Janesville56.1°

Fishing-tackle industry deals with constant shake-ups

Comments Comments Print Print
Ted Peck
February 9, 2014

The U.S. Marine Corps hymn traces the Corps' noble beginning in the very first line.

Pirates operating out of the Libyan port of Tripoli were vicious cutthroats. Our first Marines went over there and solved the problem.

Sadly, there is nothing the USMC can do about the increasingly cutthroat nature of the fishing-tackle industry. If all the jig- and spinner-makers adhered to a credo of duty, honor, country, America would be a better place.

The tackle industry used to do business that way. If you designed a new lure and you liked that lure, you could patent it. Period.

Other manufacturers would respect your efforts. If it sold like hotcakes, they might change it 10 percent to avoid patent infringement litigation and come out with their own version of the hot new bait.

This way of doing business changed in the 1990s, driven by increasing pressure from the Chinese. Big companies gobbled up smaller ones. Now there are just a handful of players at the fishing-tackle table.

They all have deep pockets. Litigation is merely part of doing business.

Consumers benefit from this ruthless competition by paying less for products at the retail level. Product loyalty is a thing of the past. The bottom buck gets the business. This is capitalism in a pure sense.

For four decades, I have worked as an outdoor writer and professional fishing guide. This dual citizenry has provided a unique perspective into the evolution of the sport-fishing industry.

Fishing for recreation was a foreign concept until after World War II. With time and money to spend, Americans picked up fishing rods and the long trolling pass to where we are today began.

I remember when the Zebco 202 was cutting-age technology. The acronym “Zebco” stands for Zero Hour Bomb Company. The designer worked for an Oklahoma company that designed explosive devices used in drilling oil wells. His “beer can with a hole in it” became the first spincast reel.

I remember when the Lowrance “green box” first started showing up in wooden rowboats powered by green Johnson or white Mercury outboards. This crude sonar has evolved into technology in every serious angler's boat, which is far more sophisticated than computers in Mercury capsules that sent our first astronauts into space.

My dad told me about spending long fishing trips in Canada with his buddy Bill Bower before I became a living anchor in 1951. On one trip, these pioneers in wool flannel shirts rented a hot new lure for the kingly sum of $10.

Ten bucks was a fortune back in 1948. The concept of “renting” a lure is unimaginable today. These lures are still wildly popular and available for purchase at a store near you for $5 to $7. They are called “Rapalas.”

A plastic copy called the “Rebel” came out a few years later. It did not infringe on the balsa wood Rapalas' patent and caught plenty of fish.

Rebel is now one of a half-dozen brands under the umbrella of LureNet, the fishing tackle arm of Pradco—an acronym for Plastics Research and Development Company.

Pradco used to be individual tackle companies such as Bomber, Smithwick, Arbogast and Heddon. All of these companies evolved from mom-and-pop operations that found their way into the 10-lure selection in a serious fisherman's metal Old Pal tackle box back when Ike was president.

The Pradco family of companies now has several prominent hunting-gear manufacturers beneath its corporate wings.

When monofilament line replaced Dacron as the string of choice for fishermen, Stren and Trilene were the Johnson and Mercury of the day.

Trilene gobbled up Stren into a venture that morphed from Berkley into Pure Fishing. This American company is now a wing of the Jarden Corporation, headquartered in France.

The original Mepps spinner came from France. A World War II GI named Frank Velek traded a French woman some nylon stockings for a couple of spinners that he brought back from overseas.

Velek let his buddy, Todd Sheldon, use the lures for trout in the Antigo area back in 1951. The Sheldon family has been buying squirrel tails and making Mepps spinners in Antigo ever since.

Why hasn't Mepps been gobbled up by a multi-tentacled tackle profiteer or blatantly ripped off by a competitor with a honey-badger attitude?

I think it's the squirrel tails. Once PETA figures out squirrels don't give up their tails in the same fashion as salamanders and initiates litigation, the company's future mighty be in jeopardy.

I certainly hope this never happens. The venerable Mepps is still one of my go-to baits.

Cabin fever is like Lyme disease. It can manifest in many ways. Old guys like me have time to ponder such things as the downfall of the fishing tackle industry. Really, this whole thing is one big conspiracy.

The shortage of .22 ammunition is still a reality. Why? Because hunters use .22s to harvest squirrels, selling the tails to Mepps.

Who is buying up all the .22 ammo? Perhaps the federal Department of Homeland Security, operating as a shill for the Chinese government—the real American fishing tackle pirates.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.



Comments Comments Print Print