Muskie Bacon lures make a splash
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — As a muskie fisherman with a knack for inventing things, developing a muskie lure came naturally for Jeff Sprecher.
It appears the Grand Forks inventor and entrepreneur has landed the tackle equivalent of a whopper with his Airheads—bucktail-type fishing lures with double spinner blades and soft plastic heads and tails—and Power Tail replacement components that also can be used on spoons and other lures.
Both products are marketed under the Muskie Bacon brand name. Sprecher, who also is an artist, designed the logo, which features a muskie wearing a bib above a slogan reading "It's Feeding Time!"
He calls his company Muskie Bacon Lures and Power Tails.
"I was pretty convinced I could make a lure everybody would want," Sprecher, 61, said. "Basically, it's like a bucktail or spinnerbait with flashabou (a hairlike material widely used in fly fishing circles), and I said, 'How can I make this better?' "
That's where the soft plastic heads and tails come into play. The plastic comes in liquid form, and Sprecher pours it into molds, where it sets up in minutes. Treble hooks are molded into the Power Tails.
"I started playing around, and the next thing I know, I'm learning all about soft plastics, and I make my own molds," Sprecher said. "I kept refining the product so I got it to the point where it is right now."
Sprecher's journey into the fishing industry began about a year and a half ago, when his mother-in-law, Cathy Ryan, mentioned a story she'd read about KMDA Inc., a Bovey, Minn., company that manufactures and distributes a wide range of fishing and other outdoors products.
The story coincided with Sprecher's efforts to develop and refine his muskie lure. He reached out to KMDA last December, and company officials liked what they saw.
"I came up with the tails first—that was my original idea—and then progressed into the lure before I even came to KMDA so I had things pretty well set," Sprecher said. "They don't take on very many new projects, but luckily for me, they've really liked mine.
"They developed the packaging, provided me with the hooks to make my components, and they've been a great help."
The big break came in January, when Sprecher learned Mills Fleet Farm, a major retailer with 42 stores across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, had agreed to pick up the product, which KMDA distributes.
From Jan. 21 to July 5, Sprecher says he poured 8,138 tails and 2,650 heads in his Grand Forks home in a scramble to get the components to KMDA for assembly and distribution to Mills Fleet Farm stores. Trays of additional heads and tails cover the dining room table in his Grand Forks home.
"That was huge for me," Sprecher said of the Mills Fleet Farm order. "As of January when I got that order, I pulled a lot of all-nighters where they called me and said they needed product tomorrow. I'd be up until midnight or 1 pouring everything I could, throw it in the car, drive it (to Bovey) and drop it off."
He ships components to KMDA when there isn't a time crunch.
"Very rarely" does the company take on new product lines like it has with Sprecher's Muskie Bacon lures, KMDA President Derek Vekich said.
"We actually don't do this very often because we're a manufacturer that makes our own products," Vekich said. "I think Jeff's products were unique, and I thought the line had enough new ideas for the next five years, and that's kind of where we jumped in with Jeff."
Through that association, Muskie Bacon lures also are in Gander Outdoors stores, Vekich says, and he expects to see a couple of additional retailers pick up the product this year.
"What people like Jeff need help with is the sales and the marketing, getting the product into the major retailers, so that's kind of where we came in," Vekich said. "He had a good product and then he just needed the direction on how to take this product to market. He figured out the production and how to make (the lure), which was impressive because a lot of people need more help with that part of it, but Jeff figured it out on his own."
Airheads retail for $16.99, and the heads come in three basic colors; Power Tails retail for $6.99 for a set of two and come in five basic colors. Combined with either bucktail or flashabou adornments, numerous color options are available, Sprecher says. The products have only been in Mills Fleet Farm stores about a month, and Sprecher says he's already getting reorders.
"It's very gratifying to see something you made on the shelves," Sprecher said. "Muskie fishermen—I know them well because I'm one of them—will buy anything that's different than what their buddies are throwing. Anything that might induce a strike."
Eye on growth
With his Airheads and Power Tails now in stores and patents pending, Sprecher says he's working on a number of prototype lures to eventually expand his product line. He also is working with UND's Center for Innovation, which is developing a website for his company and has provided grant funding and other assistance.
Eventually, Sprecher says he'll have to explore options for expanding production if additional major retailers come onboard as expected.
"I'll probably have to make 10 times as many components as I'm making now," he said. "I'm looking into either having those made for me or spending a lot of money on new molds that would increase my productivity."
As a muskie angler, Sprecher has an ideal testing ground for his products on Cass Lake, where he and his wife, Bonnie Baglien Sprecher, are building a lake home that's nearing completion.
Sprecher, who grew up in Illinois, spent several summers in his teens and early 20s working as a dockboy at an uncle's resort on Cass Lake, where he initially met Bonnie.
They rekindled their connection about four years ago through a Facebook chat that led to a fishing rendezvous. Both single at the time, they were married eight weeks later, and Sprecher left his job as sales rep for a cabinet company and moved from Illinois to Grand Forks to help his wife with GoodInsurance, her downtown insurance and financial business.
In a sense, they've come full circle from those long-ago teen flirtations.
"It has always been a dream of mine to be up here in the area close to Cass Lake, and now I'll be able to spend a lot more time there," Sprecher said.
His wife, Sprecher says, deserves a lot of the credit for his early success in the fishing industry, which now is his primary vocation.
"I came up with this idea, and she really encouraged me because she knows how much I love to go ahead and pursue it," he said. "I'm pretty excited about that, given the opportunity, so we keep moving forward.
"I came out with a pretty cool finished product other people like, so I've been blessed more than anything."