WINDSOR, Ont. — If we learned anything from Edsel Ford, it’s that if you’re going to put your name on something, it better be good.
Jon Bondy, a self-described “river rat” who grew up on the Canadian side of the Detroit River and has made fishing that international waterway and nearby Lake St. Clair his occupation, was not satisfied with the lures on the market or the preferred tactics that targeted his specialty — big muskies.
Bondy saw a parade of boats endlessly trolling the river and the lake, dragging large baits they hoped would provoke the moody and mysterious muskellunge into one of its explosive strikes.
He had some success using bucktails — a lure that usually combines the flash of bright spinners with a colored dressing made of deer hair — but the effectiveness of those lures seemed to be limited to low-light hours.
“I had to figure out a better way,” said the 39-year-old who spent a few years competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series but now makes guiding and producing lures a fulltime job.
“I never troll, because there is just something about holding that rod in your hand and feeling a fish strike. You don’t get that when you are trolling. There had to be another way to catch these muskies.”
So Bondy, who cut his teeth jigging for walleyes on the river, did some well thought-out experimentation. His walleye fishing trips in April and May usually produced a stray muskie or two for his clients, while they were using lighter gear and jigging.
“I went back to the same areas and tried a heavy salt water jig, and got at least one muskie every other day, for a month,” Bondy said. “I was still catching muskies by casting, but I wanted to have something else in my back pocket to use when the fishing got tough.”
After a few sessions in the garage or basement tinkering the way most serious fishermen do, Bondy came up with a modified rig that had a soft body wrapped around a hefty seven-ounce jig.
“This thing was really stupid looking, but there was something about the lure that worked, and I won 12 muskie tournaments with it,” he said. “I never dreamed of selling it, or having it leave the Detroit River.”
After three anxious years of trying to keep the rig a secret, Bondy decided to market the odd-looking lure before someone else laid claim to his creation. Bondy, who spends 200 days a year on the water, experienced an unexpected phenomenon.
“It started selling like crazy with muskie fishermen in Wisconsin, and then a customer took one to northern Saskatchewan and caught a couple hundred lake trout in a week,” Bondy said. “Now about 30 percent of the lures I sell go to lake trout fishermen.”
The standard "Bondy Bait" is nine inches long with that soft body covering the weighted core, and it comes in a variety of colors and patterns, with some imitating primary muskie food sources such as freshwater drum or sheepshead. There is a large spinner at the tail end to add more flash.
Bondy likes to fish the lure with 200-pound test leaders and 80-pound line — 50-inch muskies that go 30-pounds or better demand stout gear. He makes exaggerated three or four foot hops with the bait, and lets it fall on a tight line so he can pick up a strike. Bondy said eight-foot muskie rods work best, providing the power to set the hook with an upward swing.
The “Bondy Bait” has been sold to anglers as far away as New Zealand and Argentina, where it is used to catch the powerful and toothy golden dorado. Overall, Bondy sold 10,000 of his custom made lures in 2012.
“It’s just a big, deepwater jig with a lot of applications, and I still make all of them myself,” he said.
Bondy, who has been fishing the Detroit River for more than 30 years, releases every muskie he and his customers catch. He said many of his clients come from Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, since Lake St. Clair and the river offer a level of muskie fishing not found many other places.
“We have very aggressive fish here, and since there is so much current coming through this waterway, the fish in this region are highly migratory and they are on the move all of the time,” he said.
Lake St. Clair connects Lake Huron with the Detroit River, which then links the upper Great Lakes with Lake Erie. About 80 percent of the water that enters Lake Erie comes from the Detroit River — about 190,000 cubic feet per second.
“There’s not a lot of places like this, with so much current,” Bondy said. “And when you combine all that flow with the fact there is so much food here, that makes for some pretty good fishing.”
Bondy takes his clients walleye fishing in April and May, and then spends the rest of the year focused on muskies and bass.
“When you are in the guiding business, your reputation is very important, so I just try and do this the old-fashioned way. I put my head down and fish,” he said. “There’s a lot of advertising and promotional dollars spent selling the fishing way up north, and that’s fine, but there’s also a lot of great fishing opportunities right here, in the shadow of downtown Detroit and Windsor, that people might be overlooking.”
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