summer Market. Orvis and Umpqua return for their second seasons in the main building, joining Redington (on its third season). After all, “It fits — we’re part of the outdoor industry,” said Hutchinson.

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Companies are responding to the surging interest with items designed to appeal to the outdoor market. Umpqua introduced the Swiftwater Tech Vest (MSRP $180), a fly-fishing vest that incorporates backpacking features like a waistbelt and hydration sleeve; it can also clip into a backpack for easy transport. And Redington’s redesigned Class Trout Rod (MSRP $170) uses a simple, six-piece design to lure in the backpacking crowd.

This year, manufacturers also are reaching out to two notable growth segments: younger customers and women. “It used to be the middle-aged to older guy [in our market],” said Rudman. “Now, he’s in his 20s and 30s.” Brands are responding with more stylish designs in clothing and shoes, plus more technical details. Redington’s Vapen Rod (MSRP $350) incorporates a red polymer grip with a new performance-enhancing construction to appeal to younger consumers.

Women’s-specific fly-fishing gear is also on the rise. The pieces in Patagonia’s new women’s line sport a feminine fit and bright accents, such as teal booties on the Spring River Wader (MSRP $399). “Women care about how they look in their product more than men,” said Jess Clayton, the company’s public relations representative. And Orvis continues to offer waders, wading shoes and smaller-grip rods designed for women.

--Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

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