John and I talk about how Fish Pond came to life over 20 years ago, the great product and conservation work they do, fly fishing retail, and more.
Please give us a rating and review HERE
John LeCoq- We Talk About Fish Pond, Conservation, The Fly Fishing Business And More
Episode 194 of the show with John LeCoq of Fishpond. We’re kicking off 2020 with all things Fly Fishing throughout January. Johnny LeCoq from Fishpond kicks it off, followed by Marc Bale from Far Bank, Tom Sadler from the Marine Fish Conservation Network and we wrap up with Brian Chaney from Korkers. In this show, Johnny and I talk about how Fishpond came to life many years ago. The great product and conservation work that they do, the Fly Fishing retail biz and much more.
Johnny, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here and I appreciate all of what you’re doing.
I’m glad we found time to catch up. It’s good seeing you at The Fly Fishing Show. I hadn’t been to one of those in a while.
It was a nice and fun show. I never know how to gauge as far as the size of the show from one over the next. I would see a new change from being in Florida in the middle of July. The timing of the show is always in question as far as the timing from an industry perspective but it was well attended. A lot of dealers from another country who aren’t as busy during the guiding season could come. It was a good move that way. We loved being there. The energy was exciting as it always is. It’s fun to see the industry grow.
Outdoors is a perspective and a frame of mind.
A lot of enthusiasm. I hadn’t been in a while so it was good to catch up with a bunch of old friends and see you. It’s great for you in your backyard. Denver. That was a short travel.
It makes it easy for once. It seems like my whole life has been traveling. It just feels nice to be able to go home. 2021 was really convenient because we had this big trailer that we brought into the show and we had to leave as part of our booth. We were in and out. It was really good.
Let’s start with how you got introduced to the outdoors. How’d that come about?
We were just talking about our fathers. My dad who’s 93 has been one of the big pieces of inspiration from an outdoor perspective of my entire life. It’s an important question. What is the outdoors? How do you define that? The outdoors is something a bit different for all of us living and growing up in Colorado. The outside world was very vast and broad. From being outdoors fishing, skiing and biking. All the things we did as a kid and into my adulthood.
The outdoors for some people are parks, the urban parks. The outdoors is a perspective and a frame of mind. Hopefully, people can enjoy being outside no matter what it is. It doesn’t have to be an extreme sport or Fly Fishing. Being outside and appreciating nature puts everybody in a good space physically and mentally, which is really important.
For those of us that have been in the outdoor industry for years have seen that definition evolve as we embrace a broader range of constituency. Earlier in the day, It was all about that extreme sports stuff, now it’s broader. Hiking in the parks or even in your local park is outdoors. You’re spot on.
I believe it’s the third-largest economic sector in our country at $886 billion and 7 million jobs. It’s good for people to appreciate that we have all of this public land and open space. We’re lucky as a country to be able to have that land so we can learn about the quality of what that does for our life. The outdoors to me is everything. It’s about light. It’s about beauty. It’s about the habitat and the species that lived there. This curiosity is to be able to see the outside world. Especially through the lens of something like Fly Fishing is really spectacular because it puts you into places where there’s beautiful water. When you have healthy water and habitat, you usually have healthy species. It’s just diversity which is important.
Speaking of Fly Fishing, Fishpond was started many years ago. What was the catalyst for launching the brand?
I had a business in Boulder, which I started here in Colorado called Case Logic. It was a music storage business. I was never an audio filer. It was a business that had a lot of consumers around the world that loved the product we differentiated and really made a difference with that brand. The last several years in the business, I was living in California. When I saw a Case Logic, I moved back to Colorado
I wanted to leverage the skillsets that I had learned with Case Logic from a manufacturing and product design perspective. I wanted to do something that was more into what my lifestyle was all about and the passion that I felt deeply and that was Fly Fishing. I moved to the Western Slope of Colorado and decided to launch Fishpond. This is a Fly Fishing brand and we differentiate with what we make.
Where’d you live in California? Where were you, in the Bay Area?
In the Bay Area. San Francisco.
I remember Case Logic in the Bay Area. Tell our readers a little bit about Fishpond. You put together a nice collection of products over the years.
How you start something is a little bit different from how you end up being. We wanted to differentiate with the product. First and foremost, from a product design perspective, which I do at Fishpond, I just love product design. I love differentiating in the marketplace. We took Fishpond out of the gates in the year 2000 with a lot of innovation and a lot of different colors. Bringing a difference to the market what Fly Fishing didn’t really have at the time.
You were the first to splash color around.
Fishpond has morphed into a brand that is about product innovation but what I’m most proud of is that it is a brand that stands for something that’s much bigger than really what we make. That’s the foundation of where we’re at with our business. We make great products because we want to be relevant. We want to be authentic. We want to have a consumer base that believes and understands our product but they’re also with us from a value perspective and how we treat our environment. How we look to the future for being a participant in keeping our world safe, healthy and vibrant.
I give you kudos for that. You’re one of the few B corps in the outdoor industry. I’m always surprised by that. What drove that decision?
We were the first Fly Fishing business to be a B corp. There are really not that many B corps around the world. You have to earn your stripes to become a B corp. There is a certification that you go through to make sure that you’re treating your employees correctly, that you’ve got sustainable plans. The way you’re treating your recycling, your product, your manufacturing process, how you work with your community, how your factories operate, etc. It’s a long litany of a string of processes that you have to go through to get this B corp but it gave us a platform to work from.
If we tripled the fly-fishing market, our access to water and the way we fish would change drastically.
It lines up for the values too. It’s very value-driven.
It’s this little stamp in a way that we’re there. You have to go through this process every three years. You just can’t sit back on your laurels. It sets the tone. Unless people don’t understand that where we are from a thought process behind our brand is as important as far as what we make.
I’m always surprised how few there are in the outdoor recreation space. What are your thoughts on it? Do you think it’s the requirements? The list of things you have to do every three years? What do you think drives that?
It’s complex. You have to go through this process and it’s not easy. Ben Kurtz is my equal business partner. He set out and worked with the B corp people. It was arduous. We’ve had to go through a second time to be re-certified as a B corp. A lot of companies don’t deserve it but we feel that we deserve it. I wish there were a lot more companies who could meet the criteria and there can be. B corps doesn’t just apply to outdoor companies.
It’s interesting when you look them up and look at the list. There are some pretty interesting companies that are on that list.
What I love is that companies in the outdoor space or any company that sets a value system around their employees and the sustainable aspect, make all the companies across the world look up. I say, “These consumers are aligning with those companies that are really trying to make a difference. You have to make great products but if they’re also a really great company, we may go that way.” It’s a plus for us and we’re happy to be a part of that. It’s a community that we’re a part of which we love.
Kudos for putting that flag in the ground. I admire that a lot. What’s your perspective on the state of the Fly Fishing biz? We just got wrapped up with the show. It seems like a lot of energy and interesting things are going on with the show.
It remains to be a small industry. After years in this market, we realized that it’s growing but not by leaps and bounds compared to a lot of other sports or industries. I love that. It’s nice because if we tripled the Fly Fishing market, our access to water and the way we fish would change drastically.
You can be delivered about how you react to that too.
What’s happened over the years is that because of the gear, technology, innovation, people have enjoyed the products. It attracted a younger generation that loves the lifestyle. From the branding, the marketing and the way we approach the sport as any outdoor sport. We’re part of the outdoor retailer shows, not just the Fly Fishing Shows. We are truly an outdoor brand. Fly Fishing is up there with any of the outdoor sports. There’s a beauty to it.
There are people who embrace it from advertising and ways in their collateral material about the beauty and the grace of Fly Fishing. We’re happy to be there. We’re growing this in a very smart way. In our perspective, we’re keeping it to our dealer network. We’re keeping it organic and not strain from who we are. We make great outdoor gear and Fly Fishing products but we’re not trying to be something that we’re not by using the brand to go into areas where we may not have the permission to go. That keeps us pure.
That’s smart, too. Fly Fishing retail is under the same pressure as retailers everywhere. How are they responding eCommerce, lack of traffic and all the things?
Cross the board, brick-and-mortar retail is struggling. People are more accustomed to buying your product online. We have a lot of people that we sell to are all outdoor brands into the eCommerce market. We’ve supported that. We sell very little of our product through our own channels, website. It’s there. A couple of years ago, we initiated that. We’ve held off for a long time. We do get people the first option to go to a preferred dealer before they ever buy from us. We support our dealer network. The state of the Fly Fishing industry, brick-and-mortar from a retail perspective is a little scary.
Retail in general, not just specific to the Fly Fishing market. It’s always going to be there because for us, in the Fly Fishing world, there’s a way that people go to a fly shop. Even though they could buy the same product online, there’s something that they get from the experience of being at a dealer. From direct knowledge of water, the feeling and vibe. Fishing is a lot more than being on the water. It’s a lot about the gear, the talking about fishing and sharing images of fishing. Being in a fly shop is really a strong part of the fishing experience. Picking out your flies, there’s a beauty in it and I love that.
A good buddy and I go fishing a lot out of town. I always see there’s great fishing here in near Bishop but we go up to Redding. The first thing that we do is stop into a local fly shop because you get the local knowledge. You might’ve been there months before but it changes. It’s different. You know what bugs are working, what the weather’s going to do, what the water levels might be depending on that time of that year. It’s just that local knowledge that you get out of the fly shop. That’s huge. I wouldn’t go anywhere without it. We talked a little about the show. Any new initiatives you guys rolled out? Something that you can talk about that came out of the show or before the show?
The perspective of people moving into the outdoors from a recreational perspective is huge because we need to save what we have.
Importantly, as we grow as a brand, we’re trying to grow organically. Stay within our core. Sometimes we look at things that we’re missing in our line. The one thing that we knew that we were missing was really top-notch fly storage. For years, we’ve been thinking about how we innovate within that market.
We got a phone call from the guys who own the Tacky brand who are really the authentic originator of the silicon sleek technology, which has won many investive shows at the Fly Fishing retailers over the years. These are really outstanding individuals. They asked us if we were wanting to collaborate and do some things together. They loved our brand, what we could do and maybe hit some things that they couldn’t do very efficiently on their own with sales reps and some of the innovation.
We purchased the Tacky brand from these guys. They’re still with us. They’re collaborators always from an innovation standpoint. They are the authentic, true heroes of the Tacky brand. Through them, we have much better distribution. We’re working together. Tacky is under the Fishpond umbrella and we’re really proud of that. We’re going to keep innovating the fly storage market and frankly, we want to own that market. We’re going to keep embracing and making that easier experience for storage that does much better.
There’s always not enough room for all the flies, just took it out and fish much?
I do. All the time. I live on the Western Slope of Colorado. Fishpond was born at my place. I live on a ranch about 30 miles from the nearest town. We have water on my property and I’ve got fish. I can go fish every evening for 4 or 5 casts and come back home. That’s a fishing day sometimes.
Do you have a favorite type of fishing? Do you get into the salt much?
It’s a little humiliating. The backyard of my world, I loved to go. I just always love it but I fish in the salt. We do our annual salt trips and bonefish. Fishing outside of our borders for salmon but I always come back to the purity of how I really started in fishing. For me, what’s in my own backyard, it’s like everybody else’s own backyard. That’s the core of what you do.
It’s the same. That’s right out of Bishop here in the Owens Valley. I’ve got some great places in the backyard. You can go out for an afternoon or all day.
It brings you that sense of purpose when you can just go out for a few hours. That’s me. I get out and I love to fish. It’s a large part of my life and in many aspects. From the creative and art aspect.
It doesn’t matter how many times you go to the same spot. It’s always challenging. I’ve always admired your photo work. Do you still get time for that?
I do. That’s been my main career for many years from a commercial advertising perspective. Fishpond would not be the same if I didn’t create all the branding images and have that opportunity to go out. That’s fishing as well. I go out on all these beautiful excursions with people and we’re shooting images for our brand.
Sometimes just shooting images and not fishing, it’s still a fishing trip. I love to get that. I love to capture that beauty. Photography is a very core part of my life. It always will be. It’s always been a part of my career. Being able to translate those skills into Fishpond over the years has been really satisfying. It gets me to some amazing places to translate the brand in a way that I feel great.
Have you made the switch to digital?
I have. I was one of the last sold outs. That’s old school but then you just flip the switch and then you’re there. It’s hard to go back with the ease of digital. I still film sometimes and I love that as well.
What other outdoor activities do you participate in?
Living on the mountains, on this ranch property that I have, outdoor activities for me sometimes means work. It’s mostly the rocks. It’s digging ditches and moving water, which I love. From a sport’s perspective, it changes by the season. Colorado is getting a lot of snow. We’ve had four significant snowfalls in October. I skied for the first time this season. Skinning up outside of my house, up the trail. I was getting out. I love snow, skiing, biking. I love a lot of things but fishing still remains to be the most important.
We have no moisture here yet. Typical California Fall but it’s beautiful. Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor biz or maybe if they’re already in, advance their career?
For people to get into this industry, more than anything, you have to have that passion for being outside. From a business perspective, it depends on what level of business you want to get into as far as being in the outdoors. Did you mean from a business perspective or just getting into the outdoors as far as participating?
Either one. I leave it open-ended to let you guys dictate how you want to go, whether they want to get into it as a career or if they want to grow their career. I was talking to somebody who’s got a young son who just loves the outdoors and wants to do more of it. Maybe they just want to do more of it being outside.
People are being introduced more to the outdoors because of friends. We have places where job centers are being placed here in Colorado like Google. Big businesses are moving to places where outdoor recreation is a part of people’s lifestyle. That’s where people want to go. Where you have an outdoor recreation lifestyle, economies are improving. Places that don’t really push outdoor rec in any parts of the country, they’re not thriving.
Jobs and companies are moving to places where people want to be and have a healthy lifestyle outside of work. I love the idea of more people embracing being outside. If we have more people who love being outside and loved the aspects of what nature means, those people also want to help save it. The advocates for our outdoor world are growing. It’s younger. It’s more passionate. People are familiar with what the changing climate is doing for a lot of opportunities. We see it especially in what you are seeing in California.
The droughts and the fires.
The perspective of people moving into the outdoors from a recreational perspective is huge. We need to save what we have. From the administration that we have, a lot of people don’t understand the outdoors. They’re making decisions that aren’t sometimes logical because they don’t understand the outdoors. The more we get people to say, “I understand this. This is a part of my life. I’m going to keep this for my children or future generations.” That’s what we need in this country and around the world.
It’s under threat every time we turn the corner seems like these days. Do you have any daily routines you use to keep your sanity? Do you meditate? You get a lot of exercises I’m sure.
I do. Now, it’s taking care of my wonderful father. Those are the things that I love. My greatest passion in life is creativity. My greatest joy is painting. I try to paint as much as I can. I love to paint with oil. I’m still considering myself a real hack but it’s something that I love. It doesn’t matter because it puts me in that exact place. That’s my real joy.
How about some favorite books or books you give as gifts? Podcasts?
Your show. One of the better ones in the world.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
My books have been in Spanish. I’m trying to understand and reading is really helping with that. I read a lot of Spanish. I read a lot of nonfiction books. I changed from a science perspective. Thematic standpoint, those things float my boat so to speak.
Do you have a favorite outdoor gear purchase under $100? Here’s your chance for a shameless plug. Something you use every day, something you’d never leave home without and that’s always in your pack.
Cameras. It gets you out there. Once you start using binoculars, you start bringing things in close and looking at details. It’s beautiful. Sometimes they hang by your door and you don’t use it very often but keep a pair in a car and you travel with it. It’s amazing what you can see if you just slow down a little bit and look at things from a different perspective.
I don’t think anybody’s mentioned that. That’s a good one.
I don’t know whether you can get a good pair for a hundred bucks but I know I have a great pair for $300, which is amazing. You don’t need really expensive binoculars. The key is that it makes you see the details. Sometimes up close, sometimes they just go by their ways.
As we wrap up, is there anything else that you’d like to say or ask of our readers?
As someone who’s the CEO and Founder of a company, we have a tribe in a sense of the consumer that has embraced our product. I’m really proud of all outdoor industries, all businesses who are embracing the outside and the people who are working on the sidelines to create the habitat that gives a place to be on the business board. All the NGOs and the people who work in water issues, land issues, keeping our land open and keeping it public. People who create conservation easements for the open space character. Those are the real heroes in our country.
The United States and as being an American, one of the greatest values that we have that define us is the fact that we have this open space and these open lands. That is something I’m so appreciative of. The people that have embraced our brand, who we’re so loyal to, and thankful for because they’re the heroes. The ones that are getting out there and appreciating these wild places and helping us keep them intact.
The people who work on water and land issues, keeping them open and public, are the real heroes in our country.
If people want to reach out to you, how can they follow you or find you?
You can follow us on Instagram @FishpondUSA. You can find us on our website on FishpondUSA.com. We’ve got a lot of relevant information. You can read about the recycled fabrics that we’re using. Anything about all sorts of different people. Basters who are doing amazing things with our company and other companies. We help profile that. Tune in on social media and our website.
It’s been great catching up with you. Thanks for the time.
I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
I’ll catch you in Colorado next time. Thanks. See you.
If you want more of the show, you can subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, wherever you get your podcast. Be sure to go to TheOutdoorBizPodcast.com where you find all the episodes, show notes and much more. Until next time. Be sure to make time to get outside.
- Marc Bale – Past Episode
- Far Bank
- Tom Sadler – Past Episode
- Marine Fish Conservation Network
- Brian Chaney – Past Episode
- The Fly Fishing Show
- Case Logic
- @FishpondUSA – Instagram
- Apple Podcasts – The Outdoor Biz Podcast
- Google Podcast
- Stitcher – The Outdoor Biz Podcast
- Spotify – The Outdoor Biz Podcast
- Facebook – The Outdoor Biz Podcast
- Twitter – Rick Saez
- Instagram – Rick Saez
- American Fly Fishing Trade Association
- B Corps
- John LeCoq Photography