Fly fishing gear

In low tide and in flood, let’s catch fish


(Editor’s note: The following article was previously published in 2017.)

A few weeks ago a visiting friend asked if his teenage son could bring his fly rod to fish on the pond behind my house. The young man reports a few hits on his lure, but catches nothing.

The same visitors returned this weekend and were surprised at how much fuller the pond appeared after last week’s rain. When the teenager expressed that he wished he had his fishing gear, the dad teased him saying, “If you couldn’t catch one when the fish were all piled up in the little water, how are you catch one now that they’re all laid out?”

Later in the evening, I sat on my terrace, looking at the water and thinking about the creatures of the pond. Most of the time the pond is full, clear and beautiful with small springs spurting icy water from the bottom. But sometimes it falls very low, leaving dry, crusty banks and appearing cloudy from above. Or it swells far beyond the shores, picking up nature’s debris in a swift, muddy rush.

I had a new appreciation for the tenacity of the perch, bass and turtles that call these waters home.

In my role as Speaker of the Chamber, I receive continuous feedback on the performance of companies. Who’s up, who’s down, number of sales, traffic flow vs. sales, etc.

And, it’s kind of like my pond. Most of the time there is consistency, but there are also dramatic ebbs and flows.

With Oktoberfest approaching, arguably Fredericksburg’s busiest festival, soon to be followed by Thanksgiving weekend and the Christmas holidays, businesses are bracing for the big muddy rush. The abundance of streams is a huge blessing, but it’s so, so fast, that it can seem hard to catch the flood of customers.

When the clinking New Year’s champagne glasses go quiet, business typically slows as consumers navigate the “after Christmas, before tax” part of the year. There will still be customers to catch, but the fishing hole will be smaller for a while.

Rather than worrying too much about water levels, I think it’s better to spend our time working on our fishing strategy.

We know droughts and floods will happen and historical sales data can help us predict their duration and severity. So how do we prepare for each? The fish that are still there when the water level is low reminds me of our local or regular customers. The care and feeding we give to this group is essential to replenishing the pond and will sustain our business. Therefore, they should not be taken for granted. They probably won’t bite during the flood, but they’ll be loyal supporters if they get the service, product line, and access they need when the rush passes.

Floods can be good because they provide opportunities for new customers. But there are perils. Long weekends bring a host of capacity issues and if we are not sufficiently prepared, guests may simply pass by, feel undervalued in the fast flow or never be noticed at all. Do we have the product line that can appeal to what may be a one-time customer, but also the service that keeps them coming back?

It is very difficult to provide a consistent and authentic experience in each of these conditions. But we have to try. We have data to predict cycles. We have past experience to guide us in sourcing and stock selection.

Our labor shortage makes staffing difficult, but we all know that people power dramatically affects not only capacity, but quality as well.

Let’s plan to catch some fish!

McBride is President and CEO of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce. Email him at [email protected] org.