Florida is also an important source of revenue. More fishing gear is sold in Florida than in any other state, accounting for $4.4 billion annually, according to a 2008 report based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data.
Capt. Harry’s trolls for local anglers with an 8,000-square-foot sales floor packed with rods, reels, sinkers and lures in every color imaginable. The store stocks 20,000 items, including at least a thousand lures and teasers designed to tempt fish onto an angler’s line. The biggest is nearly two feet long and the smallest less than an inch. There are scented lures, mirrored lures, lures with holographic features and ones designed to move like a frightened fish.
“As far as saltwater fishing tackle, they’ve probably got the biggest selection,” said Jimbo Thomas, captain of the 42-foot Thomas Flyer charter fishing boat at the Miamarina. “A lot of hard-to-find stuff, they have.”
The vast assortment lets customers choose the lure they think will work, said Jeffrey Liederman, who is Carl’s son and works in the business.
“There’s so much personal preference,” he said. “We’re here to try to meet everyone’s need as opposed to what we think.”
But many anglers go to Capt. Harry’s specifically for the advice provided by Jeffrey Liederman and Vernon.
“They have a plethora of knowledge of the best way to do things, all of the information you need to give you a little more edge in fishing,” said Bouncer Smith, a well-known charter captain working out of the Miami Beach Marina. “They are on the cutting edge of networking with the different fishermen as to what’s working.”
Capt. Harry’s was started on the Miami River in 1970 to serve commercial hook-and-line boats, a vanishing species in South Florida. More than a few customers say they came to buy equipment from founder Harry Vernon II when he was one of the only big tackle shops around.
“He was instrumental in buying my first rod and reel,” said Pam Marmin, a Miami Shores tournament champion who has fished for 25 years.
Harry Vernon III remembers life at the store on Southwest Sixth Street as a simpler time. He grew up in the business, but by the 1990s, Capt. Harry’s was being pressed by big-box sports stores that had deeper inventories and more marketing muscle. So, like other independents, it honed the expertise of its staff into a competitive asset.
Fishing for fans
The company’s 30 employees have all gone on fishing excursions, even those who just handle Internet or phone orders. That helps them respond more knowledgably to customer questions, Liederman says.
In addition, Vernon is a frequent guest on cable-TV fishing shows, which enhances the store’s reputation among fishing fanatics.
By 2005, growth at the Northwest 11th Street store had plateaued and customers started to grouse about the shabby surroundings. So Vernon and Liederman began searching for a new location. To boost local traffic, they wanted a high visibility spot on a major roadway. They found one along Interstate 95 at a site leased to a XXX-rated video store.
They bought the property and hired architect Les Beilinson to create a concept that would attract attention. The result was a striking installation of 46 leaping blue marlin fastened to a metal mesh screen on the side of the building.
“We felt we needed to make a statement,” said Liederman, who notes that the building at 85th Street is exposed to 257,000 cars daily, according to Florida Department of Transportation estimates.
The store opened in 2008 and motorists still venture in simply to learn what the marlin display is all about. Sales have grown every year since the opening, except for 2009 when they were flat, Liederman said.
Demand this year started strong but has softened a little in the second quarter, perhaps hurt by rising fuel costs. But overall there’s reason for optimism, said industry researcher Rob Southwick. Recreational boat sales rose in 2011 for the first time in five years. “That growth translates into more boating-supply sales,” he said.