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Fishbites: Fish Food For Thought

It was 1946, and 11 year old Billy Carr was out clamming with his Dad in creeks off the North Indian River in New Smyrna Beach, FL, tromping around in rubber shoes at low tide. Young Billy accidentally brushed his ankle up against an oyster bar nicking it a bit - a little blood but nothing to worry about so he kept clamming. Soon he felt an itching on his ankle, looked down, and saw a bunch of glass shrimp popping around his cuts and he exclaimed "Dad, it's a shrimp attack!"

Who knew that "shrimp attack" and young Billy Carr's interest in what was in his blood that got those shrimp so fired up would be the seminal event that inspired his passion about fishing and biochemistry? It led him to major in Biology at the University of Florida, achieve his Ph.D. at Duke, then return to the University of Florida as a professor and researcher in the departments of marine sciences, biochemistry, and zoology. He has spent a lifetime of research and product development integrating his vast knowledge of organic chemistry and biology that has resulted in Fishbites, one of the most popular and effective scented artificial baits on the market.

With scented baits being the rage of the soft plastic artificial bait market I had the great opportunity to visit the folks behind Fishbites at their St. Augustine, FL headquarters and learn how itís made - well as much as they could tell without giving away all their secrets. Little did I know the history behind its development was going to be such a compelling story.

Fishbites is operated by the Carr family out of St. Augustine, FL, specifically that of Dr. William Carr the creator of Fishbites, his son Mike (VP of Sales), and his son-in-law Terry Dillinger (CEO).

L to R Mike Carr (VP Sales), Terry Dillinger (CEO), and Dr. William Carr (Founder).

Dr. Carr has spent most of his life scientifically researching the biochemistry of what chemicals and concentrations stimulate the feeding activities of fish and other marine animals. His research included the publishing of numerous seminal papers in the 1970s and 1980s on chemo-reception in marine species, the science of how chemo-receptors (sensory receptors that translate chemical signals into actions) in the olfactory system detect chemical stimuli in the environment and result in actions such as feeding. Using live fish in controlled environments, Dr. Carr experimented extensively to determine just what substances cause fish to look for food and to feed.

As Dr. Carr, (or should we call him the Dr. Doolittle of Fish!) related "I was 'talking' to the fish. I spent many years doing behavioral and biochemical studies determining what natural chemicals leaked from injured prey, or from cut bait, that served to attract predatory fish. Think about it - animals did not evolve to attract predators but rather to avoid them. However when injuries occur and internal fluids leak into the water, these fluids contain chemicals which serve as a dinner bell of sorts that predators use to detect, seek and eat the injured prey."

The pictures below illustrate one phase of his methodology as he introduced various real and synthetic body fluids into a controlled fish environment, while using the technology of the day (back in the 1970s a transducer that recorded fish feeding strikes connected to a plotter) to develop data and test his theories.

Dr. William Carr working rows of testing tanks at his labs in the 1970s. Courtesy Fishbites.

After he had figured out the chemical composition and concentrations of the chemicals emitted by common baits such as shrimp, crab, squid, bloodworms, and others, his next task was to synthesize mixtures that mimicked those properties. He next developed synthetic flesh-like materials containing the feeding stimulants, and also the manufacturing process that yielded products which fishermen could use.

Early on Dr. Carr tried all sorts of things, from grinding up shrimp and putting it into jello to other crazy methodologies seeking the right substrate to go with the right scent formulas. Success was by no means immediate. Failure after failure made Dr. Carr that much smarter and determined, and every incremental evolution brought him that much closer to his Holy Grail, the ultimate scented artificial fish bait.

The secret recipes and methodologies that go into Fishbites are the result of decades of experimentation and research. Not only are the chemical formulations trade secrets but so are the specifics of the manufacturing processes that yield such a high quality product. The Carrs were nice enough to share much of the process but some of the details are as closely guarded as the recipe for Coke.

Generation One: Fishbites Cut Bait Products

The first generation of Fishbites products is a synthetic alternative to cut bait known to anglers as Fishbites Fish'n Strips and E-Z Baits. They come in strips, smaller sized portions such as chunks, and even in sheets, and are available in a multitude of flavors tuned to mimic the baits they represent such as shrimp, crab, clam, squid, and bloodworms.

Dough balls that become strips of cut bait product.

At the core of the strips is a cloth substrate that incorporates the chemical materials, gives the bait tear resistance, and keeps it on your hook. The material is designed and manufactured to incorporate those yummy chemicals in a way that they are released over time in the water as they slowly dissolve, similar to an artificial chum.

As the pictures below show the strips start as powdered chemicals. Water is added and they are mixed to a dough ball like consistency using industrial blenders similar to what one would find in a food preparation operation. As the Carr's told me their manufacturing is more like food preparation than plastic manufacturing, and that should come as no surprise since they are making fish food!

The dough balls are 99% FDA approved (the coloring is not) and contain gels similar to those in cake icing and other food product components. Over 40 individual ingredients go into the chemical mixture before water is added to create the dough. The dough balls are fed into a standard molding process and result in sheets which are then cut to size, packaged, and shipped.

A sheet of cut bait product prior to cutting into strips.

Generation Two: Fishbites Live Bait Products

Recently Fishbites has extended their product line with molded baits that are a synthetic alternative to live baits called Fishbites Xtreme Scent Release Lures. The Xtreme Scent Release Lures product line includes scented jerkbaits, shrimp, paddletails, and worms in a wide variety of colors and styles, all of which have the benefits of the cut bait technology in a live bait package. They don't dissolve as the cut bait products do but have a large reservoir of stimulants homogenously distributed throughout their formulation that are emitted while the bait retains its molded shape.

As depicted below the chemicals are mixed with color and flecks to create a slurry of molasses-like consistency which is the input to a standard injection molding process. The material is injected into the die which is heated under pressure - once the baits are ready they are pulled from the die and packed for shipment.

The molded Xtreme Scent Release lures start as a molasses consistency slurry.

Fishbites operator tending the injection mold process.

The die and some freshly molded paddle tail baits.

Fishbites being assembled into package.

Final sealing of the package and ready to ship.

There's a big difference between companies that have traditionally done soft plastics and want to add scents so they can compete in the scented bait market, and a company like Fishbites which has been all about the scent from its inception. CEO Terry Dillinger shares that "Other companies are using and modifying their current products by adding scents. We are and have always have been a scent based company, and every product we have uses and relies primarily on scent technology that mimics the effect of natural baits and what it is that makes fish want them".

It has taken over 30 years for the bait industry to catch on to the ideas Dr. William Carr has been developing for over 30 years, and hopefully the success of Fishbites will one day cause people to recognize his achievements as a pioneer and innovator in this field of study and product development. This is truly an American entrepreneurial success story.

Made in the USA exclusively, Fishbites' footprint is rapidly expanding as angler demand increases all over the country and abroad including the UK, Australia, and Canada with more to come. Fishbites are available in fishing and bait shops small and large, from traditional small tackle shops up to the big box stores such as Bass Pro, Dick's Sporting Goods, Cabelas, and Gander Mountain. For more information on Fishbites visit www.Fishbites.com and let Fishbites help you Set The Hook!

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