Serving generations of anglers, the traditional tackle shop remains a cornerstone of British fishing. However, the sad truth is that every year, dozens disappear while larger, more uniform retailers dominate the food chain.
“I worry about our independent fishing stores,” says tackle shop enthusiast and Angling Trust East of England Regional Officer Tom Humphreys. “They’re the gatekeepers of fishing and every store we lose leaves a huge gap.”
Today’s picture is complex, with some areas well served while others wither away. “You start to get a geographical void in some regions ,” says Tom. “It can be disheartening because, as good as social media is, it’s no substitute for that real world knowledge and service.”
He’s also adamant that this isn’t an ‘either or’ equation with big brands, however. “There’s space for everyone,” he tells us. “Areas like Lincoln are a great example, where you have two thriving independents along with an Angling Direct. All serve slightly different purposes but can thrive.”
The magic of the “local”
Having visited countless shops both as a punter and promoting regional events for the Angling Trust, Tom has even set up his own, personal initiative and Instagram account called the Tackle Shop Project, which tours much-loved independents.
“There’s still a lot of love for the tackle shop!” he enthuses. “But I’d like to see more of this translated into support. Folks on social media are happy to shout about rods, lures or boilie brands, but it’s harder to get them to celebrate their local shop.”
Another interesting find was that by sharing pictures and information he could make the shops a bit less intimidating to newcomers. “Much as we love these places, they can be daunting at first glance,” says Tom. Whether it’s tackle up to the ceiling or a slightly grumpy owner, parents and kids, especially, can feel overwhelmed.
However, Tom also sees unique advantages to the ‘local’. “What the smaller guys lack is the marketing and spending power of today’s retail giants. But what they have in spades is that personal, local connection,” he says.
The best indie shops therefore tend to be those which are ultra-friendly, plugged into local communities and willing to embrace the digital age. The winners are savvy with social media, selling online or getting involved in local events.
Lost gems and new start-ups
Keen to help independents thrive, the Angling Trades Association says it’s also working closely with retailers. “We have shops who’ve been ATA members since the 1980s” said Chairman Andrew Race, who sees a time of “massive change” with the digital revolution, social challenges and factors such as the demise of traditional wholesalers, the emergence of chain stores and fluctuating prices of Chinese, EU and UK made goods.
Covid, he said, had in some ways accelerated the evolution of independents to “explore online sales as a means to sell without contact” to survive. He also added that the very question of “what constitutes a retailer?” had changed, with online shops and the likes of on-site fishery tackle shops.
While independents’ strength remains their “wealth of grass roots knowledge,” he says that they can be challenging places for newcomers and non-anglers, who might naturally find their way to bigger stores. “Many anglers bought their tackle from Woolworths back in the day, so the likes of Go Outdoors have their role,” he says, emphasizing that there was space for everyone.
“The ATA is aiming to rebuild the recruitment network that used to exist,” says Andrew, with independent shops playing a key role and initiatives such as Take A Friend Fishing and National Fishing Month.
MEET ENGLAND’S YOUNGEST TACKLE SHOP OWNER: SEV GOSTYNSKI
While many shops have gone, the better news is that fresh blood and new businesses are thriving elsewhere. At just 18, Culm Valley Tackle manager Sev Gostynski must be the youngest tackle shop boss in England. Fishing mad and passionate about Devon, he’s actually Polish and bilingual. We know what you’re thinking: “Bloody Poles, coming here and saving our tackle trade!”
“Times are interesting, but we’re doing well,” says Sev, who puts the store’s success down to location and service. “Being just a minute off the M5, we couldn’t be better placed,” he says, noting that urban stores have been hammered by parking issues. “If you have to pay £3 to park, you’re unlikely to stop for a pint of maggots” he says.
Speaking of which, bait quality and customer service are also key. “Decent bait is vital,” says Sev, “and if people trust you for that, they won’t drive to another shop for their terminal tackle and other bits”.
Very much set for the long haul, his next step is to offer online shopping and bait delivery for neighbouring towns that have lost their own tackle shops.
HOW CAN I SUPPORT MY LOCAL TACKLE SHOP?
Use it or lose it!
Always get your basics such as bait, hooks and line from your local shop. Don’t take it for granted that they’ll always be there! Unlike Amazon, they have to pay rent on non-virtual premises and every purchase matters.
Recommend and review
One thing too few of us do is share the love when it comes to independent stores. Whether it’s leaving a Google review, sharing a Facebook post or simply good old-fashioned word of mouth, celebrate your local!
Offers and orders
If you can’t quite find the choice and value of the online shopping world at the local, don’t be shy – talk to staff! New items and spares can be ordered, and these days many independent shops will offer a price match policy if you see something online. And if something goes wrong, it’s much simpler to deal with real people than labyrinthine online help menus!
When in Rome…
If you’re travelling anywhere to fish, always make the nearest tackle shop your first port of call. Unlike tight-lipped locals, staff will be only too happy to recommend the best spots, along with fresh bait and essentials.