James Norris

The manager of the iconic fishing tackle retailer, John Norris of Penrith.

How did the business come about?

When my father (John Norris) left school, he convinced his father to help him buy a small terraced building – No. 21 Victoria Road in Penrith. The business was originally a sports shop with a turnover of £5,000 per annum, of which £2,500 was in fishing licences (dad tells me he got 10 per cent commission), and £750 was in cricket balls, which he sold to the county at cost. If a customer came into the shop he jumped to attention! It's fair to say that the business has grown since then. Over the years we have added many other properties in the street, but we have kept the address as 21 Victoria Road to show where we began.

When did you join the business?

I couldn't wait to leave school to join full-time. Until I was 16,I worked weekends and holidays. I've never worked anywhere else.

How has the business changed?

When my dad started the business, it was a small sports shop catering for the needs of local people. In the mid-70s, the MD of Barbour asked my father if he would sell their products in the shop by mail order, and this was when we really started selling by post. Prior to that, we had sold flies and fishing tackle by mail order on a small scale. It was a great success and made life for customers who lived in more remote places, like the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, much easier.

We were also one of the first country sports businesses in the UK to really embrace the internet and have had a website for over 16 years. Over that time we have gained a wealth of experience in supplying customers worldwide.

It seems to us that fishermen and shooters are a dedicated bunch who will travel not only in the UK but overseas as well. Penrith is a great place to have a shop as it is only two minutes from Junction 40 on the M6 and is at the intersection with the A66. So we meet people in the shop from all over the UK and many parts of the world and it is always really interesting to hear their stories.

What does the average day in the life of James Norris entail?

No two days are the same, which is what I love about my job. I love to be busy. It's usually an early start walking the dogs to get my thinking cap on and then when I get into work, my first priority is to give the shop the once over. We have great staff here in all parts of the business. They are really attentive to shop displays and really knowledgeable about all the products we sell, so they are often a step ahead of me. 

I oversee the ordering as it gives me great feedback about what is popular with our customers. We stock over 27,000 lines, so it's challenging. Often I have meetings with suppliers about their new products which is fascinating. Then there's all the advertising which seems never ending, but my favourite bit is talking to customers, especially when they are planning interesting fishing adventures both at home and abroad.

What are the biggest changes you have noticed in consumer behaviour? 

Every year, every sector of the game fishing industry evolves, especially in the last 10 years, with some amazing new products. With the growth of the internet, especially fishing forums, our customers are really knowledgeable. So the challenge for us is to ensure that the products we stock are up to the task. We spend a lot of time testing and, on many occasions, suggesting improvements to products before they are launched. Every customer wants and deserves the best and we pride ourselves on matching their needs to the best equipment available, whether they are novices or experienced. This is why we listen to our customers.

Is the business still family run?

I am really pleased to say the business is run by the family and still run on family principles. I don't see this changing.

Are most of your sales online or in the shop?

A sizeable part is mail order, but because the shop displays all of our products and has one of the biggest ranges of top brand products available, many of our customers call in on their way past en route to or from Scotland. 

Most travel more than 20 miles to get to us because they enjoy a day out in Penrith, bringing either their family or mates, to see all the new products.

When did you start fishing?

I think I have been fishing since I could stand up as both my father and grandfather were fanatics. My grandfather was disabled but that never held him back and he taught me to cast in his back garden. My first fish was a 5lb rainbow, which was one of about 20 trout I caught that day – that's when the addiction started.

Your favourite form of fishing?

Night sea trout fishing is the ultimate thrill – there is nothing better than battling a supercharged sea trout at 2am in the dark with all your senses on edge.

Do you have a favourite river?

I must say I have been lucky enough to fish in many wonderful locations, but to me my home river, the Eden, is heaven. This river offers you everything all year-round – great spring and autumn salmon, the best dry fly trout fishing anywhere in the UK and some of the biggest grayling you will find anywhere. As I said, it's heaven. Nearly forgot July evenings for the elusive sea trout.

Your favourite destination abroad?

I have fished in lots of places abroad – sea trout in Patagonia, salmon in Canada and Norway, saltwater in Cuba – but my favourite was trout fishing in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. I was there for two weeks and fished 12 rivers and creeks. I caught browns and rainbows in the most beautiful places you can imagine. This year I'm off to Iceland chasing salmon, sea-run Arctic char and big browns. I can't wait!

If you had one day's fishing left, where would you go?

This is a really tricky question as there are so many places I want to go, so I'll change the question slightly... If I had one dream fish to catch what would it be? A double-figure wild brownie on a dry fly in a shallow, gin-clear river.

What set up do you use for salmon?

One of my loves in salmon fishing is casting, and being part of the Norris family means I have lots of rods and lines to play with, so most of my spare time is taken up trying different rod and line combinations so that my tackle advisors at the shop know what works best together. I have to say my favourite rod last season was our own 14'6" Atlantic matched with the Guideline Triple-D Floating/Hover/Intermediate in 38grams. Total harmony.

How many full fly boxes do you own?

Not enough, but too many according to my wife.

Are you concerned about the future of wild salmon stocks in the UK?

I haven't met anyone in the business who isn't and we are keen to support many groups in their pursuit to limit or remove netting at home and abroad. It is really good to see the schemes that are being put in place to improve river habitats, such as Eden Rivers Trust. The Tyne hatchery scheme is a good example of how to bring a river back to life. The biggest threat our customers comment on is the rise in salmon farms and the lack of control.

Your stance on catch and release?

I personally don't agree with the current mandatory catch and release scheme we have in the UK. The best scheme I have seen for managing fish stocks was when I fished in Newfoundland, where, when you buy a licence, you get six tags and that is all the salmon you can take in a season in the whole country. 

I only ever keep one or two salmon a season, but would like to choose when I take them. You will never taste anything better than a fresh salmon you have caught yourself, especially when sharing it with the family. Most fishermen are well educated now and voluntary catch and release schemes, which are not regulated, is the done thing. On the beat I fish, we are returning 70 per cent. If we want to regulate, then the netsmen should also be regulated.

Are you keen on other fieldsports? 

I am a keen shooter, as are my father and sister. We try and get a few days away together each year. My wife Kate and I also love working our spaniels.

Favourite form of shooting?

Shooting to me is all about spending time with family and friends, but if I had to choose one type of shooting it would be high driven pheasants at our home shoot just outside Penrith.

Favourite aspect of your job?

I enjoy the people. Country sports people are invariably good humoured with plenty to chat about. It attracts a special kind of person and they all have stories to tell whether they are customers, staff or suppliers. Most people who are interested in the countryside are really passionate about country sports, whether it is shooting, fishing or their dogs.

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