Freshwater fishing remains a critical market segment within the boating industry.
Recent data from Statistical Surveys confirms that the market continues to exhibit solid growth in the single digit range.
According to SSI, sales of new retail registered outboard-powered aluminum fishing boats in the U.S. increased from 61,000 in 2016 to 62,000 in 2017.
Total freshwater fishing, which includes aluminum outboard fish and fiberglass outboard bass/fishing boats, increased to
more than 72,000 units.
This is the highest registration total for these segments since 2008.
“In 2018, these segments are off to a great start,” said Ryan Kloppe, SSI director of sales, who reported overall sales are up by approximately 3 percent year over year.
In 2016, participation in fishing increased by 1.5 million to 47.2 million anglers as a community of fishing, boating and conservation stakeholders began a journey to achieve 60 million anglers in 60 months’ time, said Frank Peterson, Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation president and CEO.
Sixty million anglers could mean a $500 million increase in fishing license revenue over the next five years, $35 billion more each year in economic contributions from anglers and $10 billion more each year in economic contributions from boaters.
Here’s an update on features, model trends, and the freshwater market, as reported by manufacturers from around the boating industry.
Bigger boats, more features
Smoker Craft is building bigger models with more rod storage, recirculating livewells with pump outs and redesigned consoles with more space for built-in graphs and ram-mounted graphs, said Jim Ellis, regional director of fish boat sales.
The Smoker Craft 172 Ultima and revamped Pro Angler XL series feature more rod storage and graph space as well as the Integrated Gunnel Track System with mood lighting, Ellis said.
Smoker Craft‘s American Angler series of welded and heavy welded models were a complete hit in the northwest, Ellis added.
The new heavy welded Phantom X2 and Pro Sportsman models were popular with those that fish rugged open water and rivers and the Osprey and Tracer models with new paint and graphics continue to see strong sales, Ellis said.
Starcraft’s new 14-foot and 16-foot Patriot series were popular with entry-level boaters and buyers looking to utilize a smaller boat, Ellis said.
The new 178 Renegade models with all-vinyl cockpit and casting platforms, multiple rod storage areas, a console that supports a large in-built graph, IGTS gunnel and optional Yarblow drying system were a big hit at early season boat shows.
“Our Starweld brand was completely revamped for 2018 and was warmly received all over the U.S. by dealers and the retail public,” Ellis added.
Plant, production expansion
Correct Craft’s brands Bass Cat and Yar-Craft announced a significant expansion plan that will increase their production capacity of boats by over 50 percent. The construction of the new facility began in May.
Since Correct Craft acquired Bass Cat and Yar-Craft in 2015, the company has experienced significant growth, more than 80 percent in sales.
Demand for the Bass Cat and Yar-Craft product has now exceeded the capacity of the company’s long-time production facility in Mountain Home, Ark.
“The Lynx was a hot boat show brand for us this year,” said Bass Cat and Yar-Craft Boats President Rick Pierce.
The Lynx debuted with people wondering about its out of the box Bass Cat floor plan, wedged rod storage, inset locker doors. The different charisma was initially questioned; now, its gaining acceptance.
“Freshwater boat sizes are getting bigger, and are there’s a lot of interesting things happening with the outboard motor market right now. It’s definitely driving a larger product,” Pierce said. In the last three years, the company’s models have had wider bodies and deeper hulls. Pierce added the freshwater market is good and strong, but starting to solidifying. “Interest rates haven’t taken a major jump yet,” he said.
Wide-bottoms, bass market
SeaArk Boats President Steve Henderson said his company’s market niche also involves wide-bottom boats in the 18-foot to 24-foot range.
“We’re gotten really good response out of what we call our Easy 200 and Big Easy, which has pontoon-style couches in it. That’s more of a fish-and-ski style boat for the hunter-fisherman.” Henderson said.
The company’s 26-foot Easy Cat for the bass tournament market is also getting good response, Henderson said, adding the purchase of a new press three years ago helped foster that product’s development. “We’ve always listened to the customer, and that’s how we’ve grown in the catfishing business,” he said. “People want more options and more gadgets. We are trying to accommodate them. And we listen to our dealers. The Easy Cat is the one we are most excited about.”
Parent company Correct Craft has helped SeaArk increase production by 52 percent, Henderson said. “We’ve been very fortunate that our sales have outrun our production. Correct Craft not only helped us improve the way we build, but they put money into the plant.”
Keeping customers in mind
More and more consumers are looking for performance, speed, ease of maintenance, and utilizing the full length of the boat for fishing and entertaining, said Alan Lang, Scout Boats director of sales and marketing.
“Our bay boats are set up with both saltwater and freshwater in mind, from live wells to rod storage,” Lang said. “While we only build fiberglass, we definitely see aluminum and fiberglass average boat sizes continuing to get larger.”
Recapping the company’s most recently completed boat shows in terms of new product launches, Lang said that the Scout 215 XFS received the most interest at the Charleston In Water Boat Show. A notable standard feature includes not only bow forward seating, but also a forward sun lounge/coffin box complete with a cushion.
Rob Parmentier, president and CEO of Marquis-Larson Boat Group, said his company’s Larson FX freshwater line is doing extremely well. “We have backlogs on most orders through February 2019,” Parmentier reported. “Shows were a mixed bag this year. We lost almost a month-and-half to winter weather. But, as soon as it stopped snowing, things really started rocking.”
Marquis-Larson doesn’t do a traditional July product launch, Parmentier explained.
“We change as we go,” he said. “If something needs to be improved, or if one of my pro fishermen contacts me with a great idea, or a modification, I make a running change.” For example, with the company’s FX products line, more than 350 engineering changes have been in the last three years, Parmentier said. “That translates to the guy fishing on weekends. People are using their boats differently. I have 16 pros who are engineers and understand that totally.”
Other product gains
Johnson Outdoors continues to benefit from a dedicated focus on consumer-driven innovation that’s delivering bigger, better marketplace success, said Helen Johnson-Leipold, chairman and chief executive officer, during a May earnings conference call. “Our 2018 product line-up remains strong,” she said. The company’s Minn Kota and Humminbird products powered a 19 percent increase in fishing revenue.
“The marine channel remains strong,” she added. “We are seeing growth across both brands. Our Ultrex product has been able to entered market segment of that’s been challenging in the past. It’s doing very well. Humminbird has introduced new technology and larger screens. We’ve re-launched a lot of Minn Kota products and upgraded them to Bluetooth.”
Ongoing investment against three key strategic plan priorities – richer consumer insights, enhanced innovation processes and digital sophistication – are essential to ensure continued progress toward Johnson Outdoor’s goal of delivering accelerated sustained profitable growth, Johnson-Leipold added.
Kayak propulsion push
Small waters fishing remains a high-growth segment for Torqeedo, said President Steve Trkla. The company showed two integrated kayak solutions at its main booth at the 2018 Miami Boat Show.
In 2016, Torqueedo’s Travel motor was upgraded with high-capacity 915Wh battery and the Ultralight followed last year.
“That really excited our dealer network,” Trkla said. “Anglers using the Ultralight 403 C can fish an entire tournament without recharging or fish spots they couldn’t before because of high currents or tides.”
The company is finalizing the development of a new mounting system coming out early next year. “Some of the best waters in the U.S. are electric-only, so rigging a small boat with a Travel or Cruise motor has become the preferred solution,” Trkla added. Fishermen choose their platform based on how they can get to the best places to fish.