TRAVERSE CITY — Two Traverse City Central High School students went fishing on Grand Traverse Bay and caught the entrepreneurial spirit.
"I got into jigging a couple of years ago," said Jack Flynn, 17.
He and his friend, Ethan Stoops, 17, do a lot of fishing together. A jig is a type of fishing lure with a lead body; the weight allows the lure to be moved in a jerky motion, which can attract a wide variety of fish species in both winter and summer. Fishermen catch the attention of hungry fish by moving the lure up and down in the water, typically near the bottom.
"Under the sun, in summer, it's fast jigging that works," said Stoops. "In winter, it's slow."
They struggled to find commercially available jigs that attracted fish and were durable. The up-and-down jigging motion can cause the lures to bump into rocks, which makes durability an issue.
"We started looking at the market, and saw there wasn't much," Flynn said.
The two friends did see business opportunity. They hatched the idea of making and marketing their own jigs.
They researched the concept last summer, chose the business name EJ Jigs in September, bought the necessary manufacturing equipment — a small lead melting pot, a couple of molds, lead ingots, powder-coat paint supplies, hooks, shafts and split rings — and began experimenting with prototypes in the waters around Traverse City. Results proved promising.
Stoops and Flynn activated an eBay store just after Christmas. They reeled in their first order three weeks later. They've since recorded online sales in California, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin. They've sold 130 jigs, including a batch sold last week to Roy's General Store in East Bay Township. EJ Jigs soon will be available at the Tackle Box in Frankfort, Flynn said.
The pair does the hot work — lead melting and pouring — outdoors, for safety reasons. They wear safety glasses, respirators, gloves and long sleeves when working with molten lead.
The two high school juniors do everything themselves: production, marketing, sales and shipping. Prices on eBay range from $5.79 for a single ¾ ounce jig to $19.95 for a three-pack of 1 ounce jigs. Search eBay for "EJ Jigs," or shop local. Flynn and Stoops are working toward selling to more local tackle shops.
To create a jig, they place a wire shaft in a mold and pour in liquid lead to create the core of the jig. After several cores are complete, they heat each one, dunk it in powder-coat paint and then bake it to make the paint more durable. They add eyes, if the design requires, and a treble hook.
They make the lures in ¾ ounce, 1 ounce and 2 ounce weights. Experimentation in local waters has led to seven color combinations with stripes, dots and other patterns.
Stoops said dark blue or purple jigs seem to work best when it's relatively dark, while flashy colors seem to attract more fish when it's bright outside. They're considering adding glow-in-the-dark options, because that's a hot trend in the fishing industry, Flynn said.