BEAVER DAM — Slop Frog Mama has earned her name.
She toils on Beaver Dam Lake’s south shore in the basement of her home where old Presto deep fryers are used to melt and mix plastic that is poured into molds. Plastic tails are added later, typically in the upstairs living room while she watches episodes of “Big Bang Theory,” “Modern Family” and the PBS hit “Doc Martin.”
Amy McQuin started her career as a school teacher and later became a stay-at-home mom. She now makes bins of Slop Frog bass baits that are neatly and temporarily stored where luggage and Christmas decorations once called home. And if the plan plays out, McQuin and her husband, Steve, who runs the business side of the operation, may need to a find a bigger space for their C to C Bait Co., named after their children, Chloe, 11, and Calvin, 8.
“There’s opportunity for us to really grow,” said Amy McQuin, who signs each invoice with her Slop Frog Mama nickname. “I don’t have a business background, but I’m learning.”
For the time being, the McQuins, both 43, are making only Slop Frogs, designed to be used in heavy weed cover, in a variety of colors. By this summer, they plan to add a Slop Frog that is three times larger and targeted at muskie anglers. The ultimate goal is to eventually manufacture, market and distribute a series of custom baits designed by anglers who either don’t have the time, ability or desire to run a bait company.
The Slop Frog, for example, was designed by Jim Torgerson, a Madison native and tournament bass fisherman. He designed his Slop Frog in the late 1990s after becoming frustrated with the performance of other weedless, lightweight top water baits that offered inconsistent hook sets. Between 2002 and 2008, Torgerson sold about 35,000 of the three-quarter ounce baits but quit after his business partner moved away and the economy went in the tank.
A year later, in 2009, Steve McQuin met Torgerson, who worked for a maintenance company that serviced McQuin’s office building. They started talking fishing and in 2013 reached an agreement in which Torgeson would continue to design baits and the McQuins would do everything else.
“We found the story behind Jim very compelling,” Steve McQuin said. “We want to create a line of baits designed by guys like Jim and help them take it to the next level.”
Wisconsin is rich with businesses geared toward fishing. National big-box sporting good retailer Gander Mountain was founded in 1960 in Wilmot. Frabill is based in Jackson, Uncle Josh in Fort Atkinson and high-end rod manufacturer St. Croix Rod in Park Falls. HT Enterprises, known for its ice fishing gear, is based in Campbellsport, while Fishidy (Madison) and Lake-Link (Princeton) are nationally known web-based businesses offering reports, tips and maps for anglers.
But there are scores of anglers who design and sell their own line of baits.
Some, like legendary muskie angler Joe Bucher, founder of Musky Hunter magazine in St. Germaine and who is an author and television host, distribute nationwide and into Canada. Others, however, may be limited to selling their baits to just a few area bait shops.
Steve McQuin estimates there are about 70,000 freshwater baits on the market with only about 5,000 of those made by major manufacturers like Rapala and Heddon. That leaves scores of lure designers for the McQuins to court. In their first year, the McQuins expect to make 15,000 to 20,000 baits that sell for $6.49 online. Their goal is to add three baits in 2015 with continued growth after that.
“Pretty quickly, we’ll be up to 100,000 baits a year,” Steve McQuin said. “We’re trying to create this marketplace for these artisan baits. Some (designers) only make 50 baits a year.”
For now, the McQuins’ distribution is limited to their website and a handful of locally owned bait and tackle shops in Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Tomahawk, Winneconne and Beaver Dam. Ultimately, they’d like to expand into larger retailers like Fleet Farm and Scheels, and then get product into the southern U.S. where bass fishing is a religion.
In February, the McQuins sold 250 Slop Frog baits at the Madison Fishing Expo and had 4,000 of the baits included in the April shipment for Mystery Tackle Box, a monthly subscription bait service.
“That’s when my hobby turned into a job,” said Amy McQuin, who had less than a month to complete the order. “I had never poured 4,000 frogs before.”
Amy grew up in Appleton and Steve in Milwaukee where he graduated from Rufus King High School. They met while both were at UW-Oshkosh and were married in 1997. Amy initially taught at a Milwaukee middle school before moving to teach elementary school in Shorewood and then in the Hamilton School District in Sussex.
Steve taught middle school in Milwaukee before embarking on an information technology career, including 14 years at Exacta Corp. in Brookfield. He now works in Madison with an office view of Lake Monona for Farwell Projects Advisors, a firm that helps businesses with expansions and cost-saving decisions. Jason Potter, owner of Farwell, is helping the McQuins with the bait company’s social media.
“That whole (consulting business) background has certainly helped us understand what a small business goes through,” Steve McQuin said. “We know how to lay out a plan.”
But the worker bee is Slop Frog Mama Amy. She’s never been one to crochet, knit or sew but has done small woodworking projects and loves to work in the kitchen.
“This kind of really is almost like cooking,” she said. “There’s a lot of measuring involved and the heating process was easy for me to pick up. It’s kind of like heating up a stew.”