Have you ever wondered what goes into the tackle and accessories we use today? Avid anglers and boaters often take for granted the tremendous effort required to design and manufacture the countless components that enhance our on the water experiences. Skilled craftsmen build many of these essential items right here in Florida. We wanted to learn more about these professionals and more about the products they specialize in and we’re confident that you, too, will be fascinated with what we discover in our ongoing investigation.
If you know anything about the history of big game sport fishing than you are all too familiar with the legendary lures designed and manufactured by Mold Craft. Having played a large role in the revolution of artificial trolling lures, Mold Craft’s original Softhead™ is arguably the most legendary offshore trolling lure of all time. The lore of these proven enticements started when Frank Johnson, the brainchild behind Mold Craft, took a job with Pratt & Whitney in 1959. Johnson worked his way up from an apprentice just learning the trade, to a machinist well versed in tool and die making. He worked as a production engineer for several years before moving to sunny South Florida pursuing his drive to wet a line, while taking a job with ChemForm fabricating specialized machinery.
The process involved in making trolling lures is a bit more complicated and utilizes plastic pellets instead of liquid PVC.
In the early 1970s, Johnson was given the opportunity to buy into a company called Mold Craft that manufactured tooling for heart pacemakers, pop-up sprinklers and various plastic parts and components. When a new part required a more powerful injection molding machine that surpassed existing technology, Johnson was given the task of fabricating one. Johnson eventually acquired full ownership of Mold Craft and as a dedicated blue water angler, he transformed his one-off injection molding machine to make artificial Squirt Squids in sizes ranging from 6 to 16-inches. Today, Mold Craft operates out of Pompano Beach, Florida (Image 1) under the guidance of Frank Johnson Jr. The manufacturing facility has a small office (Image 2) where Frank Jr. takes orders and runs the business end of things. The office walls are adorned with various collectibles and memorabilia acquired over the years.
Mold Craft produces a wide variety of offshore offerings utilizing patented processes and complex equipment. All of their proven products are injection molded, however the process for each is a bit different. No matter what the desired finished product, PVC plastics are utilized. Liquid plastisol (Image 3) is used for Tuff Hoo and Squirt Squid, while plastic pellets (Image 4) are used for the creation of their world famous trolling lures. Both forms of plastic arrive in 55-gallon drums and are devoid of the vibrant colors these enticements are famous for. Before the injection molding process can begin the plastics must be mixed with predetermined base colors. There are over 20 colors available, which results in a staggering amount of color combinations.
When Squirt Squid are in order, the special pneumatic injection molding machine developed by Frank Sr. is put to work. Here, custom dies that are built to incredible tolerances create soft plastic squid bodies that are practically devoid of imperfections (Image 5). When the squid have cooled they are removed from the die and any imperfections are trimmed. All of the trimmings from the connecting “trees” are recycled into pellets that will be melted down and used again (Image 6). Once the eyes are painted the squid are ready to tease hungry billfish to within feet of the transom (Image 7).
The process involved in making trolling lures is a bit more complicated and utilizes plastic pellets instead of liquid PVC. The pellets must also be mixed with a base color before the process can begin, although the trolling lures will be painted later so the initial color will only serve as a base coat. The plastic pellets are loaded into a hopper, which feeds the plastic pellets into a heated chamber. The pellets are melted and injected into various dies for lure heads and skirts (Image 8 & 9). Three injection molding machines increase efficiency and output ability, with Mold Craft capable of producing squid, lure heads and lure skirts simultaneously.
From the injection molding machines the lure heads and skirts are taken to the paint area where they are further adorned with a three step process including vibrant colors, metal flake/sparkles and a clear coat (Image 10 & 11). Once the lures have had a chance to dry they are ready for final assembly. The inner and outer skirts are taken to a custom built Lazy Susan where the heads and skirts are glued together with an adhesive similar to rubber cement (Image 12). Next comes the installation of alluring eyes (Image 13).
Because Mold Craft trolling lures are favored by professional crews across the globe, many of their products are sold unrigged. Top crews rig terminal tackle themselves so the weight of a lost fish falls solely on their shoulders. However, there are many orders for rigged tackle packages and when this is the case, only the highest quality terminal tackle is selected (Image 14). Frank Jr. tells us that over the years he’s personally tied over 1 million double hook snell rigs (Image 15).
Once the lures have passed a quality inspection by Frank Jr. himself, they are stored on a shelf where they sit until an order needs to be filled (Image 16). When an order comes in the lures are packaged and sent to happy fishermen around the globe (Image 17).
Efficiency trumps downtime and routine testing and calibration of the machines is critical to Mold Craft’s continued success. Purging is the cleansing process that injection molding machines require and is necessary for color changes—especially when a lighter color follows a darker color. Mold Craft spares no cost to ensure success and utilizes an expensive liquid additive mixed with a proprietary material to purge their injection molding machines. This process is dictated by production requirements, although Mold Craft purges each machine about once a week for preventive maintenance purposes.
It is widely accepted that more world record billfish have been caught on Mold Craft lures than most others combined. Widely respected from Mexico to Panama, Australia to Africa, the Americas and beyond, serious anglers simply catch more trophy fish with Mold Craft lures in their spread.