A glance at commercial fishing gear n’ goodies on the market.
Those who attended Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle Nov. 8-10 know just how disorienting the marketplace can be.
A simple need to upgrade old deck boots can easily spiral into an epic decision. Everyone has an opinion. For fishermen, who depend on their equipment to keep them safe, words like “love” and “hate” are used to describe objects as simple as a snap hook or knife.
“Gear” is also an expansive, poorly defined term in our world that applies to anything from work bibs and jackets for crew to equipment like innovative new slinky cod pots or fish bailers. Essentially, pretty much anything in-use during fishing operations that isn’t the vessel itself is labeled as “gear.”
In this article, we focus on a mix of personal crew gear and fishing equipment. By no means an all-encompassing round-up or field review, hopefully we can get you started to make decisions that work for your fishing life.
There are many great boot manufacturers out there, but when one glances at a working boat in the Pacific Northwest plying past, two price-competitive brands appear most prominent in the good year 2023.
Considered the reigning champ to many, especially in Alaska, is Xtratuf. Once associated almost exclusively with their high quality, Legacy model deck boot—with a prominent “Made in USA” declaration on every shoe—the brand was acquired by the Honeywell International conglomerate in 2008.
Manufacturing was moved to China in late 2011 where it remains today. Ohio-based Rocky Brands acquired Xtratuf as part of a $230-million acquisition in 2021.
Dubbed by some as the “Alaskan sneaker” and even proudly worn to prom up there, Xtratuf has greatly expanded its offerings in the last decade to include ankle-length deck boots, slip-ons ideal for wheelhouse wear and a footwear line for women featuring Fishe Wear art.
A new arrival is the men’s 15-inch Legacy NXT Ice Boot, an evolution of the family line that includes added insulation for greater warmth in cold conditions. The boot also features a Glacier TrekTM Pro outsole to provide helpful traction on ice or a surprise hydraulic oil leak.
The other big legacy player in this space is Sweden-based Grundens, which has been around in some form or another since 1911.
Traditionally known for its crew wear, the company’s workhorse Herkules 16 Bib Pant—with roots that extend back to 1954—is ubiquitous among commercial fishermen.
With manufacturing in Portugal, the company has more recently made successful plays into the footwear scene with their Deck-Boss 15-inch Fishing boot. Many of their new offerings are in the ankle boot space, notably the Deck-Boss Ankle Boot.
Ultimately, the consumer is the winner as these two titans go at it and other underdogs get into the fray. Maybe you should convince each of your crew to buy a different brand and compare notes at the end of the season? We’d be interested in the results.
Homer, Alaska-based NOMAR celebrated 45 years in business this year. Founded by Ben and Kate Mitchell, the company famously got its start in a school bus known as Mitchell’s Marine Canvas, located in the Homer Boat Yard.
“It all came about because the commercial fishermen needed high-quality, long-lasting gear. They needed it and I made it,” Kate Mitchell told Fishermen’s News. She even published a memoir about her life in the business titled “The Bag Lady at the End of the Road.”
NOMAR is now owned by the couple’s children, Richard Mitchell and Jennifer Hakala. Notably, the business maintains a contract with NASA to make brightly colored, specialty canvas visible from high altitudes.
In addition to their custom capabilities, NOMAR is known for its brailer bag expertise; the bags themselves, liners and repairs. Additionally, their Slush/Bladder Bags are an innovative method for managing fish in the hold.
Dubbed “the poor man’s refrigerated water system” by NOMAR, the idea is to place these bags into the hold as receptacles for the catch. Like a tea bag, the chilled water can circulate through the vinyl coated nylon mesh for quality fish storage.
Delivery is also made simple—just lifting the bag, removing the need to drain ice or pitch fish individually.
WireCo, a Kansas-based manufacturer of mission-critical rope wire, synthetic rope and netting, announced a brand-new production plan of Made in the USA High-Performance crane ropes this year.
According to the company, this is the first-time customers can purchase Casar and Oliveira brand ropes made in America. The launch is the result of an about $30 million investment to make the ropes in Sedalia, Mo.
“Our Casar and Oliveira ropes have long enjoyed great recognition and loyalty to our U.S. customers, but production in Europe posed logistical challenges,” WireCo CEO Keith White said in a news release.
“We strongly believe our ropes and our brands deserve to be made in America, and our investments back that up,” he stated. “We’ve never invested this much capital in one single project. That’s the power of Casar and Oliveira ropes.”
Both brands are mainstays in the fishing and maritime spaces. The re-shoring of manufacturing is part of a larger trend bucking the last several decades of bullish globalism. About 40 new jobs are anticipated.
“We are investing to grow with the market, and the market is expanding most in the U.S.,” White added. “WireCo recognizes the pending long-term investment in infrastructure and almost all of the associated priority projects require cranes, and therefore durable, dependable crane ropes.”
Macondray Fish Co.
Family-owned, Las Vegas-based Macondray Fish Co.’s story began in San Francisco in 1848 as a Chinese tea importer under Capt. Fredrick William Macondray.
Today, his descendant Marc Macondray Vance owns the company as a commercial fisherman with years of experience in the salmon and king, tanner and opilio crab fisheries. He operates the f/v Bristol Nymph in Bristol Bay.
The company manufactures crew-focused products born from their experiences, including picking hook models named after working fishermen who designed their own individually.
Their most popular, “The Ed Pickin’ Hook,” is named after fisherman Ed Walvatne’s original, hand-carved pick for “small hands and big, meaty paws” alike. The company’s Boot Bands are silicone and should last longer than traditional rubber boot bands.
Macondray Fish Co.’s waterproof Orca Skin Gloves tout a double reinforced thumb crotch with cold temperature flexibility and extra grip. Competitively priced and aimed squarely at the work glove market dominated by bigger companies, Orca Skin Gloves are clearly designed to be favorites of fellow salmon fishermen on the job.
Greenline Fishing Gear
Denmark-based Greenline Fishing Gear was founded in 2010 as a supplier of commercial fishing gear to remote locations. They carry a wide variety of fishing hardware from hooks, shackles, and connectors to thimbles, bobbins, and chain.
The company recently started carrying BOSS rings, hooks and links with applications from purse seining to trawl release to brailing net locks.
These products are made of acid-proof stainless steel by company Frekhaug Stål AS in Norway. BOSS claims all its products are made from 90-100% recycled steel with 100% green energy from the Bjørnstokk hydroelectric power plan. Is this kind of green manufacturing a sign of things to come? Time will tell.
Norris Comer is a Seattle-based writer and author. His debut memoir, Salmon in the Seine: Alaskan Memories of Life, Death, & Everything In-Between is now available wherever books are sold. You can find him on Substack, Instagram and at norriscomer.com. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.