For Fishing's Sake
Leland’s Lures and The Story of the Trout Magnet
By Madison Hedrick Photos courtesy AGraham Taylor/NOVO STUDIO
Jeff Smith found a way to make a living doing what he loved: fishing. Jeff started experimenting with lures over 20 years ago while living in West Virginia, long before he became the owner of Leland’s Lures. Like many of us, Jeff and his friend--now business partner--Todd Leland Garner, began experimenting in Jeff’s garage with different lure types. They took it beyond the traditional dip-dying and repainting; his friend had some plastic molds that were used to make cake decorations. Jeff saw these and found out he could use them to mold plastic. After testing and trying different types, one specific size and weight would fall flat—not like the regular jigs usually used for trout and crappie, which fall headfirst. Something about this bait was different; it was as if the trout couldn’t resist it. Jeff thought he had hit the gold mine—in trout. Never did he imagine where this one bait would take him.
In the ‘90s, Jeff made a move to the Natural State to attend Harding University in Searcy. The local trout streams gave Jeff many opportunities to fish and refine his lure. After college, Jeff returned to West Virginia hoping to teach and to work as a youth minister in small churches. Jeff kept fishing in West Virginia, and people started to take note of Jeff and his friends ripping lips and catching more trout than anyone else in the area. Of course, like most of us, Jeff was reluctant to share his secret and kept it in his small circle of friends and fellow fishermen. But, the secret got out—Jeff had a new lure he made himself, which he called the Trout Magnet. As fate would have it, Jeff returned to Arkansas for a short time to recruit students to Harding University and met his wife, Bridget. He also was in the early stages of getting his bait to market.
So, when you have a new bait, what is your first step? Well, most of us would start small, but Jeff started with retail giant Walmart. When a local Walmart in West Virginia wanted to sell Jeff’s baits in 1996, Jeff began to prepare for his first venture into the market. But suddenly, the rules changed. “The very next year, Walmart changed its policy and all sales had to go through Bentonville. I was one year late,” Jeff said. It seemed to him that the opportunity had passed.
But, one fateful day at that same local Walmart, the manager called Jeff, “A guy is in the store today and can help you out. He is the east coast manager of Walmart and you need to get in here,” Jeff remembers the manager saying. So, Jeff went to Walmart and offered to take the man fishing. “We smoked ’em that day,” Jeff recalls. One week later, Jeff had signed a deal with Walmart. The original order was for 544 packets, and Jeff brought them into the store himself. By the afternoon every unit had sold. The Trout Magnet became the #1 selling trout lure. Since launch, Jeff has sold over 150 million Trout Magnets, and he has expanded the line to include baits for crappie and an assortment of colors, heads, tails and other products.
Internet orders and other small orders are filled at the Searcy location, while larger orders are filled at the facility in West Virginia. Jeff takes pride in his lures and who makes them: at any given time he employs at least 40 people with disabilities who assemble the lures.
The most recent development in the line involves a partnership with Willie Robertson of Duck Commander. This series of baits is part of “Commander Life,” and you can already buy the Fin Commander in Walmart and other local stores.
Local storeowner Tony Zimmerman, of Zimmerman Sports Stores at 5223 South University Avenue in Little Rock has a lot to say about Jeff and his baits. “Jeff is a super guy. Can’t get a better person. He’s a great Christian and a down to earth person. You would never know he has this big company. Good ol’ country boy.” When asked about when and why he started carrying Jeff’s baits, Tony Zimmerman continued, “I started carrying his baits 10 years ago—I knew him as a friend—and I was kind of hesitant, but then, gosh, everybody was requesting them. Now I have to reorder every two weeks.”
Zimmerman sees the AGFC as a driving force in pushing these units off the shelves in his store. “Especially with the stocking involved in the Urban Stocking Program. In fact, [Game and Fish] just stocked the trout last week […]and the Trout Magnet works great for that. Anybody can come by here to the store, I’ll show them what to get, and where to go, and they can catch these trout.” I went by Zimmerman’s and Tony was not joking; he will set you up to fish in just 15 minutes.
If you want the real-life, on-the-river experience, fear not: Sore Lip ’Em All Guide Service is available to anyone interested in using the Trout Magnet and getting the real experience of the Little Red River. The service combines the experience and knowledge of spin fishing with the Trout Magnet and fly-fishing to create the best-of-its-kind guide service. You can go online and book a four- or eight-hour trip.
When I asked Jeff where he would fish if he knew today was his last day and his last trip, Jeff quickly responded, “The Little Red River. Below the bridge. No doubt. That’s where I’d go.”