ASTORIA — A commercial fishermen and fishing guide, Andy Betnar considers his other business a part-time hobby. That’s how it started anyway. It all began in 2008 when Betnar sought to re-engineer a legendary fishing lure, one that had become so renowned on the Willamette River that it was affectionately named the “Nelson Blade” after originator/creator Dudley Nelson.
Nelson was an innovative Portland-area fisherman. He was famous for his homemade spoons and spinners, but never produced the lures commercially. Instead, Nelson regularly passed them to fishermen who happened to be on the same stretch of river and inquired about what he was using. As Nelson aged, dwindling availability of the lures prompted Betnar to recreate what many consider the best salmon fishing spinner.
“He was a private guy making just a handful for himself and a couple of his buddies in his garage,” Betnar said.
“I ended up getting a couple, and they were my best lures. I caught so many fish on them, so I was asking for more of them. But they were very, very hard to get. The gentleman was elderly and not doing so well health-wise and kind of quit making them. I asked him if I could make them myself and he said, ‘Sure.’”
Like Nelson, Betnar wasn’t interested in “going big” with the business, but word about the lure’s revival soon spread.
“When I started out, I was just producing them for myself. I gave some to my friends and they started catching fish on them. Then people started calling and asking for them and it exploded,” Betnar said. “In my first order I had 500 stamped out. After I went through those, I had a 1,000 stamped out. I was thinking ‘Man, this is crazy.’ This year we did 50,000. It’s grown quite rapidly.”
Betnar stays true to Nelson’s original blade shape, but has introduced new designs, colors and sizes. The biggest difference is in the facet pattern on the blade, where small creases and intentional lines intensify the reflection of light, making the lure more visible and lifelike to fish.
“I didn’t want to exactly copy it, so I changed it a little bit,” Betnar said.
“He only had in one size (#6) and I now make it in four,” he said. The new sizes include two smaller and one larger than the original spinner.
“I wanted a size bigger for specifically fishing Tillamook Bay with this lure in September, October and November,” Betnar said. Soon after, he began manufacturing the size #7 spinners, requests for smaller ones poured in.
“Each time I make one, I make some smaller and smaller,” Betnar said. “The new thing going now is the tiny blade.”
There are tried-and-true lure colors and iconic patterns that are mainstays in most tackle boxes: the purple worm, the bleeding shad crankbait, the fire tiger floating minnow. For spinners, the same rules still apply, and many are painted in these time-tested patterns.
“There are some standard colors — chartreuse green dot, white with a pink dot — they’re tried and true proven fish catchers,” Betnar said. “They always produce.” Each season however, a “hot color” emerges as a must-have for salmon fishermen, a trend Betnar tries to stay capitalize on by extensively field testing after experimenting and matching patterns and color combinations.
“Then I go out and fish them and see what’s working,” Betnar said. “When I get something that’s working really well, then I have it painted. Typically, there are about 10 or 12 introduced each year. I try to stay a step ahead. Every year I come up with a dozen new colors that are my own creations that nobody has ever seen before.”
The newest line of lures feature horizontal stripping in place of the traditional vertical placement. While many lure manufactures add “hoochie skirts” and plastic beads to their spinners as extra attractant, Betnar goes two steps further by dressing his lures in double and triple bucktail hoochie skirts and Swarovski crystals. Using multiple skirts and crystals in place of plastic can cost as much as $5 extra per lure, but the expense is an afterthought considering the added effectiveness.
“They do well in all the coastal streams — Nehalem, Tillamook, Umpqua, Siletz,” Betnar said. “A lot of guys will call and order 200 or 300 blades to take to Alaska to catch kings.”
Englund Marine annually orders Betnar’s Fatal Flash Lures ahead of Buoy 10 season, and they typically sell out before season’s end.
Betnar has been approached about “going big” with his lure business, an offer that can mean cutting material costs and exporting the manufacturing and assembly overseas.
“I’ve had a bunch of people tell me they could cut my costs in half and get them out into every store, but I’m not interested in that,” he said.
“This is part-time thing for me. This started as a hobby on the side and it’s become a business. I’m not trying to get big with this. I make them here and sell them here.”
For more information, visit www.fatalflash.com.