GREG LAMBERT speaks to GERRY FOOTE about his life running the West End’s very own angling empire
On a quiet side street in the West End of Morecambe, Gerry Foote’s fishing tackle shop has become an unlikely business success story.
From humble beginnings as just seven boxes of stock sold out of a tiny shop on Fairfield Road, Gerry’s Fishing Tackle now ships thousands of fishing rods and reels every year to all four corners of the globe.
Born in Lambeth and brought up in Burnt Oak, north London, Gerry moved to Morecambe after meeting his childhood sweetheart and now wife of 34 years, Barbara.
Her mum Elizabeth Beresford had moved up here, opening West End Sports shop on Regent Road.
Gerry originally worked with her husband in a haulage business called Imparts until he hurt his back playing snooker at the old Balmoral Road Liberal Club.
Wondering what on earth to do next with his life, he took his family’s advice to follow his passion for fishing.
“I was always a keen fisherman, going three or four times a week,” says Gerry.
“I still do every type of fishing apart from fly fishing. There are people who drift in and out of angling. But it’s in my blood.”
Gerry cobbled together £1,000, bought some stock, and soon discovered his sharp wit and likeable charm made him a natural salesman.
He spread the word by advertising in fishing trade magazines and the business soon outgrew the shop on Fairfield Road. Then it moved to Heysham Road, and outgrew that too. In 1995 he took out a 30-year lease on the current premises, a former clothes shop on Parliament Street.
Today it’s a maze of rooms – “like a rabbit warren” is how Gerry describes it – full of fishing nets, protective clothing, bivvy tents (anglers use them to shelter so they can continue fishing when it rains) and fishing poles costing up to £5,000.
The shop also has dozens of fridges and freezers full of live bait. Ragworms, lugworms, rainbow maggots, you name it.
“That’s how my days used to begin when I first opened the shop, sorting through live worms,” smiles Gerry.
“Bait is big business. You can’t go fishing without it.
“We’ve had all sorts of fun and games with bait over the years. Once I was working in my office at Heysham Road late at night and heard a noise on the landing. I went outside to investigate and there was no-one there. I went back to work, then heard the noise again. It turns out a live crab had managed to escape from a fridge, wandered over to the steps and fallen down the stairs.”
Morecambe Bay has traditionally been a big draw for the four to six million people in the UK who fish for pleasure.
While Gerry does most of his trade through mail order and the internet, the shop still has a strong local customer base. But he says the number of anglers visiting the town has dwindled.
“When I first came to Morecambe, you could fish from the Stone Jetty, the Battery top was a great place for catching bass, then there was the Grosvenor, both piers, they were all big fishing venues. They’ve done a beautiful job with the prom and the beaches but all the rock armour has made it quite difficult to fish off the jetty.
“At any given time you might get 50-60 anglers on the Heysham Harbour north wall, who all come to Morecambe and spend money. But they’re talking about building wind farms there. They have no idea what effect this will have on our economy.”