The Weird and Wonderful World of Mepps

The Weird and Wonderful World of Mepps

5 June 2018

In France, 1939, Andre Meulnart invented the Mepps spinner - an acronym of “Manufacturier d’Engins de Precision pour Peches Sportives”, or “Precision Equipment for Sport Fishing”. In the 1950’s, the spinner was given to Todd Sheldon (then owner/operator of Sheldon’s Sport Shop in Antigo, Wisconsin) by a WWII veteran who’d discovered it during his time in Europe. Sheldon was sceptical of the lure at first, but found himself out of other options during a particularly challenging fishing trip on Wisconsin’s Wolf River. He cast it out, and landed four 12lb+ trout within two hours! Hooked, Todd Sheldon began selling Mepps spinners in his own store.

The story goes that the veteran who gave him the lure knew a French woman who would exchange lures for replacement nylon stockings. Unfortunately, the spinner was selling far more quickly than she was wearing out her hosiery. Following this success, Todd Sheldon sold his existing store to form Sheldon’s Inc in 1956. Just 4 years later, Mepps spinner sales in the USA had topped 500,000. Sheldon’s son, Mike, has since taken over the business from his late father. They now manufacture over 4000 varieties of spinners and spoons, all from their 50,000 sq ft plant in Antigo, WI.

French Spinners, American Values

Todd Sheldon, Mike Sheldon

Left-Right, Todd Sheldon, Mike Sheldon

Rather than mechanising their manufacturing process, Mepps craft, paint and assemble their lures by hand in the USA. Few other tackle/lure manufacturers can claim this, which is a source of pride for Sheldon’s Inc. Their staff are treated like family, their jobs stay local, and many of them work there for their lifetimes. This also means that Sheldon’s can keep a close eye on the quality of all their spinners and spoons, ensuring the highest standards.

Fishing’s Fluffy Friend

“Squirrel Tails Wanted" sign near the Mepps plant on Wisconsin's Highway 45.

Mepps are also known for using a material that may seem strange to some – squirrel tail hair. This practice started when, again, Todd Sheldon was out fishing and had caught a pretty decent collection of trout. He saw a young man returning from a trip and was keen to show off his successes. To his surprise (and as I’m sure many of you can imagine, dismay) the lad showed off his trout in return – all of them bigger than Sheldon’s. He asked what the boy had caught them on, who produced a Mepps spinner with a tuft of squirrel hair on the end.

Sheldon began testing squirrel hair on his lures, along with other types of animal tails - from skunk, raccoon and fox to sheep, goat and deer. They found that little came close to squirrel tails, which have no underlying fur. Mepps lures also often use deer tail hair, which they dye different colours, plus chicken, turkey and marabou (stork chest) feathers. Squirrel tails remain their favourite however, and they hold the largest collection of squirrel tails in the world at approximately 400,000! Mepps carefully wash, dry and trim the tails, and are always after more – which is why they pay hunters for them. It’s worth noting that Mepps do not advocate hunting squirrels just for their tails, and ask only for the tails of squirrels that have already been hunted for meat and/or fur, because these are usually discarded and wasted. The largest number of tails sent by an individual hunter currently stands at 5,475.

Why Imitation Isn’t Everything

Andre Muelnart’s original drawing of a “Mepps Shimmy” lure

The majority of lures on the market today imitate fish, insects and other small animals that may entice fish. Theoretically, these attract feeding fish who will mistake the lure for a morsel. The Mepps spinner plays into a different instinct: the “strike response”. This can best be compared to cat behaviour. When cats aren’t hungry, they tend to leave remaining food untouched. However, when you dangle a fluffy, shiny object in front of them (or better yet, pull it past them) cats will usually leap after it instinctively. The spinner encourages this instinct in fish, with its movement and material. This way, you can ignite a strike response even when the fish aren’t feeding. Simply cast it out and retrieve it at a slow, steady retrieve for outstanding results.

Mepps claim that more record-breaking fish have been caught on their lures than any other, and that even first-timers can land trophy fish using them. The current Mepps Aglia spinner is staggeringly similar to its original, 1950’s design. This is testament to its long-standing effectiveness, and fitting for a brand steeped in history, tradition and family values. Click here to browse the Mepps spinners and spoons we stock, and learn more about their product range.