We recently began an endeavor to publish a gear guide about all of the soft-plastic finesse baits that have been manufactured since we began publishing our Midwest Finesse column in 2011.
Part of this task has also focused on manufacturers who make customized soft-plastic baits, and they are usually a one-man or a family business. Mattingly Custom Baits of Shepherdsville, Kentucky, is one of those undertakings.
On June 22, Josh Mattingly, who is the proprietor of Mattingly Custom Baits, and I began exchanging an array of emails, which focused on the genesis of his angling career and tackle company.
He is 32 years old, and he told us that he started fishing as a toddler with a cane pole that his mother constructed from a yucca plant, and he used to fish for bluegills. As he got older, he tagged along with his father in pursuit of catfish. When he was a teenager, he became a black bass angler and fished with his older cousin, who had a bass boat. He and his cousin were primarily recreational anglers, but they did participate in some local tournaments. They also participated in the Crappie USA tournament circuit, and their greatest tournament achievement occurred when they finished in second place and mere ounces from winning a Ranger Boat. Ultimately their workaday worlds and schedules conflicted with their tournament endeavors. Even though they fared well in the crappie-tournament world, Mattingly was and remains a dyed-in-the-wool black bass angler. Nowadays, he tries to participate in a small and local club-tournament trail, and at those tournaments, he uses the baits that he manufacturers. But as his tackle business has grown, he rarely has the time to fish those local events.
When he has time to recreationally fish, he plies the waters at Nolin Lake, Kentucky, and seven other reservoirs that lie within an hour or two from his home. And a couple times of a year, he ventures to Kentucky Lake for a couple days.
Prior to becoming a bait maker, he worked in the printing industry for 10 years. He always had a great eye for color pigments and combinations. At the printing plant, he worked the third shift, and he would make baits as a hobby when he got home from work in the mornings.
In 2015, Mattingly decided to begin selling some of his baits on a part-time basis, and he thoroughly tested them before he sold them.
His inherent skills with colors in the printing trade aligned well with creating colors for soft-plastic baits. He discovered he could easily match existing and discontinued colors of other soft-plastic-bait companies. At first, this was what most of his business was. Customers would ask him, "This company used to make this color and I'm down to my last few. Can you match it?" And he could and did match those colors.
As his business started to grow, he obtained a better grasp of what most customers preferred, which helped him to gradually develop a line of core colors. He marketed them on Facebook and Instagram. Eventually, his baits became popularity with several bass fishing groups on Facebook, and it has developed a small community of followers elsewhere in the angling world.
On Nov 11, 2016, his wife gave birth to their son. And in August of 2017, he and his wife decided that it was time for him to start working on the business fulltime. He created a website, attended some tackle shows in the winter of 2017-18, and the business started to grow.
The company's logo features a portrait of the Mattinglys' family dog. As he worked on creating that logo, he concluded that most anglers love dogs, and by having the portrait of their family's dog emblazoned on the packages of the soft-plastic baits, he hoped that it would catch the attention of a lot of anglers. What's more, it subtly and inadvertently emphasizes that Matttingly Custom Baits is a family business.
When he compares his business to the key players in the soft-plastic-bait industry, he readily admits that Mattingly Custom Baits is still in its infancy.
Most of Mattingly's online sales are made to order. Therefore, he is unable to quickly ship these customized orders. Mattingly hand-pours all of the baits, and he thoroughly inspected each one, making sure that it conforms to his goal to manufacture the highest quality soft-plastic baits in the angling world. His goal is to ship each order in one week, but there will be spells during the year when it might take two weeks.
In 2019, he is hoping to purchase some equipment that will take the business to the next level in its production phase.
Ultimately, it is his goal to have his baits on the shelves at a variety of local bait shops and sporting-goods stores.
Mattingly Custom Baits manufactures 11 soft-plastic baits, and three of them are finesse ones that will catch the fancy of Midwest finesse anglers. They are the four-inch Shaky Hawg, the 3.75-inch Craw, and the Shaky Shot Worm.
Here are some details about these three soft-plastic baits.
(1) The four-inch Shaky Hawg
Midwest finesse anglers are always in search of effective creature baits, and Mattingly's Shaky Hawg might be one.
It is adorned with six appendages.
From the tip of its dome-shaped head to the end of its two somewhat spear-shaped tail appendages, it is 4 1/8 inches long.
Its round or cylinder-shaped torso is 2 1/8 inches long. It is three-eighths of an inch wide with a circumference of 1 3/16 inches.
At thirteen-sixteenths of an inch for the tip of its head, a curled appendage branches out from the each side of its torso. When they are curled, they extend about a half of an inch from the torso's side. When they are uncurled, they are about 1 9/16 inches long. They are thin and similar to the shape of a tail on a traditional curly-tailed grub.
About an eighth of an inch from the torso's anus, a somewhat paddle-shaped appendage extends from each side of the torso. These two appendages are flat, and they are 1 1/4 inches long and a half of an inch wide at the widest spot. They are thicker than the two curly appendages. The distance separating the torso's two curly appendages and the two paddle-shaped appendages is three-eighths of an inch.
The two spear-shaped appendages that radiate from the torso's anus are flat, and they are thinner than the two paddle-shaped appendages that are immediately above them. They are two inches long and five-sixteenths of an inch wide at their widest spots.
Customization of soft-plastic baits lies at the heart of Midwest finesse tactics, and consequentially, before some Midwest finesse anglers affix the Shaky Hawg to a small mushroom-style jig, they might shorten it by cutting nine-sixteenths of an inch from the front portion of its torso. When it is affixed to a mushroom-style jig with an exposed hook, anglers will present it to their black-bass quarries by employing all six of the standard Midwest finesse retrieves.
It is available in these colors: Back Water Moss, Black & Blue Beatdown, Bubble Gum, Crawdad Orange, Falcon Lake Craw, Full Synthetic, Gizzard Shad, Joker, Midnight GP, Molting Craw, PB&J Magic, Psycho Tangerine, Purple Passion, Sha-Zam, Summer Craw, Super-Bug, Swamp Craw, and Vader Red. Customized colors are available, but it takes one to two weeks to manufacture them.
A package of 10 four-inch Shaky Hawgs costs from $6.00 to $7.00.
(2) The 3.75-inch Craw
Soft-plastic crayfish have played an important role in the repertoire of Midwest finesse anglers since Dion and Guido Hibdon created the Guido Bug in 1977. Thus, most Midwest finesse anglers are always interested in all of the new renditions of crayfish, such as Mattingly's 3.75-inch Craw.
From the tip of its chelipeds or claws to the end of its abdomen, Mattingly's Craw is 3 13/16 inches long.
Its cephalothorax, which encompasses its head and thorax, is about fifteen-sixteenths of an inch long. The carapace or the dorsal's shell of the cephalothorax possesses a cephalic groove.
Except for the cephalic groove and the rostrum section on its head, the surface of its dorsal and ventral areas of the cephalothorax is smooth. The ventral area of the cephalothorax is relatively flat, and its dorsal area is curved.
Its two front walking legs, which sport the chelipeds or claws, are one and thirteen-sixteenths inches long. Each cheliped is five-eighths of an inch wide at the widest spot. The front two walking legs extend from each side of the head section of the cephalothorax and below its rostrum. They radiate from the junction of the cephalothorax's dorsal and ventral areas.
Along the junction of each side of the cephalothorax's dorsal and ventral areas, there two more walking legs. The front one is about five-eighths of an inch long, and the back one is about one inch long. They are cylinder shaped, and each one has a joint.
There is a stubby antenna that radiates from each side of its head. It is about three-eighths of an inch long, and it is round.
Its abdomen is 1 1/2 inches long and encircled with seven somites or segments. It is cylinder or round shaped. It is seven-eighths of an inch wide with a circumference of 1 7/16 inches. Its dorsal and ventral areas are identical. It is devoid of the swimmerets that grace the ventral area of a real crayfish's abdomen.
It is also devoid of telson, epodities, and endopodites that form a real crayfish's fan tail. The tip of the abdomen possesses a dome shape that is flat on top.
Before Midwest finesse anglers attach the Craw to a small mushroom-shaped jig, they will shorten it by removing several of the somites from its abdomen. The hook of the jig will be exposed, and Midwest finesse anglers will be able to employ this rig with all six of the standard Midwest finesse retrieves.
It is available in the following colors: Alligator Chomp, Bama Bug, Black & Blue Beatdown, Crawdad Orange, Ecto Pumpkin, Falcon Lake Craw, Full Synthetic, GP Purple Passion, Midnight GP, Molting Craw, PB&J Magic, Psycho Tangerine, Sha-Zam, Summer Craw, Vader Red, and Watermelon Glimmer. Anglers can order customized colors, but it takes one to two weeks to manufacture and ship them.
A package of 10 four-inch Craws costs from $6.00 to $7.00.
(3) The Shaky Shot Worm
Midwest finesse anglers have been wielding a short soft-plastic worm affixed to a small jig with an exposed hook since the 1950s and 1960s. Consequently, new renditions of finesse worms always catch these anglers' eyes.
Mattingly's Shaky Shot Worm is 5 1/8 inches long.
Its belly is flat from its mouth to its anus, and the skin of its belly is smooth. In the eyes of many Midwest finesse anglers, a flat and smooth-skinned belly facilitates the gliding motif of their swim-glide-and-shake presentation.
Its back and sides have the shape of a semi-circle.
It has a clitellum or egg sack, which begins about 1 1/2 inches from its mouth. The entire clitellum is smooth-skinned. The belly portion of the clitellum is flat, and its back and sides possess the shape of a semi-circle. The clitellum is nine-sixteenths of an inch long. It is about five-sixteenths of an inch wide with a circumference of about an inch.
The back of the torso, which stretches from the tip of its head to the beginning of the clitellum, possesses 18 small ribs. This section is about 1 1/2 inches long and three-eighths of an inch wide at its widest spot with a circumference of 1 1/8 inches.
From the end of the clitellum to its anus, there are 39 tiny ribs. This section is 3 1/16 inches long. The width and circumference of this section becomes progressively smaller as it approaches the junction of the tail.
The bottom half of the sides of the torso and tail are not ribbed. Instead, they are smooth like its belly and clitellum.
The anus of a real earthworm is cone shaped or pencil-point shaped. The anus area of Mattingly's worm possesses an elliptical-shaped tail, and some might refer to it as possessing somewhat of a paddle-shape. It is about an inch long. At is widest spot, it is about a quarter of an inch wide with a circumference of about fifteen-sixteenths of an inch.
It is available in the following colors: Bama Bug, Clear Water, Crawdad Orange, Ecto Pumpkin, Electric Chartreuse, Joker, Kenobi Blue, Lime Green, Molting Craw, Psycho Tangerine, Purple Passion, Sha-Zam, Sucker Punch, and Watermelon Glimmer. Customized colors are available, but it takes one to two weeks to manufacture them.
A package of 20 costs from $6.00 to $7.00.
(1) Mattingly has created a new drop-shot worm, which will be available for anglers to purchase in the near future. When it is available, we hope to publish a gear guide about it.
(2) Here is a link to Mattingly Custom Baits' website: https://www.mattinglycustombaits.com/.
(3) Here is a link to one of our columns that explains how and where Midwest finesse anglers employ their six standard retrieves: https://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/six-midwest-finesse-retrieves/.