Hangin’ By The Neck; More Power (Bait) to you – at any hour
Soda. Candy bars. Cigarettes. Week-old sandwiches. Even condoms.
I thought I’d seen everything possible that could be dispensed from a vending machine.
But last week, a new vending machine caught my eye. Colored as brightly as any of the chartreuse colored bait it contains, a “Power Bait” vending machine now stands in front of the Longs Drug Store in Truckee.
Actually, the vending machine contains much more than bait. It’s a veritable fishing department under a glass case, complete with hooks, line, swivels, weights and – as if your Power Bait wasn’t already aromatic enough for you – some “Trout Jelly” to make your bait even more attractive to those scent-loving fish. About the only thing not available in the case is a fishing license.
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“It’s the first Power Bait vending machine in the Tahoe region,” said Mike Koepke, the district sales manager for Outdoor Technologies Group, the parent company of Power Bait. “It’s a test vending machine to gauge how well selling the bait from machines will work. The people at Spirit Lake (Iowa, where Power Bait is manufactured) were looking for a test site in northern California, and I told them about Truckee Longs, knowing how many people in the area fish.”
Koepke said the experiment is likely to continue through next summer.
“We started talking about the vending machine in May, but it took a long time to set up,” Koepke said. “We missed three holiday periods in the summer, so we will wait and see how it does during a busier time of the year.”
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Inside of Longs, I asked assistant manager John Peterson how sales were going.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the machine, but we’ve probably sold only 15 bottles in the two weeks it’s been operating,” Peterson said. “A better test of the machine would have occurred if it had been open over the Fourth of July.”
Peterson said there were some simple reasons why a bait machine would work.
“The big thing is convenience,” Peterson said. “A fisherman can come by here at 5 a.m. and buy bait – it’s open 24 hours a day.”
Peterson said 15 bottles of Power Bait is a small amount of bait compared to how much the store sold over the summer. He estimated that Truckee Longs has sold more than 30 cases of Power Bait since fishing season began.
“Power Bait has become a huge market in fishing – it’s part of a new wave of bait fishing,” Peterson said. “There are people who put Power Bait on everything, including lures. People can also be very loyal to certain colors.”
Longs clerk Jim Cutts estimated that 75 percent of all people purchasing bait at the store will pick up some Power Bait.
“Even if they are planning on fishing with earthworms or crickets, most people will also pick up some Power Bait,” Cutts said. “There’s no question it’s the fastest growing segment of fishing at the store.”
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What is Power Bait made of? The label states only that Power Bait is 92 percent organic material and eight percent naturally occurring silica.
With Koepke on the phone, I thought I’d finally find out what the ingredients were in smelly, clay-like substance.
“It’s a deep, dark secret,” Koepke said. “I have no idea – I don’t know; only that it is a naturally occurring element.” (Power Bait is not allowed in “artificial lure only” waters.)
Cutts guesses that there is some ground fish paste in the bait which attracts the fish. But are there ground earthworms, grubs and nymphs in those “flavors” of Power Bait?
“I don’t know if we’ve taken the actual flavor from those things and added them to Power Bait,” Koepke said. “I think those flavors are used more to sell Power Bait to consumers because they are so recognizable to the fishing public.”
(Still, it might not be wise to answer a want ad for a “taste-tester” job for Power Bait in Spirit Lake.)
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Although some esoteric anglers may still scorn Power Bait, there’s no arguing that the bait has grown in leaps and bounds since the first “Orange” bottles began appearing on store shelves about a decade ago.
“It’s good for everybody because it’s so simple,” Cutts said. “I used to josh my kids about using it, but when they started catching fish even when they put the bait on their Rebel lures, I had to admit it catches fish.”
Cutts admitted that some of his customers won’t use Power Bait, but the top anglers don’t belittle “Power Bait fishermen.”
“I don’t think the good fisherman are prejudicial toward Power Bait,” Cutts said. “I think they appreciate the fact the bait is easy to use and attracts more people to the sport.”
With Power Bait becoming more popular, will cut-in-half earthworms, mushy salmon eggs and dead crickets on a hook become icons of “old-fashioned” fishing. At Truckee Longs, salmon egg sales have decreased from more than 30 cases per year to five cases.
“No, there will always be a market for worms and crickets,” Peterson said.
“That’s what some people swear by,” Cutts said. “They put an earthworm on the hook – along with their Power Bait.”
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The Truckee girls’ cross-country team raced to a runner-up finish at today’s Class 3A Northern League championships.