The American Dream is alive and well in the fishing world.
My son Dawson Barringer is not your typical kid. It’s not unusual for kids to get fascinated by fishing at a young age, but most of them are thrilled to catch bluegills and crappies. Size doesn’t matter—action is the name of the game. Well, Dawson started out like that. But it didn’t last long.
By age eight, he was eaten up by the muskie fishing bug. It’s hard to say what causes something like that, but Dawson caught it early, and he caught it bad.
Even before he reached 10 years of age, he could fish for muskies all day and not want to go home when it got dark. He had little success, but kept working at it. Most days in the summer, he would wake up in the morning and his goal for the day would be to find someone to take him muskie fishing.
Fast forward a few years when he turned 15. By now he had a couple nice fish to his credit and he had his own small boat. On many mornings I would drop Dawson and his boat into one of any number of lakes near our home and then go to work. Dawson would fish until I came to pick him up after work.
By that time, Dawson had an interest in building his own baits. He also had the fact that he would be turning 16 the next summer in the back of his mind and he wanted some wheels so he wouldn’t have to rely on Dad for transportation. He had been tinkering with some bucktail spinner designs and had come up with something pretty unique. Could he sell this lure to local bait shops and possibly earn enough money to feed his muskie fishing habit, and maybe even earn enough to get something with four wheels a trailer hitch?
Dawson and I fished the bait and tweaked it until we were both convinced he had something pretty good. In fact, I knew he had something pretty special. There was nothing else quite like it on the market. When I looked at all the positive aspects of this bait, I was amazed that a 15-year-old kid came up with it. Playing on its unique character, he decided to name it the “Muskie Maverick.”
The bait has the look of a saltwater lure but it also has some features that cannot be found on any other bucktail. It has a hinge, or joint, in the middle that serves several purposes. First of all, it makes it impossible for the fish to bend the wire. That’s important to a teenager—when baits cost $25 to $30, it really stinks when a fish bends one up. Because the hooks are separate from the main part of the lure, muskies and northern pike that come to the surface and shake their heads cannot get any leverage to throw the bait. Hooking and landing percentages approach 100 percent with this bait. Additionally, this joint has a split ring, and the holographic skirt is made on a silicone hub so it is a matter of taking 30 seconds with split-ring pliers to replace the skirt. No other bucktail on the market offers these features.
Dawson and I took the Maverick into the offices of Lindner Media in Brainerd, and asked the guys there what they thought of it. They were genuinely impressed and encouraged Dawson to market the bait. Specifically, James Lindner and Dan Sura gave him a lot of encouragement, Dawson said. Armed with this newfound confidence, Dawson determined to become a lure manufacturer. But he had a problem.
High-quality lure components are expensive, and Dawson did not have the money to go into production. Dawson had made some money detasseling corn in Iowa during the summer, but he had used all that capital to buy parts to get the bait just right. But now he was tapped out. Fortunately, I was just as enthusiastic about the bait as everyone else, and I bankrolled the manufacture of the first 100 baits to test and see if they would sell.
Testing of the Maverick’s sales potential at some local bait shops proved positive, and he knew he had a winner almost right away. He poured all the profits back into more components and spent long hours in the workshop building baits. They were starting to sell well, and reports were coming in that fish were being caught on them.
We then took a couple of the baits to Doug Stange, editor of In-Fisherman magazine to get his reviews on the bait. Doug is recognized across North America as a muskie expert. Doug was not only impressed, but he put the bait in the In-Fisherman muskie and pike guide publication. That gave Dawson’s bait immediate credibility, and sales momentum was really growing.
By the end of the first year, the lure had sold more than 1,300 units, and they kept selling as word spread and more big fish were caught on them. The entire family was helping build baits, and there are now nine color combinations. The Muskie Maverick, a bait designed by a 15-year-old, has become a staple of many muskie anglers’ tackleboxes.
There have also been some growing pains. The realities of business can be hard at times. Dawson has had to learn the hard way about slow-paying (and non-paying) customers. He has also learned that the government likes to get their piece of your success—and that the cost of doing business can be huge at times. This is no gravy train, and the money has to go back into the business to keep momentum going. Dawson has not taken much money out of the business, although is he now driving a used Ford Explorer. He prefers to keep putting the profits back into the business and growing it.
While most of Dawson’s 60 dealers are mom-and-pop retailers, Bass Pro Shops showed an interested in the lure. That’s big business, and it takes retailing to a whole new level. To have a bait in Bass Pro shops there are some big-ticket hurdles that have to be cleared. Dawson had to purchase a $2 million product liability insurance policy, get UPC certified, and have the baits blister packaged, among other things. All told, it was several thousand dollars, and countless hours of work and learning the processes (with help from Dad), but he was up for it. A large order from Bass Pros Shops made it all worthwhile. How many 16-year-olds do you know have a lure in Bass Pro Shops?
Dawson now owns a blister-sealing machine, because Bass Pro requires all their lures to be packaged. The combo “bonus” package now being sold at BPS is a card with one Maverick and one extra skirt. The fact that you can change skirts is one of the key selling points for this lure, and BPS wants to capitalize on that.
So Dawson is busy building baits and filling orders. He also has a website with information about the lures and a list of retailers: www.hotmuskielures.com. Is his business cutting into his fishing time? “Every time I go fishing I am testing and improving,” he told me. “I am also trying a lot of new things. So I am fishing just as much, but with a little different purpose.”
Where does Dawson go from here? “I have a new bait I am going to be testing a lot this summer. It is totally different from anything you have seen before.”
The sky is the limit for Dawson Barringer, the teenage kid who turned a muskie fishing passion into an empire. Through hard work and a passion for muskie fishing, has taken the American Dream to a whole new level.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.
Images courtesy Bernie Barringer