Fishing lures once made for fun now serious business

At 34, Kelly Stooksbury has experience in several types of work, but he's finally settled on an occupation that he loves - making lures for fishing. Stooksbury says he's been a diver, a driver and a lure maker.

In 1998 he was accepted into diving school and enjoyed a career in underwater construction. After suffering a lung infection that didn't allow him to dive any longer, he took a job driving a truck for a food distributor.

For some time, Kelly and his brother, Stacy, made fishing lures for themselves and friends. Buddy McReynolds taught them the skill.

In 2003, the brothers signed a contract with Popeye's Tackle, a Japanese company. At that point, Kelly left his driving job to work full time in the business.

"I decided to take the risk to begin a business that I enjoyed and in which I could be successful. My wife, Jennifer, gave me the go-ahead, and I made the move," he said.

His business, Mimic Lures, has grown over the last five years. It is one of only a handful of companies that still produce lures using wood. Other companies have gone to plastics and other materials, but Stooksbury believes that the wooden lures are preferred by many fishermen. His shop is filled with a variety of machinery for the production of different kinds of crank baits.

The process includes up to 15 steps and is a hands-on undertaking. Sixteen drill presses are used, as well as a carving machine, airbrushes for painting, and a punch press.

After the plugs are first carved, they are put into a concrete mixing machine, where the rough edges are knocked off and lacquer is added to smooth the surfaces. Wires and weights are added at different stages. At the end, they are packaged and shipped to businesses.

Production of lures takes approximately one week.

As many as 500 crank baits can be produced at one time. Darrel Young, who for years has worked making lures, is an employee.

Presently, Stooksbury's company has a contract with Buckeye Lures and Strike King Lures. Each year, he travels to three major bass tournaments to set up a vendor's booth at the expositions.

Stooksbury says one advantage of his job is its proximity to home.

"With the prices of gas, it's great to walk out the back door and be at work," he said.

He worries about the impact of fuel prices on recreational fishing, and for that reason, he looks to markets in Japan and Australia to expand his business. The down side to self-employment, he says, is having more than just one boss (customers) and meeting multiple deadlines.

"I now understand the headaches that my former employers used to talk about," he said.

When Stooksbury isn't working a 13- or 14- hour day, he spends time with his wife and 18-month-old son, Kelson.

"It's true that it takes five years before a business makes a profit, and we've turned the corner," he said.

Stooksbury may be contacted at 865-310-8011.

Joe Rector may be reached at joerector@comcast.net.

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