iBass360 pro staff Sean McKiernan has a special relationship with Zee Bait Co founder Hunter Grogan. The two often get together on the water to test Hunter’s designs against crafty old bass. But this time, the two got together to discuss Hunter’s dream of starting a bass bait company. Here’s a snippet of their discussion over a couple beers.
Sean: Hey Hunter,what inspired you to start making and marketing your own lures?
Hunter: Zee Bait Co. was born out of a love of fishing over a lifetime. I have a background in design and I found a real enjoyment in mold making, designing products for fishing with my friends, and a real satisfaction in making baits that would last a lot longer than the one’s I paid a premium for on-line or at the tackle shop. I wanted to make bait that did not go to the trash or to the bottom of the lake so quickly.
Sean: So how did you go about doing that?
Hunter: I saw a need in the market place for a simplistic bait that could be adapted to multiple rigging applications. That became the focus of my designs. Then I combined some knowledge of materials with my passion for fishing and began designing baits that could be rigged an a multitude of ways. I believed this would be how Zee Bait Co. could differentiate itself by the other soft plastic companies in the market place. I truly believe anglers would not need to have massive tackle boxes if they had a few good baits that could be rigged in 20+ different ways. Beyond my designs, I knew I needed to focus on the quality of material and produced affordable baits for anglers who almost always prefer to buy 100% in USA made.
Sean: Do think your designs are best applied to a particular style of fishing, a particular species of fish or a particular type of water? Which of these has the most influence on you?
Hunter: I like to think I take a wholeistic approach to designing baits. Yes, they are primarily for bass fishing, but here in southeastern Pennsylvania we have a wide variety if local waters that present a lot of different situations to the angler. The lower Susquehanna River/Upper Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, northern bass factories like Oneida, Ontario, Erie, Cayuga, river systems like the Delaware, Potomac and James as well as local lakes in the Poconos and throughout New Jersey all present great situations to challenge our bait designing skills for both largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Sean: So bass are your passion?
Hunter: Definitely but this doesn’t mean that our products don’t work for Muskie, Northern, Crappie, Perch, Stripers and more. We stick to what we know best from the time we first started selling products to today. For 2018 we do plan to expand 2 of our products into the Inshore fishing scene with new colors for these saltwater species.
Sean: Once you decided to market your products, how did you go about promoting your business and spreading the word?
Hunter: Spreading the word about our products is done primarily via social media. We use Instagram (@zeebaitco) heavily. I have found that a picture really does say 1000 words, and anglers know that! The first thing I ask my friends after a fishing trip is “Can I see your pictures?” This becomes my best source of spreading the good word of our catching ability. Another way we promote Zee Bait is simply by word of mouth from angler to angler. We have a select groups of anglers we call “Pro Team” and “Field Staff”. These anglers are selected based on their use of our product line. Anglers who use our products are the ones who know them the best and can promote their love of our products and the sport in general.
Sean: How do you decide what to keep on the market and what to take off the market?
Hunter: Well, I can’t have pride of design. I have to look first at the sales for the year. Fishing takes time and unfortunately, it does take time for anglers to get out there and use our products. So we do need to be patient. We all have baits that have been in the back of the tackle box, waiting for the right time and situation. Then, the stars align and you grab that product and land a monster! So we try to give the process at least a year. We have already retired a few colors, but I have a plan to bring them back as retro colors for those anglers who did like them or anglers who have discovered our lures but are looking for a specific color.
Sean: How did you go about deciding what materials to use to optimize your bait performance?
Hunter: When starting Zee Bait Co. material quality was our first concern. I knew materials were critical even before focus on unique designs. We tested various plastic blends for nearly 8 months before narrowing in on one we really liked. We wanted a plastic that was first and foremost eco-friendly. We have to make sure we as fishermen are focused on the sustainability of our favorite fisheries. The plastic we use contains no phthalates (PVC, BPA or other toxic plasticizers) which are common in lower quality plastics.
Second, I was really zeroed in on durability. We did not want to be a One-Fish-Wonder. I think the right duration is to have a 4-6 fish average per bait. Third was making sure we had fish attracting powers- that means smell and motion flexibility. Many anglers have mentioned to us that Zee Bait Co. soft plastics have “self-healing powers”. This is how we knew had the right material.
Sean: If you could only use just one of your baits for 1 year, which would it be and why?
Hunter: Just one? Wow, that is putting me on the spot. If there was just one bait for 1 year and no other bait available, I would take the Bamboo Bomber S! This bait may just be the most versatile bait on the market today. It is a creature or craw-style bait with a 5” profile. Regardless of time of year it’s my go-to bait. My preferred rigging technique using my favorite Green Magic color is on a 3/0 Super Swing 5/16th oz. jig or using a ½ oz weight. Zee makes a Super Swing wobble head that is extremely durable and uses the super sharp Gamakatsu hook. This is perfect for popping off the bottom or dragging through just about any situation I fish.
Sean: Any last things we need to know bout Zee Bait?
Hunter: We are based out of Spring City, PA, close to Pottstown. I debuted the company to the public in February 2016 and, since then, we have been growing pretty fast. My main goal with Zee Bait Co. is to create a bait and tackle company that thrives based on true innovation and bringing quality that anglers can count on every time they cast to a target. I stand by my initial dream for Zee Bait Co. to specialize in design and manufacturing of premium quality products that allow anglers like me to spend more time on the water catching fish and less time worrying about the quality of their bait and tackle. The plan is to take the company into as many local tackle shops as we can, and eventually to retailers like tacklewarehouse.com and the big box stores. The products we make are tournament grade but at a price pond hoppers can afford. In 2018 we hope our new products will kick open some large doors.
Hunter Grogan has degrees in Environmental Design B.F.A. and Business Art and Design M.P.S. He is the owner of Zee Bait Co. LLC Sean Mckiernan is also from SE Pennsylvania. In addition to his work with iBass360, Sean is the founder of Fishing Fiends- an on line community of anglers- and a member of Bucks County Anglers Club Fishing Team. He is pro staff with Ardent Rods & Reels and Zee Bait Co. This is Sean’s first blog for iBass360 and we look forward to hearing