Jul/Aug 2012Homegrownby Pat Robertson
South Carolina's thriving in-state fishing tackle industry boosts the state economy, funds fisheries management and provides better access to great fishing for Palmetto State anglers.
The average angler in South Carolina may not be aware that his rod, reel, line and lure were quite possibly all made right here in the Palmetto State. He may also be unaware that the companies that manufacture the parts of his fishing rig pay federal excise taxes used to manage the fish he is after and improve their populations so he can have a successful trip, but both things are true.
Fishing tackle companies, from small mom-and-pop businesses to multi-national corporations, represent millions of dollars in investment and provide employment to hundreds of workers, managers, salesmen, marketing specialists and small-business owners in South Carolina, all of which makes a significant contribution to the state's economy, and the federal excise tax money these companies pay on every piece of fishing tackle sold provides critical support to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' fishery programs, according to Ross Self, the agency's chief of freshwater fisheries.
"Currently, the Freshwater Fishery Management program does not receive any state-appropriated dollars, so everything we do - from hatchery operations to sampling fish populations - is funded through license fees, the money provided through the Sport Fish Restoration Fund or money from other grant sources," said Self.
The DNR received more than $4.75 million in federal Sport Fish Restoration program funds in 2011, with 15 percent designated to pay for boating access, and the remaining 85 percent going to fisheries. Of the $4.75 million routed to South Carolina last year, $717,000 went to boating access, while approximately $3.2 million helped fund freshwater fishery programs, and about $825,000 aided saltwater fishery management programs.
"All of our regional fishery programs are funded with that Sport Fish Restoration money. We use it to survey and inventory fish species, and three-fifths of our hatchery program is funded with the federal excise tax dollars. We also use some of it for aquatic education, such as our Family Fishing Clinics program that teaches children about fishing," Self said.
Without question, Pure Fishing Inc. is at the "large" end of the tackle manufacturing spectrum in South Carolina. Pure manufactures about 30,000 different types of bait, fishing lures, rods, reels and lines under brand names like Shakespeare, Abu Garcia, All Star, Berkley, Mitchell, Fenwick, Spiderwire, Trilene and Gulp!, among others. The company has operations in twenty countries, providing direct sales, merchandising and marketing support to more than 15,000 retailers. Pure Fishing is owned by Jarden Corporation, which bought the firm in 2007 for more than $300 million in cash and combined it with The Coleman Company, a major producer of camping equipment.
When Pure Fishing bought Shakespeare and moved its U.S. corporate headquarters from Spirit Lake, Iowa, to Columbia in 2007, company officials cited the fact that South Carolina is a sportfishing epicenter as a reason. The company wanted to be around fishermen so it would know where trends are headed and what customers want out of tackle, said Chief Executive Officer Terry Carlson at the time. Pure Fishing's motto is "Live to Fish," and a lot of South Carolinians do just that. A 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey determined that the approximately 810,000 anglers who live in the state - a fifth of the population! - spend a whopping $1.4 billion a year on fishing.
At the other end of the manufacturing spectrum is the Striper Delight lure, a mainstay for striped bass fishing in South Carolina and along the East Coast for the past forty years. Striper Delight, based in Gilbert, South Carolina, is a one-man operation that produces about 10,000 lures a year. Before the economic recession began in 2008, the company was producing three times that many, and selling them to anglers through Walmart and Kmart, says Delorme Arant who bought the company in 2000. Arant hopes to eventually grow sales back to pre-recession levels.
Charleston-based Z-Man Products has been in the tackle business for twenty-five years, primarily producing silicon skirts until it expanded its scope and operations a few years ago. The company's expansion began with the purchase of the Original ChatterBait, an invention of Ron Davis Sr. of Rock Hill and his son, Ron Davis Jr. of Greenwood. Sales of the lure took off like a rocket when Bryan Thrift of Shelby, North Carolina, won an FLW Stren Series tournament with it at Lake Okeechobee in early 2006 and it dominated a month later at the Bassmaster Classic on Florida's Lake Toho.
Z-Man took over manufacturing the lure, and now produces thousands of them at its Ladson plant, said General Manager Daniel Nussbaum. Z-Man has two manufacturing facilities, an office building and a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in the greater Charleston area, but the company is in the process of consolidating all its operations into one facility. Using a unique, non-toxic plastic the company developed called Elaztech, Z-Man also produces plastic worms and lizards, which are quickly becoming a larger part of the company's operations, he said.
Gary Remensnyder of Chapin, president of Lew's Fishing Tackle, has a unique perspective on the tackle industry in South Carolina. The former senior vice president at Shakespeare built the Shakespeare, Ugly Stik and Pfleuger brands while at that company, and now is heading development of a new generation of the iconic angling brands created by the innovative Lew Childre, such as the Lew's Speed Stick and Speed Spool used by serious bass anglers in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Remensnyder, who plans to open a South Carolina Lew's office and develop an employee base in the state, recalled the wrenching decision at Shakespeare some years ago to move some production of rods and monofilament line overseas, which resulted in a reduction in jobs at the time.
"But over the years that decision made Shakespeare more competitive and able to grow the employment base here in South Carolina. That decision allowed Shakespeare to grow from $34 million in sales in 1994 to more than $120 million in 2005," he said.
The federal excise tax system that funds fishery programs is a huge success story and a great investment for the state's anglers, says Remensnyder. "The money we pay as manufacturers through the excise tax comes right back to South Carolina to support our fishery programs."
Self could not agree more. "It is one of those real success stories - a user pay, user benefits program," he said of the federal excise tax that supports the Sport Fish Restoration Fund. "The angler pays taxes on his fishing equipment and those dollars come back to the states to fund the fishing programs the anglers are using."
All of the companies - large and small - involved in the manufacture and distribution of fishing tackle in South Carolina can take pride in the fact that their contributions help maintain the state's rich fishing tradition.