From humble beginnings to over 18,000 jig combinations
Coralville, IA (11/30/14) – From humble basement beginnings nearly 40 years ago, Custom Jigs & Spins has stayed true to one goal – handcrafting high-quality jigs that catch fish.
“In 1988, my dad Poppee and I heard a guy in Pekin, Illinois, had an ice tackle business for sale. Since we were both engineers and fishermen, we thought we’d take a look,” says former owner and current Custom Jigs & Spins lure designer Walt Matan.
What they found in William Klingbell’s basement operation was a lot of secret equipment draped with white sheets. “Like his jigs, Klingbell was sharp. He said we’d have to buy the company to see what was underneath!”
Walt says what they found under the sheets was “a lot of hard work.”
Following the sale, Klingbell taught Walt and Poppee how to hand-pour and hand-solder jigs, and soon the father/son duo was building, packaging and shipping over half a million jigs a year. Like Klingbell, they worked in a modest basement workshop.
Matan laughs: “We moved the operation to the basement of Milio’s Hair and Wig Salon in Glenview, Illinois. Milio is a good guy but never trust a barber who wears a wig to cut your hair!”
“We were still working our day jobs, so we’d get off work, start making jigs and package until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. We trained a few high school kids to work for us, and we were all passionate about what we were doing.”
The 2-Spot, Rocker and Demon were the first jigs the two built, still classics to this day. The Rat Finkee followed, originally all hand-poured by Poppee.
Years passed and business grew by leaps and bounds as Walt and Poppee introduced new fish-catching baits.
“We got to the point where we couldn’t work our day jobs and run a tackle business,” says Walt. “So we knew it was time to sell.”
In 1997 several potential buyers visited Walt and Poppee’s shop in the basement of Milio’s Hair and Wig Salon. Like Klingbell, the father/son duo covered their equipment in sheets before buyers entered the shop.
“We had some big names look at the business but we eventually sold to Bob and Stephanie Gillispie, who planned to keep it a family-owned and operated company. So, we taught Bob about the manufacturing process and my mom, Helen, taught Stephanie packaging and shipping. Bob and Stephanie also wanted us to stay on as lure designers and consultants, which has kept us close to our baby.”
Over 17 years into ownership of the company and Matan says the Gillispies are still “keeping it real.”
“Bob and Stephanie run a family business. Bob picks up the phone and listens to ice anglers. He’s very hands on. Stephanie makes sure customers get their product on time. And several times a year we all sit down, look at customer feedback and start working on new ice tackle designs. Then Bob, Poppee, and I go out and fish the baits and continue to tweak as necessary. The goal is to build the best product possible.”
Classic jigs like the Demon, Rat Finkee, Ratso and Shrimpo continue selling like popcorn. The Diamond Jig, Gill Pill, Two-Spot, Nuclear Ant, Poppee, Rocker and Striper Special offer anglers solutions for specific ice fishing conditions. And newer offerings like the tungsten Chekai and Majmum have become instant classics. For example, the Chekai has earned acclaim for its top performance on the NAIFC pro ice fishing circuit.
Do the math and you’ll find Custom Jigs & Spins currently offers over 18,000 size, color, and jig style combinations.
But there’s more to Custom Jigs & Spins than just jigs. The company also offers a host of ice fishing finesse microplastics, giving ice anglers meatless fish-catching options to tip any CJS jig. And the Original and Pro Series Slender Spoon have earned must-have status for just about anything that swims, especially walleyes.
“We can’t build enough Slender Spoons. I’ve already shipped tens of thousands of just our new hammered Pro Series Slender Spoons and it’s not even December,” says Coralville, Iowa-based Custom Jigs & Spins owner Bob Gillispie.
But it isn’t all about product—it’s what the product does for anglers—and that’s catch fish. It’s also about a community of ice anglers who stand behind baits that work. Not surprisingly, Custom Jigs & Spins’ team continues to grow with the likes of top pros and guides throughout the Ice Belt.
Gillispie and Matan encourage anglers to provide feedback on their products via social media, e-mail, even a phone call. “We want to know your success stories and your ideas to make our products even better,” says Gillispie.
“The Custom Jigs & Spins Facebook page is a great place to post your photos and connect with the rest of the team! We want to hear from you!,” says Matan.
Matan continues: “40 years have passed since Poppee and I first stepped into William Klingbell’s basement to learn about his jigs. Today it’s still a family-run company with the same simple mission – build high-quality jigs that catch fish.”