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Glad Arctic Cat Went Fish’n

The original Arctic Cat Gone Fishin' poster

The original “Gone Fishin’ poster was created in 1986, and quickly became a collector’s item.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the history of Arctic Cat these past few months. Everything from what it must have been like for Edgar to launch the company, to the euphoria of building 72,000 Panthers in a single year, to the bankruptcy of Arctic Enterprises and the stunning rebirth of the brand.

When I first started working with Arctic Cat in the early 1990s, nearly all of the people there had worked at Arctic Enterprises when it closed the doors in 1981. And although a decade had passed since that massively-disappointing demise of AE – during which there had been 10 years of incredible growth in the reborn-Arctco – there was still an open wound on the psyche of many at Cat. The failure of Arctic Enterprises was still pretty raw.

I remember too that by the mid-‘90s, there was a concerted effort on the part of some at Cat to NOT publicly mention that Arctic Enterprises had “Gone Fish’n” as the poster from 1986 had called the two model years of 1982-83. The reason to stay mum on the subject was that Arctco, as a publicly-traded company, might suffer in the market if there was a constant reminder that the Arctic Cat brand had once gone fishing.

Adding to the frustration and concern was the fact that, beginning in the late 1980s through the late ‘90s, there were annual rumors that Arctic Cat was once again on the verge of bankruptcy. These rumors were always traced back to people who worked 60 miles north of Thief River Falls, but they were a PR thorn nonetheless.

I’ve never agreed with the theory that Arctic Cat should hide the gone fish’n years.

In fact, those years and the subsequent rebirth of the company have fundamentally shaped the company to this very day, almost entirely in ways that have benefited the company and its riders.

I believe the lessons of having gone fish’n created a culture of pull-up-the-bootstraps-and-get-it-done at the company. I believe Arctic Cat people try harder, because they know very well the consequences of coasting.

There’s a scrappiness, even a slight chip-on-the-shoulder mentality of many Arctic Cat people that translates into a powerful work ethic.

When people literally invest their homes and life-savings to launch a company, they are more than simply “invested” in the outcome. They’re inextricably tied to it. It’s not just their job, it’s the fulcrum on which their lives – and the lives of their families – balance.

As people, I think we’re defined far more by how we react to setback than how well we celebrate success. The reaction to bankruptcy by Arctic Cat people was nothing short of extraordinary.

Did the gone fish’n years do some harm to the company, even now? Maybe.

Perhaps fear occasionally crept into the leadership at critical moments, preventing an entrepreneurial decision from being made that might have fueled greater growth.

Perhaps there were investments that, had they been made earlier, would have put Arctic Cat into a greater leadership role than it currently enjoys. Hard to know these kinds of things.

But I do know that when I look at the accomplishments of the past 30 years of a company that’s much smaller and with fewer resources than its competition, I see why it is I’m so drawn to the people who build the machines, and to those of us who ride them. They – and we – try harder.

It’s a story that repeats itself on the race track every winter, when Polaris and Ski-Doo clearly outspend Arctic Cat (by a factor of two or three) on racers and teams, yet still don’t match the win record.

It explains why the competition’s multi-million-dollar R&D facilities sound great, but still don’t match the ride quality, top speed and handling produced by the institutional, seat-of-the-pants knowledge of Arctic Cat’s engineers.

And it explains why 10,000 people, mostly snowmobilers, traveled to TRF the last weekend of July to see/talk/live/celebrate Arctic Cat.

Arctic Cat created a new, updated version of the Gone Fish’n poster for the 50th Anniversary, where they were free for the taking. Likewise, when it came to creating the new 50th book and DVD, there was no shying away from those two, tough years.

I like that, and think that acknowledging the past is a good thing.

I guess I’m glad that Arctic Cat went fishing for a couple years, because it ultimately led them to where we are today. 


The reprised Arctic Cat Gone Fishin' poster from the 50th

The new “Gone Fish’n” poster was given away by Arctic Cat at the 50th Anniversary.



  1. We are shaped by our experiences and funny as it is, the bad times, choices and outcomes are the one we learn the most from. Those times show us what we are made of. You pick yourself up, dust off the dirt and start over. Too me Arctic Enterprises was a golden company created and collapsing in the twenty years that was the snowmobiles most explosive and devastating time. Arctco (Arctic Cat Inc) is the company that had to pick up the pieces and start over, but remember that this was during a time that, for all intensive purposes, should have been impossible. The people at Arctco were able to make this dream happen with their drive and determination and with twenty years of Arctic Enterprises hard work. With that they created the one, and most important thing that made this endeavor a success.
    They created a brand loyalty with customers and dealers so strong that they were carried through that first season in 84 as the “come back heroes” with a snowmobile that was basically an 81 with different decal. From there the company had a starting point.
    As employees (or former employees) were are proud of our accomplishments and not ashamed by our failures. As customers were we feel we are part of the family for staying loyal and helping to build the Cat back up.
    Arctic Cat has gritt, a true american company thu and thru!

  2. Couldn’t have said it any better John and Mr. knox. Both of you hit the spirit of Arctic Cat and its people right on the head.

  3. Brian, we don’t have to wait 2 years for another celebration. Next year will be Roger Skime’s 50th aniversary at Arctic Cat. We can gather next July to celebrate that. “I know I’ll travel from Upper Michigan for that!”

  4. I agree completely with the assessment of the work ethic of the Arctic Cat employees. I saw that during the summers of ’90 and ’91 when I worked on the assembly line at the factory. The new company was still in it’s infancy and money was tight. Wages were low but no one complained. Everyone was just glad that Cat was back in operation. Many times I saw people like Roger Skime, Jack Nelson, and Cheryl Rosten come down to the line to resolve problems with parts not fitting, etc. They knew that we all had to pull together to win together. Some days the line was really flying and we were putting out over 300 machines. But, we all felt proud at the end of the day when the buzzer rang and we had accomplished a lot.

    I remember how some of the former Arctic Enterprises employees just turned their houses over to the lenders and walked away from them as there were no buyers. Many left for places like Wyoming and North Dakota where construction was booming because of oil. Hardly a new house was built in Thief River Falls in almost 20 years. My new house out on the farm was built in 1980 by Woodland Construction and was one of the last built by them before they also went bankrupt; another casualty of the demise of Arctic Enterprises.

    While I was a rebel in the Arctic Cat town for many years because of buying “the other brand made 60 miles north”, I finally purchased a new Cat in 2009 simply because I wanted to support the local economy. It was that same reason that I ordered a new 2012 Cat last spring. Not only do I have relatives and friends working there but many people in the area depend on employment at Cat. I share their pride in a quality product and wish the company success in the future.

  5. Very cool! I had the original poster hanging in my parents garage back in the 80’s. That is so cool that you guys updated it! I never really looked at the gone fishing as a negative thing. Thing is, you were back in business for several years when the poster came out so it didn’t make any difference to me. I was alway more curious about how the AFS suspension worked compared to the IFS on my used, ’84 Trail Indy I got in high school.

  6. Last weekend I attended Nelsons SnoMotion in Greenville Mi, Always an awesome event with some great people about. Looking forward to it this year after having to cancel for CatFest in July. Wanting to check out Prowlers and JD Gators for hunting. First stop the Deere tent and was an excellent time with much info and great staff, next stop Cat tent. Been on Cats since 69′, been to the factory as well as CatFest 93′ and have owned over 10 new Cats so wasnt much gonna get me to buy anything but. However when asking about the new Line-up the staffer was nothing short of arrogant. Now I know Cat has alot to be proud of but does everyone? When asking people about UTV knowledge, most say Polaris is best. I have done research and ridden the Gator, Ranger and Prowler. Cat fits my needs best. But if Cat wants the others to look maybe they should get some feedback on their Reps and ask how helpful they are cause other than getting a cool poster. I got nothing from this guy. Hate to see another Gone Fishin sign at Cat .

  7. Well said guys! I have always wanted one of the original “Gone Fish’n” posters. The new one needs to be hung in my garage with the other Cat posters. Is there any way that I can get one of the new ones? Does Cat have a part number or does someone have access to shipping them out? Thanks in advance


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