Mike Bennett remembers Southern California’s early swimbait scene. Two decades ago, he began spending long days on the water chucking massive, trout-like baits that required special gear and special fortitude to fish with. That was before Bennett became a product developer for one of Europe’s most aggressive lure companies, before he began working for California-based Okuma, and before this year’s ICAST where his swimbait journey came full circle with the launch of a new Okuma-backed tackle company—Fishlab.
Fishlab raised eyebrows at the show on the back of its inaugural swimbait, a hyper-realistic bluegill replica called the Bio-Gill. That bait was considered by many to be a frontrunner for a Best of Show award; and weeks after the show, it has anglers buzzing about Fishlab.
To find out more, we sat down with Bennett to understand who and what Fishlab really is.
FTR: You still work for Okuma, but you’re also developing products for Fishlab. What is the relationship like between those two brands?
Bennett: Okuma is the parent company of Fishlab. I’ve been working for them for ten years, and before that I was helping with lure development for a company that we handled distribution for in the U.S. After Okuma parted ways with that company, we felt we could do lures better ourselves, so the two companies are very integrated.
FTR: Tell us more about where the idea for Fishlab came from.
Bennett: We’ve been working on Fishlab for two years. It came out of a necessity for lures that weren’t on the market that we felt we needed. We wanted something highly detailed, with close attention to swimming action. So, we started off with a very common prey species for bass, which is bluegill. We looked at bluegill as being the top prey for largemouth bass, and we designed five lures based on that.
Basically, we wanted to build a lure for any situation when you’re fishing for bass around bluegill. The people who work at Fishlab are all anglers, and we wanted to make lures for every situation that we come across on the water. All of our baits are designed by fishermen, not salesmen.
Take a look at the Bio Gill below
FTR: So the lineup isn’t limited to bluegill swim baits?
Bennett: Not at all. Our Soft Mack Attack series has three sizes. It’s a highly-detailed lead head with a soft body and it comes in 5.5oz, 9.5oz, and 16oz. We made a small size for casting canals or jigging from boats for striped bass. But we also made larger sizes for bottom fishing for lingcod or amberjack.
That bait also comes in a hard version with full detailing in seven mackerel-style colors.
In addition to that, we created a hollow body frog that has a giant rattle in the head of the bait. Now, we’ve got the only big rattle frog that we’re aware of on the market.
Fishlab’s Soft Mack Attack in action:
FTR: From our view, Fishlab felt like one of the more buzz worthy brands at ICAST. Did you see that translate to the booth?
Bennett: Absolutely. I wasn’t expected that many people to come by, but we were pretty slammed, especially after the first half day. Once people started seeing the Bio Gill, they wanted to come by and take a look at it.
FTR: How do retailers get their hands on Fishlab products?
Bennett: Anyone who has regular distribution with Okuma has access to Fishlab. The sales all go through Okuma’s normal channels.