ORLANDO, Fla. — Twelve years ago, David MacDonald was a frustrated bass tournament angler. While competing in an event on Lake Erie, MacDonald was surprised by the lack of a goby-imitating lure in local tackle stores, after he'd noticed smallmouth bass spitting them up every time he reeled one in.
MacDonald's quest to fill the needs of anglers reached a milestone Thursday when Bento Baits received a "Best of Show" award at ICAST, the world's largest sportfishing trade show. Bento Baits, made by Lunkerhunt, the company MacDonald began in his basement, took top honors in the "soft lure" category.
Best of Show photo gallery
"For me, the soft lure category is like the 100 meters at the Olympics," MacDonald said. "It's one of the most-watched (categories) and one of the most accessible to anglers.
"To get that award is phenomenal. It's both humbling and energizing."
What's particularly phenomenal is how the 40-year-old Canadian has built a big-time lure manufacturing company in such a brief time. It certainly had a humble start. MacDonald learned how to hand-pour soft plastics and created a goby-like bait that gained popularity by word of mouth.
Round gobies are an invasive species that unexpectedly became a major food source for smallmouth bass in the Great Lakes. MacDonald was the first to make a lure that imitated these small, bottom-dwelling fish.
"I started doing well in tournaments with it," said MacDonald, who lives in Toronto. "Me peers started asking for them, then the local tackle stores started buying them. It was kind of an organic tumble from there."
Lunkerhunt now makes almost 200 products. Bento Baits is MacDonald's latest effort to educate anglers and attract fish. These soft plastic lures have a holographic core that remarkably mimics the multi-colored scales of a baitfish. The scales appear to change colors as the light shifts, just like those on a shiner. Bento Baits are made in two sizes (3 and 4.5 inches) and five colors.
MacDonald believes he's got fishing in his blood; he comes from a family of anglers that trapped lobsters off the east coast of Canada. He remembers the first bass he caught, at the age of four. As a kid, "I'd get dropped off at the dock in the morning and my parents would drag me off of it at night," he said.
In 2001, MacDonald's goby imitation was being sold in Toronto-area tackle stores.
"We had the first goby bait out there," he said. "It was about three years ahead of the curve."
By 2010, Lunkerhunt had grown beyond MacDonald's ability to supply the demand for his lures. He was working as a marketing and communications manager for Canada's version of the U.S. Postal Service – Canada Post.
"I quit my job and started living the dream, as they say," he said, with a smile.
The ICAST Best of Show Award was a dream-come-true for MacDonald and his home-grown company, which now has the infrastructure to supply both Canada and the U.S.