It’s almost time for me to make my annual predictions for fly fishing in the upcoming year. But I’m going to let one cat out of the bag a little early because I think it’s big news, and I think it’s going to be good for anglers and the sport of fly fishing as a whole.
Retailer Eddie Bauer is going to wade into the fly-fishing market in a big way next year by introducing a fairly expansive lineup of fly-fishing specific products and selling this “Sport Shop” gear at many of its locations throughout the country. Last month, I had a chance to visit the design team at Eddie Bauer headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., and I came away impressed that this is certainly no passing fancy or trendy marketing hook. They’re making some smart, technically-detailed product that’s going to get noticed. I’ve been testing some of it, and it’s living up to expectations.
Truth is that this is a return to the company’s roots. The real Eddie Bauer was an avid hunter and angler. Nearly a century ago, his original Sport Shop in Seattle was often adorned with deer hanging out front as fishing flies were being spun inside. The Bauer legacy included the development of goose down-insulated jackets used by airmen in World War II. The down garments offered range of motion as well as warmth at altitude. Not surprisingly, following the war, that down gear was used by mountaineers as they led many of the first expeditions up the world’s highest peaks. In reconnecting with that tradition, Eddie Bauer (the company) launched its “First Ascent” line of technical expedition and ski gear a few years ago. That was followed by the introduction of a line of Sport Shop hunting gear, including Bauer’s Microtherm Down Field Jacket, which won a Field & Stream “Best of the Best” award in 2012.
The company is doing something really smart with all these products; working hands-on with guides in the field, or in the case of the fishing products, pro-staffers Andrew Bennett, Lucas St. Clair, John Burrell, and Michael Pepi, who have all fished in enough crappy weather throughout the world to know what works and what won’t — they don’t pull punches with their input. I’ve always said that much of what you see in fly fishing these days — from rods and jackets to flies themselves — are designed to catch anglers, and some stuff is designed to actually help anglers catch fish. I’d say that what I’ve seen from Bauer thus far falls into the latter category.
For now, the line is focused on apparel, like jackets, shirts, pants, and so forth. No waders, boots, rods, nor reels. But the company is also making some very interesting packs, like the Adventurer Fishing Chest Pack, which is made of rip-resistant CORDURA, and coated with water-resistant TPU. It also incorporates magnets to keep things in place. It’s streamlined, quite durable, and priced fairly (in my opinion) at $80.
On the macro-marketing scale, I think Eddie Bauer’s wading into fly fishing will be a good thing for a few reasons. First, increased prominence at retail locations, in ad campaigns, and so forth, helps to raise visibility of fly fishing as a mainstream hobby pursuit. The Bauer muscle will be good for the sport. Second, given the company’s longstanding focus on creating women’s apparel, applying that thinking to the fly world will expand the options that some women anglers (like my wife) have been asking for. And third, while the specialty shops might not exactly fancy the idea of another mega-retailer jumping into fly, the net effect will be that it will force the other manufacturers to up their design games and take a hard look at pricing.
Stay tuned to this site and the pages of Field & Stream magazine for some more specific product details.