January 27, 2011
WTF is up with gear these days? Manufacturers complain about recruitment and the often high barrier to enter this sport, yet they release stupid ass shit like a pair of goddamn nippers for $50 bucks. For fifty bones, that babdboy better be sporting a Class 4 laser that'll cauterize your tag ends of tippet. Recently read was a conversation debating the merits of zippered waders. No offense, but the items brought up for comparison were a couple of high buck models topping the charts at $425 and $450. $450! For a pair of waders!? What the hell has this industry come to? $450 waders puncture on barbed wire just as easily as a pair of $150 breatheables. Between angling, guiding, and my other occupation (fisheries management), I spend a lot of days in the water. Alot. I've been wearing the same beater pair of waders for going on 6 years now and not one hole or leak has sprung. Not one patch in those badboys. They aren't a pair of Patagucci or Simmps, but rather a $150 middle of the pack model store brand that didn't break the bank. What's the secret? I take care of them.
I'm not the only who's refusing to drink the kool-aid; I know of a fellow blogger and angler who'll soon be ditching his Simms for a similar performing "generic" at a quarter of the price. I'm not saying that the innovation or the technology that gear companies are bringing to the table are unappreciated, because I love gear. I'm a gear junky. But I don't believe that the bar for a mid-level piece of equipment should be set so high. Retail markup on soft goods are ridiculous. The same goes for hard goods in this industry; every "pro" knows the general rule of thumb for wholesale that a fly rod or reel is going for. Times are tough on everyone right now, but a $500 fly reel from a start up company is no way to enter the marketplace. Perhaps take a look at cutting profit margins a bit or ditch the no-fault warranties to move more product. I suppose you'd need to first move out of the Neolithic Age in order to begin embracing the principles of micro and macro economics in the Digital Age. All I know is that an $1100 spey rod isn't going to curry much favor with recruiting folks from the bait dunking and gear tossing crowd. Bubba ain't gonna pay $1100 for any gear but a new compound bow or an AR-15.
So what to do about those extravagant markups? It used to be in the past that the industry just held us all hostage. Unless you were on a pro plan, you had to pay full retail for gear. It took a great deal of time and resource to become outfitted with enough gear to meet your needs and interests; likely more than you paid for your first car, for some, maybe your first house. It seems the prices of these items just kept rising with the times, often higher than the rate of inflation. Where did the profits all go? Aside from a handful of companies, I can tell you where they didn't go: back to the resource. Likely, those huge margins went to stock fridges full of Nestle bottled water and wild PNW steelhead in more than a few executives' guest ranches on a reach of private water on some stream that we all wished we could afford to fish. Lucky for us consumers, a few folks fed up with the whole scene had the balls enough to put themselves out there and found companies that stand for something. Companies like Rise Fishing Co. are selling high end rods at guide prices and donating 20% of their proceeds to fishy causes. These are the guys that are making a difference. They are building a nice user base that will be around long after the old schoolers die off, likely taking a few of the aloof, apathetic companies with them. I say good riddance. Either change with the times or die off. It's called survival of the fittest; natural selection.
If you're in the industry, do me a solid and check out this piece on Angling Trade about the Bristol Bay Academy and see what you can do to help. If you're not, check out organizations like fishy kid, the TU conservation and fishing camp, or the National Fly Fishing in School Program and help get our youth involved. It's up to us because clearly, the mainstream industry isn't doing anything about it. All they care about is whether or not they should get their next pair of nippers in the Brook Trout or Cutthroat Trout graphic finish.