John Sherry came up with the idea for his line of waterproof plastic cards printed with instructions for tying fishing knots 22 years ago, while on a fishing and diving trip off the coast of Baja California.
During the dive, he noticed the boat had air compression tables used by the U.S. Navy for dive operations printed on waterproof cards.
“And it just clicked in my head: Why doesn’t anyone print fishing knots on these same cards?” Sherry said, “because then you can have them in your tackle box and you wouldn’t have to worry about them getting wet.”
More than 20 years after the product debuted and three years after focusing on the company full time, Sherry now has built a niche for himself within the fishing and rope-knot industry. His company, Pro-Knot, distributes to stores nationwide booklets of waterproof cards detailing how to tie particular knots.
Sherry, who moved the company to Bend from San Luis Obispo, California, in January, declined to provide an exact number of stores that sell Pro-Knot booklets , but he said the total is more than 1,000, ranging from small fishing stores such as Confluence Fly Shop in Bend to large chains including Walmart and REI.
“It’s one thing to get them into a store; it’s another to see them sell through the store, for the public to actually buy them,” Sherry said.
The cards, 2.25 by 3.5 inches each, are manufactured on PVC plastic and shipped in bound booklets. Each card has a brief description of a knot and step-by-step visual instructions for how to tie it. Some cards feature a mnemonic to help readers remember how to tie intricate knots.
These cards are packaged in booklets that are organized by topic. Pro-Knot offers seven booklets in all, which focus on knots for fly-fishing, casting, boating and outdoor adventure, among others. Sherry said booklets, which feature between 12 and 20 knots, cost $4.95 each.
“The fishing knots are a little bit more complicated, so they require a little bit more space per knot,” Sherry said.
Pro-Knot has a diverse market, ranging from outdoor enthusiasts to boaters and fishermen, to groups such as arborists, who need specific knots for their work.
“Rope knots have always held a fascination for people,” Sherry said. “You get a piece of rope in your hands, you want to do something with it. Fishing, on the other hand, is strictly application. People need good knots.”
In July 2009, Pro-Knot added a smartphone application to augment its cards. The company currently has nine apps across various platforms, ranging in size and scale. Despite that, Sherry said the plastic cards have continued to be the focus, due to their practicality and the number of competing knot apps.
“When the app first came out, I was worried it would cannibalize the plastic card business,” Sherry said. “But the opposite has been true. It turned out to be very minor.”
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Q: Any knots you find particularly helpful that might not be commonly used?
A: First, I would say the Trucker’s Hitch. That’s just a fantastic knot for tying the load down on anything, and not everyone’s familiar with it.
Q: Where do you see the business 12 to 24 months in the future?
A: We’re growing right now very well, and we’ve got a salesman coming on right now. I think it’s not out of the question to see the company double in sales in 24 months.