This past weekend saw us travel over 150 miles to visit a tackle shop in Plymouth. Why? Because this was the grand opening of a special kind of store. One that gives us a rare glimpse of what tackle shops should be like. One for the modern angler.
Granted, the new Art of Fishing shop in Plymouth is specialist. It only sells tackle to lure fishermen and women. But Ben Field, the owner, has made a tremendous effort in sourcing a fantastic range of lure fishing equipment from around the globe and making it accessible to UK anglers. Exclusive spinning reels from Japan. Lure rods from France. Soft plastics from the US and Australia, to name but a few. Not only that. He's one of a small number of individuals that continue to raise the profile of emerging disciplines including LRF (Light Rock Fish), HRF (Hard Rock Fish) and of course, modern bass fishing.
Ben and his partner Jo made a brave move when they bought a traditional fishing shop (their first shop) in St Merryn, Cornwall and turned their back on the existing revenue streams, choosing to use the wall space to display rows and rows of high-quality hard and soft body lures. In modern lure fishing terms that was a long time ago and the rest, as they say, is history. As someone who also believes in a future of fun and active fishing using light and well-balanced tackle, I'm hugely encouraged that The Art of Fishing concept has not only survived in difficult economic times, but clearly thrived, to the point where they are opening a second, larger store on the south coast.
So it was with great excitement and a sense of belonging that we headed down the A303 early on Saturday morning. We felt even more proud about our sport when angling legend, Keith Arthur mentioned the store opening on his Fisherman's Blues radio show, live on TalkSPORT - a blessing?
The sun was shining as we drove into the Barbican area of Plymouth where the shop is situated - literally 100 yards from the sea and decent fishing.
We entered a busy shop. From a little ear wigging it was clear that there was a healthy mix of visitors (not just tackle anoraks like me!) There were local lure anglers, anglers we recognised from the specialist lure blogs and forums, a couple of distributors and press. It was also clear that there were a number of more traditional anglers present. The ones I overheard seemed to be enjoying the event and discovering a new side to their sport. I should say, that while lure angling does have an elite end with a price tag to match, Ben has made effort to cater for everyone. A good example would be his exclusive LRF Starter Kits that include everything to get you going for around £99.
Lure fishing 'can' be technical and the choice of lures and techniques a little bewildering at times (for all of us). It's a relatively new sport and everyone is learning. Visiting a store like Art of Fishing gives you access to expert advice and a fast-track to success. New staff member and local lad, Matt Newcombe is no newbie. With countless lure fishing hours under his belt, local knowledge and a massive amount of hands-on experience with much of the tackle in-store, he is an asset to any visitor. He's even had an intercontinental LRF tournament win (you can ask him about that!)
As we already stated, there's a vast array of tackle on offer from various premium lure fishing brands. The Art of Fishing has always heavily promoted the likes of Ecogear, Deps and Daiwa, but the larger premises has allowed them to expand the range to include nearly everything on Ben's wish-list. New products include Major Craft rods, hPa luggage, Illex lures and Vanfook hooks.
Graphiteleader rods were the stars of the show for us. With the excellent light-tackle fishing marks just yards away, we had our LRF heads on. Two Graphiteleader LRF rod ranges were on proud display in both solid and tubular tip variants - the Calzante EX and Corto EX. We both fell for the same rod - one of the Calzantes - and Dan won out, purchasing on impulse.
What was a particularly great experience was just how quickly the new rod was in use. There are literally miles of the finest LRF fishing grounds I have ever seen. That evening we had our best LRF session of the year so far, catching 7 species early in the season - including two firsts. With just one visit under my belt I'm hardly a Plymouth expert, but it feels like Plymouth is arguably the epicentre for LRF fishing in the UK. Ben certainly thinks so and has some ambitious plans for later in the year.
We had a great weekend in Plymouth with The Art of Fishing gang and some great fishing. If you're into LRF or just interested to learn more and give it a try then I'd definitely recommend that you swing by sometime. Awesome place.
The Art of Fishing, Plymouth: 1 Citadel Ope, The Barbican, Plymouth, PL1 2JY
Opening hours: From 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Sunday (10am start on Sundays)