Riot Fishing: An Interview with Matt Stark

Matt Stark and two New Jersey largemouth bass.

Recently, Matt Stark and I exchanged a series of e-mails and a telephone conversation about several of Riot's new baits.

During one of those exchanges, Stark, who is the proprietor of Riot Fishing LLC, revealed that his company is a newcomer to the world of tackle manufacturing and trade. That provoked us to explore why, how, when, and where he got involved into this business.


Since we began In-Fisherman's Midwest Finesse column in August of 2011, we have had a hankering to write about the entrepreneurial endeavors of folks who possess the wherewithal to start-up a tackle business, and he agreed to allow us to write about his endeavors in the fishing tackle world.


Here is a condensed and edited version of our exchanges:

Q. How old are you?

A.  I am 41 years old.

Q. Where do you live?

A. I live at Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. We moved here in 2011 from West Virginia so that my wife, Megan, could be closer to her family. We lived in West Virginia from 2007 to 2011, but prior to that we lived in North Carolina, which is where I went to high school and college. We moved to West Virginia because my wife and I were traveling there frequently to go rock climbing at the New River Gorge. After moving there, I discovered that the New River Gorge was blessed with some amazing smallmouth bass fishing in addition to being a premiere climbing destination.

The smallmouth bass in the New River are really aggressive, and to be honest, little skill is required to catch a lot of good-sized bass there. Upon moving to New Jersey, I had to learn to be a more thoughtful and thorough angler. New Jersey's lakes are so heavily pressured with anglers that it often seems as if we are fishing for extremely wary wild or native trout. Sometimes I wonder if the New Jersey's black bass are all vegans because it seems like they won't eat anything.

In addition to living in North Carolina, West Virginia, and New Jersey, I have lived in Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Tennessee. I was born in Florida.

Q. At what age did you start fishing?

A. I was fishing for bluegill when I was four or five years old. My first memory of catching a largemouth bass happened when I was about 10 years old. It probably weighed a little over a pound. I caught it on a black Mister Twister's Sassy Shiner. I thought I was the man.

Q. Did you go to college?

A. I went to college in North Carolina and worked on a bachelor's degree in business, but I did not graduate. I was making a living as a professional rock climber but dropped out of school to pursue my rock-climbing career with the intentions of eventually returning to finish my degree. I think it is safe to say, I probably won't be going back at this point.

Q. How often do you fish?

A. Once I got into tournament bass fishing, my fishing went from being a recreational activity to being a passion. I went from fishing 10 to 20 times a year to fishing more than 150 days out of the year. I work remotely from home, so it's easy for me to go out in the boat and still conduct business via my cell phone. I do a lot of business late at night too, which allows me to spend more time on the water during the day.

Q. Besides the black bass species, what other species do you focus upon?

A. I somewhat humorously call myself a monogamous bass fisherman.

Q. Is your tackle business a part-time or full-time business? If it is part-time, what else do you do?

A. I am treating it like a full-time business, but I have another full-time job. I own and operate DPM Climbing magazine. It is a rock climbing publication and website (http://www.dpmclimbing.com/). I was a professional rock climber when I was younger, but after a serious shoulder injury that led to subsequent weight gain, which is not something you want as a rock climber, I wrote a business plan for the magazine. Then I peddled the business plan for nearly two years before I found an investor to back the project. That was eight years ago. My journey towards becoming a tournament angler came about during this same period of time. Since I could no longer climb, I found myself fishing more. I was invited to fish as an observer in a local club tournament, and that triggered my competitive focus to change from rock climbing to bass fishing.

Q. What provoked you to get into the tackle business?

A. I have always had a creative bent. Consequently, as an angler, I have always enjoyed modifying baits and creating new ones. I guess you can also say I have an entrepreneurial spirit. In addition, I was getting frustrated by the limitations of what I could create with a plaster-of-Paris mold and plastisol melted in the microwave. I decided to spend some of my own money on custom computer numerical control (CNC) prototype molds for some ideas I felt were innovative. That one prototype mold turned into about a dozen over the course of two years as I perfected my designs before we launched Riot Fishing on April 2, 2014.

Q. How did you decide to call your business Riot Baits?

A. I am an anti-establishment kind of guy, and the name Riot had a good ring to it. As I have grown up, I have seen the fishing industry go from being a lot of great mom-and-pop companies to becoming a sterile corporate landscape. Most of the companies in the industry are now owned by three large conglomerates that are owned by even larger umbrella corporations. I hate seeing that. America's roots revolve around small businesses and families. All those small companies that were making lures when I was a kid were family run businesses, and back in those days, fishing was often a family affair. Now those family businesses have been bought out, and now they just revolve around corporate greed. I guess by naming our company Riot, we symbolize a resistance to that trend as we pursue the great American dream of running a small and successful family business in the fishing tackle trade. Riot also symbolizes the most visceral and violent response to an action, and that is the response we want bass to have when they see our lures in the water. Our slogan is "Don't settle for a reaction. Incite a riot."

Q. How many employees do you have at Riot Baits?

A. We are a small business. My wife and I run it. We have a sales representative who works in the southeastern states.

Q. How old is Megan, and does she fish?

A. Megan is 31 years old, and she is 4 1/2 months pregnant with our first child. We do not know if it is a boy or girl. She has fished her whole life, but not with the same fervor as I do. When she was 10 years old, she was featured on the cover of a fly fishing calendar. I think that is pretty cool. My wife is a calendar girl.

Megan Stark with a New Jersey largemouth bass.

Q. What does the future of Riot Baits look like to you at this moment?

A. I know that we have a very bright future in the fishing industry. We have several new soft plastic baits in the works at the moment. We are also launching a diverse assortment of terminal tackle to complement our existing line of lures.

Endnotes

1. In the weeks to come, we will write a gear-guide feature about Riot Fishing's Urami and Riot Stick, as well as the other baits that Matt and Megan Stark create in the future that might appeal to Midwest finesse anglers and their quarries.

2. Here is the link to our gear guide that features Riot Baits' Streaker: http://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/riot-baits-streaker/.

3. Here is the link to Riot Fishing's website: http://www.riotbaits.com/.

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