Interview with Riot baits

I recently had the opportunity to fish with Riot Baits owner Matt Stark and talk about his new company Riot Baits. I know every angler at least once in their life has had an idea on how to make a bait better. We have all dreamed of making it in the fishing industry but few are brave to put it all on the line and take a chance.

1. When did you start bass fishing?

My grandmother lived on a small lake in Michigan and I use to spend a lot of time there. Since my mother was the oldest of thirteen, my younger uncles would take me fishing with them. I would load a small hook with live worms and catch blue gills while my uncles used artificial lures to catch bass. My uncles would tease that live bait was for babies and lazy people, so it didn’t take long for me to start casting and reeling plastic grubs, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. I didn’t want to be “lazy” or a “baby”. I was probably six or seven. In 1985 my parents moved our family to Wichita, Kansas. It was there I had my first taste of competition with bass fishing. I joined a junior bass fishing club and in ’86 I won the Flint Hill’s Junior Bass Angler Championship. I still own that trophy. I only competed a few years though. I was at that age when you discover girls and got into rock climbing, so competitive bass fishing didn’t become part of my life again until I was older.

2. What made you want to start Riot Baits?
Initially I didn’t start out to make a bait company. I have always been a creative person and I had some ideas for plastic baits that I felt would work, so I just started melting plastic and making my own lures in the kitchen of our apartment. I started getting really into it, so I wrote a business plan and used whatever money I had to get “real” prototype molds of my designs. Some of the designs, like the Fuzzy Beaver, had innovative elements like our Alternating Ridge Design (A.R.D) on the claws that made them unique. I knew that in order to protect my investment, I needed to file for patents. Patents aren’t cheap, and that is when things started getting real. Thankfully, I was able to find an investor who saw the potential of our baits and could see the direction the brand was headed.

3. You own a successful rock climbing magazine. Did that help you break into the fishing industry?
(laughing) Yes and no. Most of my fishing buddies don’t know that I made a living in the climbing industry for most of my life. You certainly would not know I was a climber if you looked at me today, but 60lbs ago, it was my life. Age, injuries and subsequent weight gain keep me from climbing today, but back in 2008, I started a climbing publication called Dead Point Magazine (DPM). I think DPM provided an education in business and a better understanding of media and marketing. When I first started the publication, I was working 18 hour days to get it off the ground. There were days that I never knew if it rained, snowed or if the sun was even still in the sky. All I knew during that period of my life was that sitting in front of a computer screen for that many hours isn’t healthy. When I had time off, which was rare, I found myself spending a lot more time fishing the banks of rivers and ponds near the house just to take a break from thinking about rock climbing. At the time, I was living in West Virginia near the New River Gorge, which has some awesome small mouth fishing.

4. How did you end up in New Jersey?
My wife is from New Jersey and she had stroke-like symptoms while exercising. It turned out she was born with a ¾ inch hole in the septum of her heart. The doctors were actually surprised she had lived as long as she had without serious complications. Three doctors in West Virginia said the only option for her was open heart surgery. At 28 years of age, that was not an option we wanted to hear. We went to NJ to stay with her parents in order to seek out better medical attention. I grew up in the south my whole life, so the adjustment wasn’t easy, but I think it is important that my wife is near her family and if other complications arise, we are near some of the best hospitals in the country. Living in NJ sounds worse than it actually is. We live on a lake and have beer and deer out our back door. We are within a short drive from a lot of diverse fisheries like Lake Champlain and the Susquehanna Flats, which is nice too.

5. Did you get any advice from other people in the industry before starting Riot Baits?
Yeah, I did. I actually saw an interview somewhere with Bob from Powerteam Lures where he said he would be glad to give advice to anyone who wanted to start a bait company. Well, I called him and he shared some pitfalls to avoid. Bob is a great guy and he makes some awesome lures. We ended up fishing together using his baits and caught a load of fish. It isn’t often you meet people in a competitive industry that are willing to help someone along like that. I owe him a great deal of thanks. I also owe a lot to several mentors in my local club, who have guided me through this process.

6. What goes into coming up with designs for your baits?
I don’t have a degree in aquatic dynamics, so a lot of times it is trial and error. Each little change means you a new prototype mold needs to be created. That gets expensive and time consuming. When I design baits, I design them for my needs as a fishermen based on how I fish. That sounds selfish, but I think my needs match the needs of most fishermen out there.

7. How long do you fish a prototype before it goes into production?
The Fuzzy Beaver took almost two years. It largely depends on how many revisions need to be made. Each prototype mold takes a while to be made. Then you need to spend time on the water with the lure and ask yourself, “Does it catch fish and could it be better?” If changes need to be made, you need another prototype mold before you can go through the R&D again. Once the design is finalized, you are have to wait for the production mold before you can begin injecting it.

8. What sets your company apart from other companies?
From a branding stand point, Riot stands apart from the rest in the respect that the name “Riot” will speak to the anglers who grew up getting kicked out of the golf course for fishing or told they couldn’t skateboard in the mall parking lot. Our brand represents the general feeling of discontent with “the corporate establishment”. We are not a group of investors who created a lure company because we wanted to exploit the fishing industry. We are a small group of individuals who are passionate about fishing and committed to helping others catch fish. We know we are going to shake up the industry with our designs. We might not take down “The Man”, but we are going to break some of his windows and fire bomb his office. I’m speaking figuratively of course.

9. Did you have any set-backs in the beginning?
Yeah. We had an injector who over promised and never fulfilled on their promise. That delayed our launch by over three months. There have been other things too, but I think every new company is going to stumble a few times.

10. Where is Riot going in 2015?
Riot Baits will be in the Big O, Lake Champlain, Guntersville, Table Rock, Sam Rayburn, Clear Lake and on every other local lake in your region (chuckling). We will be launching several new baits in 2015 and expanding our terminal tackle line-up.

11. Jamie Hartman just took 1st place and big bass in the Bassmasters Weekend Series on Oneida lake with 21.49 lbs with a 5.44 lunker! He is on the “R” Unit, Riot’s pro staff. How is that shaping up?
Jamie’s success has been indicative to the success people are having with our baits. As far as “R” Unit goes…it’s actually hard work. Right now it seems we are getting requests from every kid with an Instagram account and a Zebco 606 for free swag. Some companies may be ok with sponsoring every one out there who asks, but I prefer to keep “R” Unit more of an exclusive club. I don’t mean that Riot is only looking for tournament anglers. That just isn’t the case. We want good people who are approachable, articulate, understand social media and if they happen to win tournaments in their area, that is a bonus. What is also important is that they use the lures and believe in the product. A huge pet peeve of mine is hearing from anglers who already have a half dozen soft plastics sponsors and they want to get sponsored by Riot. I usually tell them to focus on promoting the brands they are already working with. I call those people “pro-hoes” because they aren’t faithful.

12. Any advice for anglers that share your desire to start a lure company?
Spend time writing a business plan and research the market. It is an incredibly competitive industry and of the thousands of bait companies that emerge each year, one will make it. Those odds aren’t that good, so you need to be ready for the long bumpy road. Budget accordingly. Make sure to create a clear timeline of what you want to accomplish and when.

13. Where can we buy Riot Baits?
Riot Baits are available at Tacklewarehouse.

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