“The larger tourneys can put you in the hole $500 to $700 dollars before you’ve even made a cast,” he notes. “They’re great if you can afford them, and I aspire to compete at the highest levels, but I’m just not there yet. I plan to take my time, building up an emergency fund, and monitoring my tournament performances before jumping in head-first.”
One tip Fernandes offers for anyone thinking about launching a professional career in the recreational fishing industry – whether joining the professional trail or some other fishing related occupation – is joining NPAA.
“I attended the 2019 conference at the suggestion of my college coach,” he recalls. “It turned out to be a great opportunity to meet and introduce myself to significant movers and manufacturers in the industry. Now I have those connections, so I’m not a blank page when I’m looking to jump to the next level. Talking to more senior members of the organization also helped me realize that I don’t need to rush. It opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about professional fishing and staying on track. That help has been invaluable, both in learning to be patient and in looking ahead to my fishing future.”
Lakich agrees with Fernandes’ NPAA assessment. “The NPAA has given me quite a few professional contacts over the years, and these have proved invaluable. I’ve met several people that have already gone to bat for me when I needed someone with more tenure in the industry to vouch for my abilities, strengths and character. Having that core NPAA group support is a really great membership perk.”
As for Crews, he’s enjoyed the benefits of being an NPAA member and is happy to be in a position to return the favor. “It’s amazing how much even veteran anglers can learn when comparing notes with other members. It’s also important to give back to the sport and fishing community by sharing your knowledge and experience with others who are chasing their dreams,” he states. “I try to support the NPAA as much as possible. It’s a terrific organization with the potential to help a lot of people succeed in this industry.”
Guides and Charter Captains: Thriving in the Face of Inflation
|A rising tide, it’s said, floats all boats. Unfortunately, an ebbing economy can have the opposite effect. With inflation at levels that haven’t been seen in decades and gas prices rising even more, you can bet that charter captains and fishing guides across the country are feeling a shark-sized bite right where they keep their wallets.|
“It’s tough to make a living on the water when the cost of fuel and other expenses keeps rising,” says National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) president, Patrick Neu. “If you’re a charter captain, licensed guide or tournament angler you’ve certainly got some challenges to overcome. As an organization, we know inflation and higher fuel prices are going to negatively impact our members. Still, we’ve seen enterprising businesspeople throughout the fishing and boating industries battle these drags on our economy before and come out stronger than ever.”
Staying afloat in these rocky seas requires business owners of any type to show resolve, run things more efficiently, and view rising expenses as an opportunity to rise above the competition. That way, when the economy bounces back, you’ll be a better position to take advantage of the next bounce.
Take Adam Rasmussen, owner of Rasmussen Outdoors Guide Service and Salmon Depot Charters in Sturgeon Bay, WI. With more than 15 years of experience running charters for bass, walleye and salmon, he’s seen a few ups and downs but has always managed to push ahead. Today, he runs three boats and says his phone is still ringing off the hook.
|Adam Rasmussen: Don’t Cut Corners|
“I’m just trying to see things through day-by-day and give my customers the best fishing experience they’ve ever had,” says Rasmussen. “Sure, I’m watching my expenses more, but I’m not cutting any corners when it comes to fishing success. I’m hitting the same spots that always produce even if it means taking a longer run to find better action. I haven’t made any adjustments to my bass and walleye trip prices as of yet. Most of those are local and if I have to eat an extra $30 in gas, that’s the price of running a professional outfit.”
On salmon adventures, which require a larger boat and more running/trolling time, Rasmussen has added a $50 fuel surcharge and says he may need to increase that to $100 depending on if the price of fuel continues to rise.
“I usually carry four to six people on salmon trips,” he explains. “Split that between fares and it’s only $25 or less apiece. In the short salmon season here, I can’t afford to lose $100 a day. I explain that up front and my customers seem to understand – especially those who’ve seen how hard I work in the past.”
It just goes to show that honesty is the best policy continues Rasmussen – and providing a professional experience pays dividends down the road. “If you need to raise your price, keep increases reasonable. I know guys that have added a couple-hundred dollars to the price of a salmon trip. I fish from a 34-foot Pursuit, and I’ve added on $50 to cover my fuel. Which one of us will get those customers next summer?”
|Matt Steffun: Keep Saving|
Long time NPAA member Matt Steffen, of Port Mansfield, TX, also believes professionalism, honesty and a fair deal are keys to moving forward. He runs Port Mansfield Fishing Charters and points out that captains and guides need to not only cover daily expenses but to put away money from each trip in case engine maintenance or hull repair is needed down the line – even during tough economic circumstances.
“When I started out, an experienced skipper took me aside and said that to survive in this business, you need to save an amount equal to about half your gas expenditure on each trip for a rainy day,” recalls Steffen. “I took that advice to heart and it’s served me well over the years.
Matt has also found it important to be upfront with his customers.
“When I realized I’d have to increase my price for ocean trolling trips, I put a survey on my media page and asked if anglers would prefer I add a gas surcharge or adjust the billing at the end of the trip based on how much gas was used,” Steffen said. “Everyone who answered the survey chose the surcharge.”
Like Rasmussen, Steffen increased his fare for local fishing, mostly in the bays, but only by $50. He also runs an air boat for hunting tips and his price for those has remained unchanged. His offshore trips, however, increased by $300, which reduced his offshore bookings. His ‘regulars’ have continued to run with him but new prospects have sometimes chosen to book lower-priced trips offered by captains who keep prices low not putting anything aside for repairs.
“That makes it a little tough for me right now,” he says, “but we’ll see what happens when they miss a month or two of the season, while trying to find money to fix their boats. Part of being professional is being responsible and planning ahead for problems. Every vessel breaks down.”
|Gage Simon: Take the High Road|
Targeting striped bass, bluefish, fluke, scup and blackfish on Long Island Sound, Capt. Gaige Simon runs Sand City Fishing Charters out of Huntington, NY. He’s been in the boating and fishing industry for over 20 years but started his charter operation just this spring.
“I hadn’t fully priced in the inflation rate and rising gas prices when I first splashed the water,” he admits, “but I’m lucky there isn’t much competition in my area. I also caught a break when the stripers and blues absolutely invaded our waters so there’s been little need to go searching for fish. I’m sure I could jack the price up and blame the gas situation right now but that’s not my style. I plan to keep my fare the same for the rest of this year. I’ll make an adjustment next season, if necessary, but only if inflation warrants it.”
While Simon’s decision turned out to be an easy one – take the professional high road – he welcomed the opportunity to discuss his options. “It’s great to belong to an organization where captains talk openly about business options,” he says. “It gives newbies like me some guidance and different perspectives to think about. I’ve paid my dues in this industry, but this is my first year as a charter skipper. I’ll take all the help I can get from more experienced captains willing to share their knowledge. That’s one of the reasons I joined the NPAA.”
And that’s exactly what you’re likely to get with an NPAA membership. Yes, it’s another expense–but it’s also a smart investment.
“Our members learn what it truly means to be a professional and build a successful business strategy by networking with other members and attending our annual conference. At $100, our yearly dues are one of the few things in this world that hasn’t gone up in price for nearly two decades. It really is a bargain.”
Retailers and Consumers: Who Picks Up the Tab?
You may have noticed skyrocketing prices while picking up a rod, reel, or pile of lures at your local tackle shop. Rest assured–by the time that price made it to the shelf, you weren’t the first with sticker-shock. Retailers are fighting the same battle against rising costs–often needing to choose between happy customers and keeping the lights on.
Still, NPAA’s many retail members report they are surviving and even thriving in this dicey sales environment by carefully planning their purchases, minimizing costs, and being up-front with customers about the factors driving price increases.
“This is the toughest sales environment I’ve seen in thirty-plus years of retail operation,” says National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) member, retail outdoors store owner and 2022 Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame inductee, Tom Keenan. The 53-year-old head of Chase Outdoors in Wausau, Wisconsin, notes 2021 saw a big increase in the number of people taking up fishing as way to have fun, get outdoors and social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this summer brought concerns over the cost of retail items and continued supply-chain issues for some manufacturers into the limelight.
Rapala stocked to the gills at Chase Outdoors in Wausau, WI.
“It’s a battle keeping our prices reasonable right now,” continues Keenan. “Supply has improved since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic but price increases have been steep on just about everything. People now seem to be holding off on purchases like high-end fishing poles and innovative reels. They’re making do with what they have as long as it’s in decent shape. That’s the sales battle we’re facing now.”
Keenan has taken steps to sustain inventory levels and maintain reasonable retail pricing. He notes fishing sales continue to be good in his store but isn’t sure they’ll continue to hold steady. “To combat price increases and remaining supply-chain problems, we’re ordering more items directly from vendors,” he reveals. “We’re also eating a lot of the fuel surcharges where shipping is concerned to help keep prices down. Packaging a lot of things together when ordering or holding out for deals that include free shipping also help to minimize costs.”
In terms of dealing with customers who do a double-take at prices, Keenan believes being up front works best. “If you invest a little time educating people about supply-chain issues and the new cost of shipping, most get it. Still, customers generally don’t love price increases.”
Retailers are also using focused forecasting to buy ahead at current prices and ensure products arrive before you need them. Keenan is already purchasing for the 2023 fishing season. “Planning ahead with your supplier as a partner is critical now,” he says, and being an NPAA member helps, too. “You need to be as professional as possible to survive this storm, and NPAA drives home the point that professionalism is a key to profitability. I rely heavily on their press releases and newsletter because they keep me abreast of new products and what’s trending in the angling world. That info helps you present as a true fishing authority when customers have questions. It’s the kind of advanced knowledge that makes the difference between a good retailer and a great one.”
Like Keenan, NPAA Member Dave Kranz believes the current retail sales environment to be a tricky one. Still, the 63-year-old proprietor of Dave’s Bait and Tackle in Crystal Lake, Illinois, has kept things rolling thanks to insightful planning. “COVID taught us we can order further in advance,” he states. “Some of our terminal tackle–rods and reels for instance–don’t age out on the floor, so I’ve been buying heavier than normal to stay ahead of supply chain issues.”
In Kranz’ view, the U.S. entered a recession last spring but many retail fishing outfits were insulated from initial price increases thanks to a two-year bump in sales. Looking forward, he says, it’s vital to build on what you learned during the pandemic.
“I plan to continue buying heavy to resolve remaining supply-chain issues,” he says. “There are some product lines I’ve already bought and paid for during the pandemic. With some other lines I still have stock enough that I can order 15- to 30-percent less this year and use those funds for other inventory.”
Another smart move, reveals Kranz, is to buy from multiple sources to ensure you always have product coming in. “Don’t cancel additional shipments when the first ones arrive,” he counsels. “Instead, stockpile those additions because they aren’t going to be less expensive going forward. If you have the means to get ahead of inventory, the sooner the better is a good rule. It allows you to not only to turn a profit, but to keep prices reasonable so customers aren’t always looking at 10-, 15- and 20-percent price hikes.”
Similar to Keenan, Kranz buys well ahead of time. He’s currently placing his 2023 summer orders and bought much of his spring stock immediately following the ICAST Show in July. “When stuff comes in, I put it right out rather than wait for any special season,” he offers. “I sell fishing tackle 12 months of the year. This summer, I sold ice augers in July. People couldn’t get them last winter so they grabbed them right away.”
Another suggestion from Kranz is to focus on your best opportunities. Some people open several stores, he notes, but that doesn’t always work in the long run. “If one store is great, one is fair and one is a dog dragging you down you’ll be better off having one terrific store where you can do everything right, he surmises.”
Kranz counts himself fortunate to have several income streams. In addition to his retail outdoors operation, he writes a retail fishing column for Fishing Tackle Retailer, works as a fishing guide, hosts a fishing podcast, and competes in Major League Fishing’s Toyota Series. “I guess you could say I wear a lot of hats that make it worthwhile for me to be an NPAA member,” he states. “It’s a great organization, especially when it comes to making contacts. NPAA makes it easy to keep my name in front of the people I need for sponsorship, retail operations and my guide business. I even draw on other members to be podcast guests. If people know you’re an NPAA member, they instantly recognize you as a true outdoors professional and take your business seriously. The NPAA newsletter also keeps me clued into industry happenings.”
According to Kranz, one thing that clearly separates professionals from wannabees in this industry is having a passion for the business end of things, a point you’ll pick up quickly with an NPAA membership. “You have to have a passion for the business end of things that’s every bit as strong as your passion for fishing,” he states. “NPAA is a great place to grow both of those essentials.”
Loud and proud St. Croix Rod display at Dave’s Bait & Tackle.
NPAA president, Patrick Neu, calls the advice from Keenan and Kranz “spot on,” adding that true angling professionals also help set themselves up for long-term success by working extra hard for their sponsors during tough economic times. One effective way to do just that is by reaching out to the retail stores in your market area and offering to help in any way that you can, he advises. That might be through promotions, referring customers to local tackle shops, or by helping make sure your sponsor’s products are well merchandised and in stock at the store.
“That kind of investment in each other makes a big difference for everyone in the long run,” contends Neu. “NPAA members after all are opinion leaders in their marketplaces and, as such, valuable assets to the retailers in their communities – especially during stretches of economic upheaval when every sale counts. Long-time NPAA members realize helping retailers whenever possible can pay dividends with their own sponsors or can add a few additional guide trips a year when retailers return the favor by referring customers. We’re all in this business together,” sums up Neu. “As NPAA members, we’re all on the same team.”
For information on joining the NPAA and exploring the many benefits of membership, visit www.npaa.net.