Andy Zomcik

Andy Zomcik, owner of Fat A.Z. Musky Products in Edinboro, attaches treble hooks to a lure in his workshop.

Each week, Vance Kaloz climbs in Andy Zomcik’s boat. Fishing guide Todd Young is there, too, thanks to some technology. They are avid anglers who prefer to pursue muskies, the elusive torpedo-shaped freshwater predators with razor-sharp teeth and the genetics to grow past 4 feet and 50 pounds. While their conversations take them to far-flung places, the boat never leaves the pole barn behind Zomcik’s Edinboro home.

They are the voices behind the Fat A.Z. Musky Podcast, the only one dedicated to musky fishing. Zomcik found radio stale, so he turned to downloading podcasts, on-demand audio programs available online.

“(Podcasts are like) if you had a room of your buddies sitting around talking,” he said. “They made me feel like being part of a bigger group.” He mentioned starting one about musky fishing to Kaloz and Young. They recorded the first one last July.

Kaloz said topics for podcasts come from personal fishing experiences and current events, such as the musky stocking controversy in Minnesota. Special guests have joined in, and conversations have detoured to deer hunting, ice fishing and even boat rigging. They run into podcast listeners at musky shows, where anglers peruse booths of lure-makers, guides and other musky-related businesses.

“They say, ‘Hey, that’s Vance. I recognize that voice,’” Young said. The trio also attends shows to sell lures and rod holders made by Fat A.Z. Musky Products, which Young and Zomcik co-own.

Like the podcast, Zomcik started making fishing lures because he couldn’t find what he wanted. A self-described “bank yanker,” he began musky fishing along local streams and rivers. He used swimbaits — soft-plastic baitfish imitators — but needed one that attracted and hooked fish better. “It led to me making my own.”

Young saw Zomcik’s first creations online. About five years ago, he suggested Zomcik to a promotor seeking vendors for a musky show. There Zomcik gave Young a couple of his swimbaits to try in exchange for feedback. That happened on the third cast, when a client landed a 40-inch musky. He sent Zomcik the picture. “That was the foundation of the friendship and now the partnership in Fat A.Z.,” Zomcik said.

Fat A.Z.’s flagship lure is the Raptor, whose pointed nose resembles a bird of prey’s beak. Fished with twitches of the rod tip, it’s weighted to slowly rise when paused. Similar lures are much more buoyant, making them difficult to keep several feet deep, where muskies are more likely to strike. “We’re not making a bait to make a bait,” Zomcik said. “We’re making things that are innovative in their own right.”

Young tested about 200 prototypes — all carved by Zomcik — before finding the correct weight and shape. The Raptor’s first musky weighed 40 pounds and measured 51 1/2 inches. Muskies longer than 50 inches are considered trophies. Anglers release nearly every musky they catch, regardless of size.

Raptor production starts at Young’s New Castle home.

“I put (the resin) in the mold, let it set up and pull out the lures,” he said. “I sand them and drill the holes for the screw eyes" that attach the line tie and hooks. Zomcik, who taught himself to paint out of necessity, applies the finish coats inside his pole barn, next to his boat. The two split final assembly work.

More than 1,000 Fat A.Z. lures, ranging from $13.50 to $26, were sold last year. That might not sound like many, but the musky fishing community is small. Steve Heiting, managing editor of St. Germain, Wis.-based Musky Hunter magazine, estimates there are about 125,000 serious musky anglers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported nearly 40 million licensed U.S. anglers in its 2011 national survey, the most recent one.

Most Fat A.Z. customers live in western Pennsylvania. The podcast — downloaded more than 500 times each week, Zomcik said — is adding more from farther away.

“We’re shipping (lures) daily,” Young said. But even with the growth, it’s still a part-time business for Zomcik, who works at his family’s machine shop, Edinboro Industries Inc., and Young, whose Muddy Creek Fishing Guides books charters on New York’s Chautauqua Lake and western Pennsylvania waters such as the Allegheny and Pymatuning. It hasn’t made them rich, but the podcast has made one of their lures famous.

Zomcik was asked to personalize a Raptor as a wedding gift. He wrote the correct name but accidentally used the wrong date. Baits blemished during manufacturing aren’t sold; they go into the guys’ tackle boxes. “Mitch” was no exception, though its production has been extraordinary.

Young’s clients have caught muskies on it. It caught five muskies in an hour on Chautauqua Lake last September and the only musky on a trip to Canada, said Kaloz, an Erie resident, full-time nurse and part-time Muddy Creek guide. Mitch’s adventures are popular fodder for the podcasts, so they brought the lure to this past winter’s musky shows, where listeners asked to see it.

Some inquired if Mitch is for sale. Kaloz told them no. “We’re not letting that one go.”

Pete M. Anderson is a former editor of The Titusville Herald who now works as an outdoor writer who chases muskies when not fishing in bass tournaments.

Check out the podcast

New episodes of The Fat A.Z. Musky Podcast are uploaded each week by Wednesday. It’s free to listen and available through iTunes, RSS feed and the company’s website — Tackle shops in Warren and New Castle carry some Fat A.Z. lures, but all are available, along with rod holders, through the website.

Pennsylvania’s musky fishery has strong local ties

By Pete M. Anderson

Northwest Pennsylvania’s connections to musky fishing go beyond Fat A.Z. Musky Products’ Edinboro headquarters. The state first raised muskies in Corry in the 1890s, and today the region is where the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission spawns every musky — about 100,000 in 2015 — that it stocks.

Linesville State Fish Hatchery Manager Jared Sayers said his staff and those from the Union City hatchery spawn adult muskies each spring. Union City, along with hatcheries in Tionesta and Pleasant Mount, rear the resulting fry. Once they reach 8- to 10-inches long in late summer or fall, they are released in about 40 rivers and lakes statewide.

Tiger muskies — the sterile cross of muskies and northern pike — are reared in Union City, too. Sayers said that hatchery recently started raising a third strain, spotted muskies. Native to the Great Lakes and their tributaries, they can approach 60 inches and surpass 50 pounds when mature. He said juvenile spotted muskies have been released in Presque Isle Bay.

Sayers said the goal is to make that Lake Erie bay a trophy musky fishery. If it works, it won’t be the region’s first fishing hole to produce a giant musky. Lewis Walker Jr. of Meadville caught the state record — 54 pounds 3 ounces — from Conneaut Lake in 1924.

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