In 1960, Phil and Barbara Jackson of Winthrop, Maine started taking their young son, Tim, ice fishing with them. This family activity turned into a life-long passion for Tim (also known as “Jack”) and eventually became his livelihood.
“Right from the start, I was hooked,” says Tim. “My Dad was a very skilled fisherman. When I was a kid, he used to take me all over to compete in ice fishing derbies. Those are of some of my best memories. I will never forget the excitement of winning a prize and seeing a smile on my Dad’s face.”
“When I turned eleven or so, I bought my first set of ice fishing traps, which are also known as tip-ups. They were great, but after a couple of seasons, the wear and tear really began to show. The tripper wouldn’t stay in place and it would freeze up. The reels would bend and some would even come off.” “In 1979, I decided to build a set of ice fishing traps. Since then, I’ve made a few improvements,” he says.
Tim began making traps as a hobby and then as a small side business. Relying heavily on his experience as a fisherman, as well as his father’s advice, Tim set out to make the highest quality product he could. In the early days, he ran the business on his own with the help of his wife and four children as they became old enough to help out.
“Each one of them had a job they were particularly good at. My son Tyler started assembling reels when he was eight. In high school, he was pretty good on the drill press as well. My girls, Tori, Hannah and Heidi were champion sanders, and used to do the staining by hand every winter. When they were in college, they did many of my deliveries to the smaller outfitters around the state. Now the kids help out when they can in the store, the office, and with the website.”
Jack Traps has always been a family business, with Tim and his wife at the helm. “I’d be lost without my wife, Debbi. She helps out with the business when she can, but as anyone who has a small business knows, it’s her support that means the most.
Though he has been selling his traps since 1979, it has only been since sustaining a back injury at work in 1994 that Jack Traps has been a full-time endeavor.
“I just threw myself into it. I knew I couldn’t do what I had been doing anymore. I also knew that I loved building traps. It hasn’t always been easy, but how many people get to do what they love?”
To get the business off the ground, Tim drove around the state to sporting goods retailers and hardware stores peddling his products. Most of the stores who bought from him that very first year are still loyal customers today.
“In those early days, it was the smaller sporting goods stores that really sustained us.”
In the 1990′s, Tim set up shop in the basement of his home, using every bit of the 600 square feet dedicated to the business. “We would have an order for L.L. Bean on one table, and another for Kittery Trading Post right next to it. We could hardly work without running into each other. I guess the first big shift in the scale of our business was when our website was launched. We waited a week for that first order to come in, and it was just so exciting to be shipping outside of Maine.”
In recent years things have changed a bit at Jack Traps, Inc. Tim moved the entire operation to 151 Ridge Road in Monmouth, and the 600 square feet he had before turned into 6,000.
“We are much more efficient in our manufacturing process now,” he said. “Our focus is still very much on quality, so nothing is automated, but having the space to work on different parts and products at the same time has greatly increased our capacity.”
Of all of the accomplishments Jack Traps has achieved since 1979, Tim is most proud of the high quality of the products he makes. The attention to detail that goes into to each part of the trap in the factory assures customers that their equipment will function to its fullest out on the ice. The trap’s wood is sanded, stained and dipped in two coats of marine polyurethane, preventing water and weather damage; all hardware is stainless steel or aluminum; and reels and trippers are packed tightly with lithium grease, eliminating freeze-up.
“We realize that we are a high-end product in the marketplace, but you only buy Jack Traps once in your lifetime. I have customers from 25 years ago come into the store with their traps for a tune-up. They are always happy to get repairs made on the spot at a very minimal cost.”
Jack Traps products are widely known in New England, but, in recent years, they have gained international attention.
“We’ve been selling to L.L. Bean, Kittery Trading Post and Indian Hill Outfitters for years. We still work with the smaller outfitters, of course. I am a strong proponent for local business. But, our friends north of the border have been clambering for Jack Traps for years. We are also very excited to be shipping to Canada for the first time this season.”
There is always something new at the Jack Traps retail store and this season is no exception. “In addition to customizing your Jack Traps by choosing your size, stain color, flag color, reel size or engraving, we are now offering something unique in the ice fishing industry. We have camo wrapped traps this year in four new patterns. This is this kind of thing that will really separate you from the other guys on the ice. They are wicked sharp.”
For all of his success, Tim never forgets how it all began. “If it hadn’t been for my father and mother taking me out fishing when I was a kid, I don’t know what I would be doing today. I want kids today to have that same opportunity and feeling of accomplishment that made such an impact on me. Ice fishing is pure family fun.”
2014 marks Jack Traps, Inc.’s thirty-fifth season. With more products than ever available at the retail store in Monmouth and at jacktraps.com, Jack Traps is poised for its best year yet.