Running his tackle shop means Ben Field needs a crystal ball to spot the latest trends. Read how it’s done.
Running his tackle shop, The Art of Fishing, means Ben Field needs to get inside the heads of his customers and have a crystal ball to spot the latest trends
Henry Gilbey: What made you want to open up a tackle shop specialising in modern lure fishing tackle?
Ben: It was an accident really, and never my plan. Being a bass angler/tackle tart and website designer, I was working on a new lure fishing review site at the time; this was early 2010. I used to import so much kit from Japan for my own use that I started rating and reviewing it on different technical elements; lures mostly.
We lived in St Merryn, North Cornwall, at the time, and my business partner and then girlfriend, Jo, wanted to open a shop of her own. There was a small retail premises available in the village so I started joking about it making a good tackle shop. To my surprise, she just came home one day and told me we were doing it.
It might have helped that her dad was local bass fishing legend, Jim Macphail. Her mum came up with the name, I spoke to some suppliers and that was that. At the time people thought we were mad – a fishing shop that sold £20 plugs, spinning rods to over £400 and LRF tackle, whatever that was.
I had no sales experience, so we had to be selling the type of gear that I could be passionate about. I never finished the review website, but having fished so much and used all that imported tackle gave me a really good understanding of the variations in lure and tackle design. I already had knowledge of what was and wasn’t working for us on our local bass marks, and naturally this helped our customers when it came to explaining what this new lure fishing tackle was all about.
HG: If you look back to when you first opened your shop, is there anything specific you’d like to tell yourself with what you know now?
Ben: There are too many things. Which stock to carry, and when, is the biggest part. With limited funds and big bills, you can’t stock everything all of the time, and getting hold of it when you want it is another matter.
We’ve been through a lot in eight years, good and bad, but it’s been a great learning curve. I’m extremely optimistic for the future, knowing what I know now, and I tend to treat each year as a fresh start.
HG: Does it amaze you how lure fishing is growing in the UK, or do you think it’s more of a natural progression with how fishing always moves along?
Ben: Although the shop started through a passion, in my head I also felt like it was the right thing to do at the time. I guess I could see it happening, so where we are today doesn’t amaze me, as such. What does amaze me is that we’re not even further on than we are – with more tackle shops and suppliers realising that anglers want quality, specialist lure kit. Lure fishing would be growing far more quickly if that were the case.
HG: What are the questions that anglers ask you the most in your shop?
Ben: What’s the best bass lure? Other than that, it varies. It’s more a case of talking to customers to figure out what’s specifically best for them. Our local coast is very rugged, but an angler who fishes mostly estuaries might need something totally different. Even if they do ask a straight question, the answer might often be another question until we get them exactly where they need to be.
We’ve always had to sell new customers the ‘idea’ of lure fishing as much as the products, especially back when it wasn’t so widely done.
HG: You import a certain amount of lure fishing tackle from Japan to sell in your shop and also for distribution. Why do you do this? Can’t you find the gear in the UK, for example?
Ben: Yes, it’s as simple as that. Often, British-based tackle brands don’t supply what we need, or what our forward-thinking customers want to use. Saying that, it’s getting much easier with a number of established lure tackle distributors here now, including ourselves. There are brands, like HTO, which have since come along to design tackle that suits what the UK lure market now wants.
Big brands don’t move quickly or keep up with trends, so it’s always been down to specialist shops to push things forward.
HG: If you could take only one rod from your shop to go bass fishing on the north coast of Cornwall, what rod would it be, and why?
Ben: If I had to do everything with it, then the Apia Foojin’AD Flow Hunt 810ML. The trend today is for rods over 9ft, but I’ve always liked them slightly shorter. In calmer conditions, I’d choose a Tailwalk Hi-Tide TZ S90ML because it’s the best soft plastic or light plugging rod I’ve ever seen. It’s a specialist bit of kit that’s more of a joy to fish with than any I’ve used.
HG: Based on what bass anglers are buying, are you seeing big differences in hard lures versus soft lures compared to when you first opened your shop? Are we doing things differently because we can access more varied fishing tackle?
Ben: It’s changed so much. I still have pictures of our opening day in 2010 and it was all hard lures, apart from some DoLive Sticks and XLayers. Today it’s the reverse, with just a few plugs in among the array of soft plastics.
There was a real golden age around 2010/11 when anglers were experimenting more, with everyone borrowing ideas mostly from Japan or France. I fished nearly every day.
As anglers it took us all a while to get to where we are now – with a wider understanding of what we really need for our own fish in our own waters.
The way we fish now compared to 2010 is hugely different because we’d just not tried most of this stuff previously. There are a lot
“There are a lot of tactics we now use daily that we spent 30 years insisting would never work”
of tactics we now use daily that we spent 30 years insisting would never work. HG: What frustrates you the most about the tackle trade here in the UK?
Ben: We’ve had such an intense eight years that I’ve come through the other side and am pretty chilled about the way things work now. Lure fishing has become such a big thing that the competitive early days are gone.
Not being able to get the stock we want at the click of a button will always be an annoyance, though. There is some tackle that I wish we could supply that we can’t, and I just work with that the best I can by finding alternatives and/or looking for the next big thing.
HG: Modern lure fishing is moving so fast these days, so how do you keep abreast of what you need to have in your shop?
Ben: I still think that the best way for me to find new products is to get deep into Google, looking for brand logos I don’t recognise, or by translating various Japanese terms to try and find something different. I have a bookmark list including hundreds of large and small Japanese brands that have never yet been unleashed on the UK market.
HG: How hard is it to keep a mix of ‘essentials’ on your shelves but also keep offering new and exciting products that might or might not catch on with anglers?
Ben: Because we’re through the insane period of experimentation, and experience tells me what the essentials are, it’s much easier than it used to be. It’s not a good thing really, but we’ve often been ahead of the times.
Buying in unknown lures can be risky, no matter how good I know they are. As an example, by 2012 we stocked a full range of Deps soft plastics. Nobody bought them, so eventually we cleared them out at a loss.
By 2017 they were one of our most in-demand lures. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
HG: What kind of fishing do you like for a bit of relaxation?
Ben: I’m doing a lot of coarse/match fishing at the moment. Being so different, it gives me a nice break from work and involves a lot of the technical elements of tackle and presentation that I enjoy.
HG: If you could go anywhere in the world for some fishing, where would it be, what would you fish for, and why?
Ben: I’m not sure why, but I always had a thing for roosterfish. I had an amazing holiday in Costa Rica last year so I’d probably go back there and try for a few roosters from the shore. ■
Soft plastics now dominate lure sales
Ben Field fishing with a Slash Lamya Thief rod
Using the tackle gives Ben an insight into the best gear
There have been many changes in bass fishing