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MEPPS SPINNERS, A TALE OF TWO INNOVATORS

Mepps and Sheldons’ Inc. is the story of two out-of-the-box thinkers. First came French engineer Andre Meulnart, the inventor of the original Mepps spinner in 1938. Once Meulnart had his prototypes, it did not take too much testing to realize that he had created an extremely effective fishing lure. What he did not realize was the revolutionary impact his spinner would have on the fishing industry. It would take an unusual series of events to do that. Enter Todd Sheldon. Sheldon discovered the Mepps spinner during a fishing outing in 1951. He was the owner of a successful tackle store in downtown Antigo, Wisconsin, and, during that particular outing, he was having  a tough time fishing the Wolf River for trout. With
nothing to show for an day’s effort, he knew he had to try something different or there would be no trout dinner. He rummaged through his tackle box and decided to tie on a small spinner that had been given to him by Frank Velek, a friend and WWII vet who had returned from Europe two years earlier with a handful of such spinners. In no time Sheldon, had four nice trout in the creel weighing more than twelve pounds total. Todd Sheldon was an instant believer in Velek’s lures and became determined to figure out how he could begin selling Meulnart’s spinners at his shop. Turned out that Velek had a friend, a French woman, who was willing to send Sheldon whatever spinners she could find in exchange for nylon stockings. Unfortunately, but really fortunately for the growth of his business, the lures sold faster than the woman wore out her nylons. So, Sheldon approached the French manufacturer, Mepps, to import directly. Once the flow of lures started, Sheldon could not keep them on the shelf.

The Mepps spinner used that day was the classic Mepps Aglia. Aglia was the name given to the original French spinner blade, and today the Aglia shape still accounts for the bulk of Sheldons’ sales. The backbone of the spinner was its heavy duty stainless steel shaft. Attached to this shaft was the Aglia, a concave oval blade which today comes in silver or gold plate, polished brass, copper, or painted in any number of Epoxy based colors. When drawn through the water, the Aglia blade rotates around the shaft creating flash and vibration in a combination fish can’t resist. To add a final touch of attraction, Mepps spinners are dressed with hand-tied squirrel tail. How Mepps spinners came to be dressed with squirrel tails is another interesting story. After another particularly good day on the Wolf, Sheldon was returning to his car when he met a young boy who also had a creel full of trout- each larger than Sheldon’s. He noticed the boy was also using Mepps spinners, but attached to the boy’s hooks was a small tuft of squirrel tail. Upon returning to the plant, Sheldon began experimenting with dressed hooks. He tried bear, fox, coyote, badger, skunk, deer, even Angus cow hairs, but none provided the pulsating action of the squirrel tail.

As clients of Sheldon’s shop used the lures more and more, they discovered the in-line spinners could catch all kinds of fish, not just trout. As a result, the Mepps reputation grew, and so did sales. In 1956, Todd formed Sheldons’, Inc. to focus his attention on his growing import trade. By 1960, sales of Mepps spinners in the USA had topped half-a-million, and growth continued at a steep rate. Current President, Mike Sheldon, remembered that it was at this point that his dad set an annual sales goal to sell 3-million lures, “more than any lure had ever sold on this continent”. With this kind of growth, a US plant was needed and Sheldon made the obvious choice of Antigo for its home.  Sales never skipped a beat after the ribbon cutting as they soared right past that goal and beyond surpassing Sheldon’s every dream for his business.

After his death in 1995, Mike Sheldon picked up where his father left off. Today the Company occupies a corporate headquarters encompassing almost 50,000 square feet, offering over 4,000 spinners and spoons in many different shapes, sizes, colors and hook configurations. In addition, Sheldons’, now owns Mepps S.A. (Mepps France) and Mister Twister, a premium soft plastics company in Minden, Louisiana.

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