Black Magic - a 30 Year History

2021 marks the 30th anniversary of Black Magic Tackle, a company born from simple beginnings which has gone on to become a force in the world fishing trade while still maintaining its Kiwi identity and values.

While it cannot claim, on a technicality, to brand all its products ‘Made in New Zealand’, the bulk of them are still manufactured here using Kiwi labour. The development is done mostly in New Zealand, and the company has been a strong supporter of recreational fishing here. Black Magic Tackle is Kiwi through and through.

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Black Magic’s legacy begins with chemically-sharpened hooks and a selection of imported tackle, which Kiwi anglers purchased via mail-order. Their success has continued through to today where over 2000 product lines proudly carry the distinctive BMT brand.

The company now exports around 60 percent of its product. Australia is a huge market with the United States and Europe two other areas of strong growth.

In the beginning…

Black Magic Tackle founder Rick Wakelin began his working life as a management trainee with Ceramco (a public company incorporating Crown Lynn potteries and about 50 other companies) and spent nearly 13 years there in various roles. These included everything from factory labourer, industrial chemist, draughtsman, sales rep, regional manager, marketing manager and export manager. This last job included several visits to the Middle East selling NZ peat and potting mixtures.

“The potting mixes all contained peat mixed with coarse Waikato River sand, so I guess I was selling sand to the Arabs,” said Rick with a grin.

While managing the horticultural division (Smith’s Soil Industries), it became apparent that retail garden centres were doing very well, so Rick decided to take a huge risk and leave behind the steady salary and company car to work for himself. He opened the Lincoln Road Garden Centre in Sept 1981. It proved to be a great success, and Rick sold the business to a public company in 1986.

Rick then had a couple of years off – his first decent break for five years – and spent the time fishing, scuba diving, hunting, gardening, and travelling. But his fertile mind soon noticed a huge disparity in prices for quality fishing reels between Australia and NZ. Many major tackle brand agencies were held by Australian companies, which then on-sold to NZ distributors, who sold to retailers who supplied the Kiwi fishing fraternity, making tackle very expensive for New Zealand anglers.

In the late ‘80s, NZ had only recently abandoned import licencing, and the market was used to a limited range, seasonal availability and high prices relative to other offshore markets. Rick approached several major NZ wholesalers with a mail-order concept, but they refused to supply unless he had a retail store. So, in those pre-internet days, Rick travelled to Singapore and the USA to purchase quality reels, rods, lures and obtained the Leatherman Tool agency.

Rick’s mail-order base, Fisherman’s Warehouse, was about to launch, but the NZ distributors of the products Rick had imported disputed his right to sell them in NZ, citing ‘parallel importing’ rules. Once the dust settled, and the lawyers had been paid, the mail-order business was allowed to continue but he agreed to open a retail outlet.

Getting to the point

Many of today’s anglers will not remember the fish hooks of 35 years ago. They were thick-shanked, big-barbed and required a lot of work with a sharpening stone or file before they could be easily set into a fish’s jaw. During a visit to Singapore, Rick was shown the first chemically-sharpened hooks that had just arrived from Japan. He purchased a thousand of these super-sharp hooks (now model KS 4/0). These chemically sharpened, high carbon, black finished hooks (along with Gamakatsu, which arrived in NZ about the same time) were to revolutionise the fishing hook industry and were the keystone product in the early days of the company.

They started selling in October 1991 via Fisherman’s Warehouse in ziplock bags with three packet sizes available. Starting with just ads in NZ Fishing News and word of mouth, the orders came pouring in, and there was also considerable interest from retailers around the country. One of these was the late Lewy McConnell, who then had a tackle store in Tokoroa and later went on to work for Black Magic, designing the original Equalizer® base plate, flasher rig, and line spool packaging.

Fisherman’s Warehouse expanded into two stores, but it was soon decided that the way forward was to be a wholesaler and supply products to the New Zealand tackle trade. As a result, the stores were sold, and Black Magic Tackle Ltd became the full thrust of the business. The plan was to be a specialist in quality terminal tackle and accessories and to develop new products where there was a perceived need in the New Zealand market.

This meant carefully testing and developing ideas into finished products, rather than just marketing existing overseas products. Black Magic went from a garage in West Auckland through increasingly larger bases in New Lynn, then Avondale, then Henderson, before building their current purpose-designed 20,000 square foot facility in Westgate. Research and development, product testing and quality control has always been an essential part of the business, and is carried out using a range of specialist equipment to provide quantifiable scientific data on products. The company’s motto, “the best by test”, is well earned.

Black Magic Line is tested constantly for consistency, something that is especially important for anglers fishing to IGFA line classes.

Black Magic Line is tested constantly for consistency, something that is especially important for anglers fishing to IGFA line classes.

Spreading their wings

The Black Magic range was expanded as products that met the company’s high standards were developed or located. After hooks came rolling swivels, supple trace, sabiki-type bait catchers, and Allrounder and IGFA lines, to name a few.

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A product range that Black Magic is well known for is their large sabiki-style/flasher rigs. The first was the Tarakihi Terror, developed by Lewy McConnell on an idea from myself. Rick Wakelin subsequently developed the bigger brother product, the Snapper Snatcher®, on a fly design by Rob Limmer. In time, a whole family of these rigs were developed and continue to be popular with anglers today. They are still rigged locally to ensure their quality.

The quality of the product is one thing, but Black Magic believe it must be fairly priced as well. Rick reckons it is worth waiting and working for the right item and has never rushed products to the market without proper development and testing.

“One product I saw in Japan years ago was a PE braid line in rainbow colours that marked the line lengths. It was fabulous but so expensive that it cost more than the fishing reel it was wound on. We had to wait, and over the years, technology improved and prices dropped until it was finally possible to bring Rainbow Braid to the NZ market, a project 18 years in the making!” says Rick.

Black Magic now carry over 2000 lines of tackle, but their flagship product is probably the Equalizer® stand-up harness. As mentioned, the original gimbal was designed by the late Lewy McConnell, while Rick Wakelin came up with the self-adjusting ‘sit in’ harness. The combo was launched in 1995 and won the ‘Best in Show’ award at the prestigious American Sport Fishing Tackle show in Las Vegas. Several other products have won ‘best in show’ awards at the annual Australian AFTA show.

Subsequent improvements to, and developments of the Equalizer® included black padding, a redesigned harness, a new larger XL Wide gimbal and harness, the Twin Pin Pro (for straight or bent butts) version and another variation that is currently under development. Along with a great many other mighty fish, several marlin and bluefin over 1000lb have been caught on this equipment, including Alain Jorion’s 473kg black marlin caught off Gisborne.

The Equalizer® has been sold to well over 50 countries, making this Kiwi product a worldwide winner. Rick says that international stockists then often graduate to other BMT products such as lures, tackle packs and bags, ball-bearing swivels, leader, hooks, jigs and rigs.

As quality terminal tackle and fishing accessories specialists, Black Magic Tackle have a few unique rods in their range (like their well-received canal and squid rods) and have had their own range of reels produced in the past. But for most general types of rods and reels, exchange rate fluctuations, supplier issues and a local market flooded with lower quality products, see them happy to leave this part of the market to others.

These days about 60% of Black Magic’s turnover is generated offshore in exports to overseas countries, Australia being the largest of these markets.

BMT have been selling their products in the USA and Europe for around 25 years and sales to these regions are strengthening all the time. And there have been some orders to unexpected places in recent times, such as jigs to Croatia and trolling lures to Lebanon. Global sales manager Tim Clark handles sales worldwide.

Keeping it Kiwi

The Equalizer® is designed and built in New Zealand, and Black Magic do their very best to maximise the Kiwi content of most of their products. Alongside their factory staff, they also employ 25-30 local out workers who assemble, package, pack and rig their products.

The company has assisted a number of young people in getting ahead, helping fund their tertiary studies through seasonal and outwork employment. While the original distinctive black and silver labelling was made from a reflective foil material called Hyperplaid they imported from the US, all labels are now New Zealand made and then over-printed in house. Most of the packaging materials (such as trace spools and the distinctive flasher rig packaging) was designed by Black Magic and is produced by an Auckland firm. Hook and swivel packets and envelopes are also New Zealand made.

The packaging of their products is still done locally.

The packaging of their products is still done locally.

Of course, some products (and raw materials for others) must be sourced overseas. Denise notes that much of the offshore product development has been about good supplier relationships and working with a raft of people around the world to get products off the ground. They have been working with the same NZ packaging company for 25 years and both their labels and catalogues are printed locally.

Company loyalty is high, and staff turnover is low. Four of the 20 staff have been with the company for 20 years and many more over ten years.

Black Magic remains a family firm and is proud to be based in New Zealand, employing Kiwis and paying their taxes here. Denise Newland started with BMT over 20 years ago before buying into the company. Today she and her husband Steve Newland are Directors and own 50% of Black Magic alongside Rick Wakelin and his wife Tanya.

The Newlands run the business daily now, with Rick Wakelin stepping back to enjoy his semi-retirement. The Wakelin’s have built a place on the Chatham Islands and spend a fair amount of time there while keeping in touch with the business at BMT.

Black Magic Tackle's founder Rick Wakelin (right) with business partners Steve and Denise Newland.

Black Magic Tackle's founder Rick Wakelin (right) with business partners Steve and Denise Newland.

Getting the word out

Many experienced fishermen, fishing writers and charter skippers have long sung the praises of Black Magic products and provided advice and feedback during product development. Many also provided favourite lure patterns to the option4/LegaSea fundraising lure range. In New Zealand this has included: Rick Pollock, Bruce Martin, John Batterton, Alain Jorion, Chris Firkin, myself and many others. This level of participation speaks volumes for the quality of Black Magic products.

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Black Magic has also sponsored TV shows here and several in Australia, too. Kiwi show hosts have included Geoff Thomas, Graeme Sinclair, Adam Clancey and most recently Fishing and Adventure’s Mig and Scott, all of whom have benefited from Black Magic as a terminal tackle sponsor and in turn helped raise the profile of these products.

Unfortunately, BMT’s carefully thought-out, designed and tested products are instant targets for the copyists who try to piggyback on their success. However, not so often these days, as Black Magic are very protective of their designs. As Rick Wakelin said with a smile, “We have patents, trademarks, registered designs, an extensive intellectual property portfolio – and savage lawyers. A couple of years ago we designed, tested, and launched the Snapper Snack® rig. It was a winner, and within six months two knockoffs appeared in NZ – they were gone by lunchtime.”

Giving back

Black Magic believes in giving back to the sport that has supported them. In 2003, Scott Macindoe, an option4 spokesperson, received a phone call from Rick Wakelin offering to produce a range of top game fishing lures branded ‘option4’ and contribute $10 per lure sold to the cause. Scott was delighted, and about nine months later, a cheque for $5000 was handed over; the following year saw this grow to $10,000. Option4 was the predecessor of LegaSea, the current NZ Sport Fishing Council public outreach arm. 18 years later, this arrangement continues, providing a regular income stream to this important recreational fishing rights advocacy group. Rick Wakelin was not sure of the total cumulative sum involved but said it was certainly in “six figures”.

Other causes supported by Black Magic Tackle over the years include the Kahawai Legal Challenge, Camp Quality for Kids with Cancer, the Guardians of the Sea Charitable Trust, and numerous fishing tournaments, especially those involving young anglers – the future of our sport.

As a final comment, we at NZ Fishing News would like to issue a big thank you to the team at Black Magic Tackle for their vision and generosity – and happy 30th birthday!

October 2021 - Sam Mossman
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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