Buying US-Made Fly fishing Gear Helps US Fisheries

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

Did you know that 10% of that new fly reel goes to support fisheries?

It’s true. Thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 and the Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950, a 10% excise tax on all hunting and fishing equipment goes into a trust fund to support fish and wildlife management.

The US public lands and the opportunities they offer to hunters and anglers are unmatched in most countries. If you are an American angler, a short conversation with European anglers will leave you thanking you lucky stars you were born in the US of A. Our public lands and National Parks are the finest anywhere but we too often take them for granted.

The hidden engine behind our fish and wildlife management is this 10% tax. It has brought species like white tail deer and turkey back from the brink and puts fish on your fly regularly. I know taxes are a hot button subject and I’m not looking to start a political debate so let me be clear. No one wants this tax to go away. It has been a boon, not only for the sporting public but for sporting manufacturers as well.

The idea is that by creating a quality hunting and fishing experience, more people will hunt and fish and they will spend more money doing it. It’s worked very well. The numbers are better documented for hunting than fishing. Hunters spend between five and ten billion dollars a year, generating as much as $324,000,000 in management funding. Firearm manufacturers see a return on their tax investment of around 1000%! You can read more about this (HERE) (HERE) & (HERE)

It’s pretty clear that Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson have been good to both the economy and the ecology, but there is one place where they come up short. The tax is figured on the initial sale of the product. That means that if a manufacturer sells a $500 retail product, made in America, to a fly shop for $250, that manufacturer pays $25 in tax. If a distributor sells $500 retail product, made overseas, to a fly shop for $250 they are taxed on the price they paid to the overseas manufacturer. Likely $125 or less. They pay $12 in tax.

Clearly, there is a disadvantage in manufacturing in the US. Odds are that doesn’t set well with you. I know it doesn’t for me but that’s the law. There are a whole bunch of laws I don’t like so I’m not going to get started on that debate. What I would like to point out is that when you spend your money on American-made products, twice as much of it goes to fish and wildlife management.

If you need another reason to by US products, there it is. US manufacturers do more to support fishing and hunting on our public lands and for that I would like to thank them! And by thank them I mean buy their products.

In closing, I’m going to ask one more thing of you. I wrote this article to educate those who are not aware, to promote the positive management of fish and wildlife and to support American manufacturers. I think those are goals we can all get behind. Out of respect for our community of anglers and in the interest of keeping things positive, please keep your political rants to yourself. I’m sure many of us have strong feelings. I’m sure many of them concern my knowing what the hell I’m talking about. Let’s just try to be civil about it Thank you!

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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32 thoughts on “Buying US-Made Fly fishing Gear Helps US Fisheries

  1. I had no idea there were funds set aside from USA-made merchandise sales. That’s a real eye opener. Even though these acts have great intentions, when it comes to the business side of things its all about making the biggest buck. It does explain at least one reason why it’s more attractive for companies to search for product overseas. I applaud our U.S. manufacturers for sticking to their roots, knowing that some of their profits are going towards our parks and waters. It will definitely make me think a little more about the gear that I buy in the future.

  2. Good point here but ultimately I am not sure what knowing really does for any of us. There are very few manufacturers that are building fly rods (or conventional rods for that matter) from start to finish in the USA. So the impact of the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts will be mitigated by that basic fact.

    Those manufacturers that are “USA Proud” are on the higher end of the pricing scale – with most entry-level models starting at $300 or more. From there, the sky seems to be the limit, with some high end rods passing the $1,000 mark.

    To me, the idea of spending $300 on a rod when I was just starting out in fishing (fly or conventional) was crazy. I started fishing at 3, and have never slowed down. Not that I would not have liked to own high end gear as a child, or even as a young adult, I just could not have afforded to do so. In fact, breaking the $250 mark (full price retail) on any rod did not happen for me until my 40s. And even then, I prefer things on sale, and not full list.

    Anyway, the big names in fly rod manufacturers that produce entirely in the USA are limited – Scott, Sage, Winston come to mind quickly. High-end Orvis rods (Superfine and Helios 2) are also in that group – but their entry- and mid- level rods are built overseas.

    G Loomis rods are primarily built within the USA, but they are owned by a foreign company (Shimano). Not sure how we should feel about this, but since I do not personally like the way the Loomis rods cast, it does not matter to me.

    When we look at some of the other high-volume manufacturers in the market – Reddington, TFO, Echo – all are produced primarily overseas. They may have a few models that are made in the USA, but those models cost more then their foreign made counterparts.

    St. Croix has been proudly made in the USA for many years, but this is not entirely true. They own and operate a large manufacturing plant in Mexico. Not exactly overseas, but not the USA either. Different lines are assembled both the USA and Mexico. I am not sure where this fits in the scheme of things.

    There are many companies, mostly smaller manufacturers who build the blanks and assorted components overseas and then assemble here in the USA. I would guess, by the metric we are applying on the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson tax would apply to the final product and not to the blank – but I am not sure.

    On top of all of that, many lines have been driven out of business by the costs of producing in the USA. Cortland and Diamondback are two USA lines that are now almost impossible to find. The costs of building quality products, keeping them affordable, and having them well advertised were too much.

    Overall, the problem is one that is important to recognize. When you can afford to do so, it is a good idea to buy American. That said, it is often financially very difficult to do so – particularly when all of the advertisements we see in the fly fishing industry fit into two catagories – stuff we dream about owning someday and made in the USA and stuff we can afford now but not made here.

    Hopefully we can all buy American, but if I look at my last 10 fly rod purchases, I am only confident that one was built here:

    1) Orvis Helios 2 5wt – USA
    2) Hardy Zenith 5wt – Korea
    3) Hardy Zenith 3wt – Korea
    4) TFO BVK 6wt – Korea
    5) Cortland Compet. Nymph 4wt – Korea
    6) Diamondback Swinger 6wt – Korea
    7) Cabelas LSi Switch 7wt – Korea
    8) Diamondback Saltwater 7wt – USA (?)
    9) St. Croix Triumph 5 wt – USA/Mexico
    10) Hardy Uniqua 3wt – Korea

    The answer is not as simple as applying the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson tax in a manner that ensures parity. It is not the difference between $12 and $25 (as in your example) that matters in the ultimate cost of the rod. The real issue comes in the cost of labor. Right now the labor costs in developing markets (i.e. China, Mexico, Korea) are so much lower than in the USA that it is difficult to compete. The real answer lies in placing taxes on imports to balance the costs of labor. That would ultimately drive manufacturing back to the USA.

    Time may bring about change, but the bottom line is that for me, it is much easier to spend $250 on a fly rod than $600 – so foreign build rods will often win out.

    • Great topic! I’m glad this issue is being discussed with, and for the benefit of, the consumers here in the U.S.

      I am a founding partner and President of Waterworks-Lamson, so I’m very familiar with this tax.

      Here are some points for clarification:

      If a US-based company imports a Korean-made rod or reel, and sells it to a US-based retailer (who then sells it to a US customer), the US-based company pays this tax. It doesn’t matter that the rod or reel was made in Korea and then imported. It matters that it was sold by a US-based company to a US-based customer.

      So the difference, from the tax standpoint, doesn’t come from where the rod/reel is MANUFACTURED. It comes from the sales side of the equation.

      That’s not to say that US manufacturing doesn’t matter. It may not matter in determining tax funding, but it matters greatly in the health and vibrancy of US manufacturing and engineering, and the economy more broadly. I’ve seen this firsthand. By manufacturing our reels here in the U.S., we see that the jobs we create make a difference in the lives of Americans. Families can provide opportunity for their children. The employed pay taxes that improve their communities. Jobs here in the U.S. create a future for the U.S.

      So when you buy your reel, feel good that money will go to resource management. But take your decision one level deeper, and consider whether your dollars will go toward U.S. jobs and all that this means. I definitely believe that the manufacturer of a product needs to earn your dollars regardless of where the product is made, but when all things are equal, choose the product made in the U.S.

      • Ryan, thanks for chiming in and giving us an inside look. While US companies that manufacture overseas may not supply as many jobs as fully manufactured domestically (or vice versa, I’m no economics expert) it is certainly encouraging to know that there is still a higher tax on that product. Cortland for instance has an excellent new rod made overseas, but its great to know that buying one sends just as much money to the funding as would a low end Sage, Scott, or Winston.

        I tend to buy equipment not based on politics or price, but rather of the quality and performance. Thanks for making my reel choices easy 🙂

      • What Ryan said!

        Everyone loves a great deal, the problem comes when buyers don’t take all parts of the equation into account.

        Do you want to live in a country with a healthy economy, or a colony? A country that doesn’t manufacture anything, or a country that competes? Do you want your neighbor to have a job, or to have to walk away from their house when their job follows the others overseas?

        It’s not just the immediate price of the rod or reel guys.

  3. Want to open Pandora’s Box? If we are to slam off shore tackle manufacturers for not paying enough tax (still the same 10% as a USA manufacturer) then we should look no further than the thousands of commercial fly tiers in America that pay no required tax at all. Get real.

    • As an addendum…the price importing distributors pay isn’t based on what they pay to the manufacturer. It’s based on what they sell to the retailer, unless they use additional distributors, just like domestic manufacturers. Most domestic manufacturers utilize the “distributor” loophole to get their excise tax down. Otherwise you’d be paying a lot more for their equipment.

  4. The problem with the law as I understand it is that the tax money goes to the general fund not directly to help fish and game .

    • Fortunately, this is not true at all. The excise taxes on fishing tackle, along with other taxes (federal fuel taxes on motorboats and small engines and import duties on yachts, along with interest from the fund this money stays in) is directed specifically to certain resource-oriented goals.

      1. 57% goes back to the state fish and game agencies in the form of Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Access projects. Many states get as much as half of their overall fisheries funding from here.

      2. Recreational Boating Safety (18.5%)

      3. Coastal Wetlands Restoration (18.5%)

      4. Boating Infrastructure Grants (these are for large marinas in underserved areas, 2%)

      5. Clean Vessel Act (2%)

      6. National Outreach & Communication (the Take Me Fishing Ads, 2%)

      7. Multi-State Conservation Grants ($3 million)

      8. US Fish and Wildlife Service Administration of the grant, cost adjusts with CPI adjustments

      Additionally, there are provisions that prevent states from replacing the money they already used for fish and wildlife management with Sport Fish Restoration money and diverting theirs back to their general fund; also, states are required to provide a minimum of a 25% match on all of that money to be able to get it.

      You can find out more about the program at

  5. Michael, you make some good points. But the problem lies in consumerism. As long as we Americans continue to buy foreign made “cheaper” products company’s will continue to offer them. Waiting on the government to change the laws is a sidestep solution. As the joke goes, soon in America all we’ll make is heart disease and diabetes. Manufacturing is leaving our shores in groves and soon our whole economy will be service based. Not the path for a stronger Nation. Back to consumerism, you have 10 rods. All but 1, maybe 2 made with ” cheaper labor”. I have 5, all made in the USA . This is a case of less is more. I could go on and on but really nobody cares. Or I should say Americans don’t care. Here’s my advice in the mean time, there are about 30,000 small custom rod builders in the U.S. Find one, tell them what you want in a rod and tell them you want them to use parts made in the USA. It will become your favorite. As for me, of my rods the one that works the best is the one in my hand.
    Dingell-Johnson, that cracks me up.

  6. I do want to straighten one thing out on the article. If you are a Big BOX store, you probably do get 50% wholesale. But I’m telling you as a fly shop owner, in business for 20 years, the independent, small guys DO NOT get 50%, in fact, it’s FAR less. Yes, this tax is great for all sportsmen/women, if this didn’t happen, our “caretakers of the land” (US Government), would prefer to not have you on “their” property and hunting “their” animals” Some manufactures, purchase whole components (like a rod blank) overseas, brings it in and then wraps it here (USA Made?). So please, keep it American, and OCCUPY YOUR LOCAL FLY SHOP!!!! (or they’ll be gone)

  7. Asking me to only buy gear made in the U.S.A. is cool, But what about the people who pay big bucks to fish in other parts of the world, shouldn’t that money spend here also…

  8. This is actually very misleading. This tax has nothing to do with where the product was made, but where it was sold. An imported rod/reel (which is what a large majority of those in this sport are able to afford), still is taxed in the same manner at the point of sale.

    Please don’t put out misleading information like this out there without fully researching it.

  9. This sounds like socialism to me! Ha! So let me get this right…….a Republican can support a tax like this if it helps perpetuate the sport he loves? Hey, anytime a Republican does something for the environment I love it! Still. they would be screamin about any other tax like this!

  10. Louis, excise taxes are a huge part of the costs that we pass on to the Fish and Game departments, even though our rods are made in China.
    I really hope that consumers will understand US-Made fly-fishing gear does not help US fisheries anymore than foreign-made gear, as long as it is being bought from a USA-based business. It all depends on where the business making the first sale is located.
    The excise tax is levied on any sport fishing equipment sold by USA-based businesses, this is not only for reels but “reel-less rods” too.
    THE ONLY fly-fishing gear that does not help US Fisheries is when it is bought from vendors based overseas and selling directly to consumers online.
    Excise tax is murky, and largely misunderstood.At Tenkara USA I was forced to study the excise tax law in detail. We pay it on flies, rods, lines and even spools.
    The more important part is that consumers buy from U.S.A.-based businesses. Foreign manufacturers are now shipping directly to USA consumers, yet they do not pay a penny in excise taxes. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
    Another couple of things to mention:
    There is a cap of $10 on the excise tax, so a rod that cost $700 will still only pass $10 to Fish and Game if that’s the cost of first sale in the US.
    Further, and this starts getting interesting, some manufacturers choose to go through distributors; and, in that case ALL of their sales are taxed at the lowest price they sell their products. So, for example, if a fly line is sold directly to consumers for $70 (I’m using $70 to avoid dealing with the $10 cap in the example), but the manufacturer makes use of at least one distributor (even if the distributor is a tiny part of their business), and the cost to the distributor is $30, then only $3.00 in excise tax is paid on ALL of their sales (as opposed to $7.00 that would be paid if the manufacturer sold directly to consumers and fly shops).
    So, companies selling direct as well as through distributors get to pay a much lower rate in all of their sales.
    It does NOT matter where it is made, the excise tax is the same as long as it is a US-based business.
    So, if one reason for your purchase consideration is to support US Fisheries, please buy from US-based businesses, even if their products are made elsewhere. At Tenkara USA we send a lot of money to US Fisheries every year, in addition to contributing a further 1% of our total revenues to environmental organizations.

  11. Has anyone ever asked for an audit of the It’s true Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 and the Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950, which a 10% excise tax on all hunting and fishing equipment goes into a trust fund to support fish and wildlife management….. or is expected and believed to go there………..

    Thank you very much!

    • So basically, BUY AMERICAN MADE because you’re paying a US worker to make it.

      And BUY FROM A US RETAILER because the ‘tax’ will go to fund parks & waters.

      I hope many many people will really consider both when they buy their next rod and reel. And before you add another foreign made rod or reel to the stable consider waiting/saving and buying US made.

      I see so many people loading up on rods and reels all foreign made, it blows my mind. Don’t get me wrong I have 8 rods 6 are made in the USA and of my 8 reels, 5 are made here.

      Yeah I’ve heard people say “for the price of that one rod you could have bought 2 or 3 rods.” I say “for the price of those 3 rods you could’ve paid a coupe of US workers.”

      That usually ends the conversation.

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