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In this edition of Georgia Big Sticks:


Georgia Big Sticks feature: how the economy is affecting three local businesses

"The market has softened," says Jim "Jimbo" Mathley, the famous dean of Lanier's spotted bass guides.

"The slow economy started to show up for us around mid-November. Folks weren’t buying," says James "Lanier Jim" Harmon, the drop-shot Jedi who runs Lanier Baits.

"People aren't buying the expensive crankbaits like they were before," says Tim Hawkins, of Hammonds Fishing Center.

Bass fishing alone is a three billion-dollar-a-year business and, according to St. Augustine-based Southwick Associates, nearly 10 million Americans fish for bass, the number one freshwater sportfish in the U.S.

But that's just the tip of the bass-crazy iceberg. When you add economic multipliers like food, transportation, and lodging, the Southwick Associates study says the true picture is closer to $130 billion! We all contributed to those numbers--although that's a lot of Senkos and jerkbaits, not to mention Hampton Inn's and entry fees.

Bass Pro Shops' annual revenue is more than $6 billion, but CEO Johnny Morris said "...inflation is real. It's here."

While it's not at 9 percent like it was in 2021 when the current president took office, it's still above 4 percent, twice as much as the Federal Reserve Bank's target of 2 percent.

Everyone's feeling it, from Bass Pro Shops to local businesses around the lake. Here's our first look at how inflation is affecting the livelihood of people in the Lanier community.

We heard from Jim Mathley (Jimbo on Lanier), the dean of Lanier's spotted bass guides, James "Lanier Jim" Harmon, whose Lanier Baits has been in business since 2012, and with Tim Hawkins, co-owner of Hammond's Fishing Center, the premier tackle store on Lanier, now in its 38th year.

Jim "Jimbo" Mathley is the 'Dean' of the spotted bass guides on Lanier.

Jimbo reports that March through June is his busiest time at Jimbo on Lanier, said he noticed the market starting to soften last summer, "...and that trend has continued."

"I'm still booking up through the week, but not much excess like I have had in years past."

"My shoulder seasons last fall and early spring this year were definitely slower," he continued. "Also, I'm not booking up as far in advance as usual, even in my busy times. Normally I would go into April booked for April and May."

Jimbo also runs the annual Expo every January, an event that draws hundreds of anglers and manufacturers each year, although he noted that this year's attendance was a bit lower.

It's never too early to mark your calendars for Jimbo's Fishing Expo--it's full of great seminars, vendors and bass fishing gear!

"Our [2024] January expo was off some compared to previous years," said the Indiana native, who has bass fished for 28 years, including guiding the last 13 years on Lanier, where he estimates he has spent more than 20,000 hours "learning the "intricacies" of the deep and sometimes difficult reservoir.

But because of Jimbo''s long-standing reputation (he has customers, including touring pros, from across the nation, not just those close by) he's staying as busy as he wants. "I'm staying busy because of my regular customers--people that come with me often and regularly that I have known for years."

Jimbo isn't the only guide who has noticed a slowdown in the economy. According to Jim "LJ" Harmon of Lanier Baits, it began late last fall. "The slow economy started to show up for us around mid-November. Folks just weren’t buying….we had very few online orders and electronics were slow with shipping and folks spending their money for sonars." 

Jim "LJ" Harmon, founder of Lanier Baits, earlier this year on Jim Farmer's Castaway Cove Friday Night Fish Fry on YouTube (Jeff Nail, one of the lake's top guides, is pictured at left). Check out the program at or Castaway Outdoors Friday Night Fish Fry on YouTube).

While spring and summer are usually the busiest times for LJ and his colleagues on Lanier, things began to pick up a little this past February.

"We started really getting busy about the middle of February when the fishing fever started to hit people getting ready for spring. Guide trips have slowed down but that's due to me not booking them."

Jim's electronics installation business has grown exponentially over the past six months. "I get calls daily for fishing and sonar trips and try to fit them in but the install business keeps me in the shop most days," said Jim.   "Hopefully, I will get caught up soon so I can hit the water more often.  It’s just [Jim's son] Cory and I right now, with a few friends dropping by to help when needed. 

  "Cory feels that since 2020 and Covid – everybody is trying to start a bait business suddenly," said LJ.  "We’ve been doing it since 2012 when Lanier Baits started, so we’ve been through some ups and downs. We just try to offer good products with new colors and utilize a select few to help promote. We are looking to put together a solid promotional team to sponsor. 

Cory Harmon, the creative force behind Lanier Baits' "fruity worms", and his dog Lily, the namesake for the best-selling Blue Lily worm.

Our products catch fish and when I’m on the water and folks see the results – the bait business normally picks up as do guide trips.  I just have to get caught up and out of the shop". [Editor's note: Jim & Cory's baits, including the Lanier/Hartwell Hall of Fame quality Blue Lily and Sweet Rosie worms and the Lanier favorite Jerk Shad, made even more famous over the past few years by local Georgia Big Stick, Jimmy Sanders. Along with the hard bait swimmers, which come in four colors, these Lanier baits are killers on Lanier. And, no, I don't get free baits from pay for them, just like you do!]

Meanwhile, Jim and Cory's electronics installation business has really taken off.

"The new shop is awesome for the business, including the new business we received in our partnership with Advantage Boat Center," said Jim. "We also have a few guides that send business our way. We started installing all sonars last year….mainly Humminbird and Garmin but have put some big Lowrance systems in boats," he continued. "I’m an expert with setting up Humminbirds and getting much better with Garmin and Lowrance.   Installation is very similar for all the units.  Folks have learned that there is more to it than just finding some power and turning them on," continued LJ.

And they have a new partnership with a major player.

"Sea Clear Power has a great wiring harness so the units can do what they are capable of doing. We've been using the same materials for years on our own, but Sea Clear came to us and we set up a partnership," Jim said proudly.

It's not just the guides and local tackle manufacturers that are taking a hit, so is the retail side of fishing.

Tim Hawkins, the top gun at Hammond's Fish Center, which has been in business since 1986, says he feels that 2024 has been a year when we are seeing the first full year of "getting back to normal" after Covid. He said that while store sales are down only about five percent, with school getting out soon, he expects business to pick up in the coming weeks.

Tim Hawkins, a Georgia Big Stick and co-owner of Hammond's Fishing Center, during an interview last year on Fish North Georgia's podcast (

"Covid was a huge boom in many ways," said Tim, who co-owns Hammond's with Candy Hammond. "Getting products was not easy, but that has gotten a little better." But, said the store owner and tournament angler, "I am still waiting for more than a month for some products."

Tim, who is also a top-flight tournament angler and Georgia Big Stick, says the type of products he's selling are more traditional, what he quips as "jig heads and minnows" sales.

"We're seeing the same guys come into the store and buy $200 worth of jigs or live bait," said Tim. "But they are not buying as many high-end crankbaits as they were before." He says that with the high schoolers hitting the lake this summer, sales of those items are likely to pick up.

Hammond's Fishing Center has been the go-to bait and tackle store on Lanier for decades.

He credits the forward-facing sonar craze for helping to generate at least two new solid markets for Hammond's. "Our install business is going great," said Tim, which he says is a direct result of FFS.

"In my experience, forward-facing [sonar] is probably the biggest difference maker this industry has ever seen," Tim continued. "If you don't have FFS and you are a tournament fisherman, you are at a huge disadvantage."

Added Tim, "The FFS phenomenon has also resulted in a shift from baitcasting to spinning gear. We are also seeing a lot more high-end spinning rods being bought."

Whether you believe it or not, this economy is still struggling. All we can do is to keep buying local. Unless you are a tour-level pro, you can find the same things at Hammonds or Fish North Georgia or Oakwood Bait and Tackle that you can at Tackle Warehouse and Bass Pro Shops (in fact, most of the time you will find a lot more choices, particularly for the magnum spots and giant stripers that Lanier is famous for).

And while you won't find Benjie Winkler's terrific Trickster plastics at TW or Cory's fruity worms at Bass Pro--you won't have a problem finding them when you order them from the guys who make them--many of whom are the anglers we fish with. And at Hammond's, where Tim and Candy support so many local lure makers, the customer service is exceptional. Let's trust our locals with our fishing gear--it's best for both us and them.

Short Strikes--a roundup of fishing news close to home

Happy Anniversary to America's greatest bass club!

Congratulations to the Atlanta Rod Benders bass club on their 15th-anniversary celebration--which was held on April 27th at West Point Lake with 108 boats participating! These guys are the epitome of what a great club can be--both on and off the water--and you can check out their big anniversary right here. A special shout-out to Dale Hill, Eddie Champion and Carlos (C-Mix) Mixon and their leadership of this terrific club. Read more about the Rod Benders--both on and off the water--in this earlier post on Georgia Big Sticks.


Landyn the Big One!

Here's a great catch by Landyn Rogers, a rising sophomore at Hall County's Cherokee Bluff High School, at a small pond. Landyn, who loves fishing topwater (we all do, right?) threw a small white popper along the bank, and the fish just sucked it in. Using a medium 6'6" Clarus rod with a Shimano Sahara reel spooled with 20 pound braid and a 12 pound fluoro leader, Landyn said "I didn't know it was a good one until it started to take drag!" After landing the fish (and weighing it on a Bass Pro Shops scale) he released it back into the water--great catch & release, Landyn!

Landyn, who is buddies with two members of the Cherokee Bluff High School fishing team (Jude Shank and Logan Gibbs), hopes to get the chance to be on that team in the coming year (if he is able to find a boat). Right now, it looks like he is pretty darn good fishing from the bank. Way to go, Landyn!


What's the next great change coming to bass boats? Listen to Tim Hawkins, co-owner of Hammond's, from his appearance last August on YouTube's Fish North Georgia! Listen to Tim's response when Fish North Georgia's podcast host Danny Pruitt asked Tim what change he would like to see in the future of tournament fishing:

While some of you may be rolling your eyes at the thought of taking livewells out of bass boats--but, for tournament fishing only, and for the long-run health of our fisheries, I think it's a great idea. Of course, folks who are 'meat-anglers' and will consume their catch, and anyone that wants a livewell in their boat, should be able to buy their boats with live wells. While I don't think there are too many bass tournaments (a position advocated by the always entertaining and sometimes controversial long time pro and prolific YouTuber, Randy Blaukat) as they offer a great opportunity to weekend anglers (not just the pros) and often mean a lot to the local economy. There are pros & cons to this and let's not turn it into an on-line "war" which followed the FFS controversy. But, as we listen to people like Tim Hawkins, who has run both traditional and digital tournaments first-hand, it's something to consider. Like electric vehicles, the first bass boat manufacturer to market with no livewells (designed specifically for the kind of Digital Live tournaments that MLF and Tim have championed for several years) might be the start of something big. What are your thoughts?

Dave Altman, Editor, Georgia Big Sticks


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