Pontoon boat sales a bright spot

January 2012 News

John Crews' arrival at the 2012 Richmond Fishing Expo will be tentative, pending the arrival of his second child. The show runs Jan. 20-22 at the State Fairgrounds, and, as Crews said with a chuckle, "My wife is due the following Tuesday."

The B.A.S.S. Elite Series angler known as the "Crews Missile" joked about "keeping Elliott Sadler or one of those Virginia NASCAR drivers on call" for an escort back to Salem should his wife go into labor during the show.

"If not, I'll be there all three days. I'll spend some time over at Green Top (Sporting Goods) and be bouncing around," he added.

This is the off-season as far as professional fishing goes, but for Crews and his fellow pros, it's the heart of show season, when they travel the country to give seminars and make appearances for sponsors at events like the one in Richmond. Crews will be one of three pro bass fishermen there, and one of more than 25 seminar presenters.

This show season would have been especially busy for Crews, an Amelia native and Randolph-Macon graduate, even if he wasn't expecting baby No. 2. He just launched his own soft-plastic lure company.

Missile Baits debuted a week ago at the Raleigh Bass and Saltwater Fishing Expo, where, Crews said, "We had a lot of really positive responses."

When I reached Crews on the phone earlier this week, he was busy taking and filling orders. He said Missile Baits currently offers five models at $3.99: two crawfish shapes (the Missile Craw and Drop Craw), a twin-tail grub, a beaver and an 8.75-inch worm.

"As I fish on tour, I've found that I want lures that are a little different - that do this or that, that I can't find," Crews explained, when asked how his lures will be different in a seemingly saturated market. "I wanted a bait that had a really soft texture to it but was durable enough that you could get it down into really heavy cover. I wanted the bait to have a lot of action ... we made the bait so it's a little more durable than a lot of others on the market.

"You can catch more than one fish on it, and I think that's what people are looking for."

Elite Series angler Ish Monroe already has signed on as the first member of the Missile Baits pro team.

"The designs we have with Missile Baits are dialed in perfectly," Monroe told Bassmaster.com.

Of course, Crews won't be the only draw at this year's fishing expo. The event moved to the Meadow Event Center at the fairgrounds last year, and that led to a nearly 25 percent jump in attendance, according to show promoter Les Gray. With more space to work with, Gray said he intends to have three seminar rooms going every hour of the show's three days.

While the old standbys -- the bass tub, fishing for live trout and catfish, dozens of tackle vendors -- will still be on hand, Gray has tried to up the saltwater presence at the show. Presenters like Dr. Julie Ball, Capt. Max King and Capt. Butch Foster are three of many giving talks on saltwater fishing topics.

And while Gray said the economy of fishing tackle and boat sales isn't back to where it was five years ago, there are positive signs.

"We're sold out this year ... for vendors," he said. "We have three more boat dealers this year than last year. We're excited."

Gray speculated that after four to five years of belt tightening, anglers and boaters "have decided they're going to enjoy life again, for lack of a better word. We're by no means back to where it was ... but there are some sales happening."

Interestingly, pontoon boat sales have been a bright spot in the boating industry.

"All the pontoon manufacturers," Gray said, "they used to have one fishing model. Now they all have three or four models. They have more options so you can accommodate the mom and the dad."

That's good news for Crews, the fledgling businessman. More fishing, whether from a 250-horsepower bass boat or lazy pontoon boat, means more lure sales. Just understand, he'd tell you, that there may be a short delay in filling orders shortly after the Expo.


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