THE BIG INTERVIEW
Having run a tackle shop from the age of 16, John Barriball is now bringing some of the top products in lure fishing on to the UK scene
Henry Gilbey meets Lure Heaven boss.
John Barriball runs the Lure Heaven tackle shop and website with his wife Melissa. They are known in the modern lure fishing world here in the UK for making some fantastic brands available to anglers. If you want to know about Graphiteleader rods, Duo, Bait Breath and Gary Yamamoto lures, Geecrack fishing luggage, along with Palms and Zetz slow-jigging gear, then Lure Heaven, in Launceston, Cornwall, is the place.
Henry Gilbey: When did you start Lure Heaven and why did you decide to become so involved in the growing UK lure fishing scene?
When I was 16 I ran a tackle shop in Surrey for about eight years. Then we moved down to Cornwall in 2000. We started Lure Heaven in 2008 and then it became a limited company in 2010 – to deal with Japanese companies it really helped to be a limited company. They prefer the status of dealing with a recognised company profile instead of an individual.
We opened up our Lure Heaven shop around the start of 2012, largely because with importing unseen products and selling them mainly online, anglers were increasingly wanting to see and handle the actual gear. We also distribute our brands into the UK tackle trade.
HG: What made you go after the Japanese lure rod brand Graphiteleader, and how easy was it secure the UK distribution?
I had heard a lot about them from various sources and there wasn’t much Japanese gear here in the UK at that time. We tried dealing with UK tackle companies and they would not talk to us in the early days because we had no physical premises to start with, so we were almost forced to go and source our own gear.
We also wanted to do serious lure fishing gear. We could hardly find any here in the UK that appealed to us so we thought about getting hold of our rods from Japan and seeing if we could sell them.
We contacted Graphiteleader in Japan and it took us about 12 months of emailing and talking to them about our plans and visions for the UK market before they would
start selling us rods – we had to sign a proper sales agreement and were put on a 12-month probationary sales period where they could cancel on us for any reason and at any time. We came through that with no problems and we were then made UK exclusive agents for the brand and have been ever since. We love their rods.
I know you believe in a kind of softly-softly approach, by letting the gear do the talking, but how do you feel about the state of the lure fishing market in the UK?
At the moment we feel it’s tough here in the UK with regard to lure fishing. The big one is trying to convince shops and accounts about specialist new tackle that isn’t like everything else.
Small companies like us going up against the big boys is not easy. They can flood the market with gear, whereas we like to stay specialist and niche and feel that the gear we offer is perfectly suited to the job.
The UK market is hugely driven by price and, of course, anglers want the cheapest items. Anglers think that what a lure costs in Japan, for example, is what it should cost here in the UK. This simply isn’t the case, not with how expensive it is to import fishing tackle into the UK.
We feel that the lure market is still growing, but more and more anglers are sourcing their gear abroad or going for really cheap stuff. It’s a challenge, and we love it because we believe in what we sell.
How’s the reaction been to all this modern slow-jigging gear that you are importing?
Massive! On the boat side, it’s spreading like mad now, to the point that more and more companies are doing their own slow-jigging gear.
We find it really interesting how this technique seems to spread by word of mouth, and it’s interesting how some commercial rod-and-line anglers have adopted it because it catches fish so effectively.
How do you go about making fishing tackle shops aware of your growing portfolio of tackle brands?
We email and call tackle shops, and we go to some of the shows, but the biggest way for us is getting anglers to see the gear, who then ask their local tackle shops for it. For us, social media and word of mouth is vital. Nothing beats anglers catching fish on the gear you sell.
I know you love freshwater lure fishing as well, especially for trout. Do you believe that lure fishing for a fish like trout could ever properly take off here in the UK?
It’s starting as a bit of an underground thing, and especially when the coarse close season is on. Some trout fisheries are now letting lure anglers fish for trout with their lure gear. Again, it’s trying to get past that old-fashioned image that can so often hold us back.
You distribute one of the best Japanese lure brands out there, Duo. What’s it like to work with that company and make its lures available to UK anglers?
Really good company to work with, and it makes incredible lures, but Duo is very demanding of our time. This is typical of Japanese companies. Everything is produced in advance, we get a production list, and then we must commit to the lures we want to bring into the UK. We speak to our dealers to try and get an idea of what they might want and then we go back to Duo. We are responsible for all advertising and promotional work for Duo in the UK.
You can take only two lures and one lure rod out boat fishing – what are they?
The ZetzR H10 150g slow jig (above) for bass fishing from the boat, and then for the north coast and some rough conditions, the Duo Tide Minnow 140 Slim Flyer (below). My rod for boat fishing would be the Palms Metal Witch Quest No.3 63SF (Slow Fall), and then for shore fishing my original Graphiteleader Argento RV 99ft 6in. I love this rod!
You have been heavily involved in soft plastics from the outset with Lure Heaven. Where do you see this part of the market going in both freshwater and saltwater?
In saltwater, soft plastics are a huge deal for us. It used to be mainly hard lures in our earlier days, but things have come around big time to soft lures. In freshwater, soft plastics are the big thing and a lot of this is being driven with the perch side of things coming in via LRF fishing in the saltwater world. There is a lot of crossover in lure fishing, and I think this is great.
Are you always on the lookout for new brands to represent in the UK, or are you, in fact, pretty comfortable with your portfolio? I know you have been to one of those big Japanese fishing tackle shows. What was your impression of it?
Out of this world! I have never seen a show like it here in the UK. Imagine a big flashy car show, and that’s what it’s like over there. For example, the Shimano stand at the Osaka show (February in Japan) was just incredible. They get about 65,000 people in over the weekend. Visitors can buy catalogues, but not fishing tackle – they come to look, and they have loads of fishing schools to get families involved. The trade use it to show off their new gear.
Around the new Shimano Stella reel, for example, on the Shimano stand I reckon it was six people deep. So much enthusiasm there, so many pro-staff, including women anglers, so family orientated, so different to how we do things in the UK. Remember that everybody was there to see fishing tackle because you can’t buy it at the show. Amazing, so appealing to young anglers.
If you won a fortnight’s all-expenses paid fishing trip to wherever you want to go, where would it be, and what would you fish for?
I’d like to go somewhere in the tropics and fish for species like barracuda (below), snapper, GTs, maybe from a small boat fishing towards mangroves. Somewhere nice and warm with big blue skies! ■
John believes in letting his gear do the talking
Setting off for a day’s slow jigging