The little engine that could

I doubt if there is a Canadian angler anywhere who hasn’t bought a lure at one time or another, and has not seen the name BRECKS stamped on the package.
I know I’ve been fascinated by the trademark since I was a young kid, in part because of the company’s curious Sherbrooke, Que. address.
Let’s face it, there aren’t many Canadian contenders on the world fishing scene. Most of them are subsidiaries of giant American or European conglomerates, or small “mom and pop” operations struggling to survive.
It is why BRECKS is so unique. It is a Canadian fishing success story with roots as deep as maple syrup, Molson’s beer, and the legendary Sherbrooke hockey sticks that are made just down the street from hardwood trees logged in the nearby Eastern Township woods.
In a sense, BRECKS is like the Little Blue Engine in the children’s storybook classic, “The Little Engine That Could.” Far too pompous and full of themselves, neither the Shiny New Engine nor the Big Strong Engine could pull the trainload of toys up and over the mountain.
That overwhelming task was left to the Little Blue Engine, whose rallying mantra was, “I think I can . . . I think I can.”
BRECKS not only thinks it can, it has succeeded. And that indomitable spirit is what diverted me—on my way home from a trout fishing trip to La Reserve Beauchene in northwestern Quebec this past fall—to visit the picturesque town of Sherbrooke.
I had to see BRECKS for myself.
While touring the plant with company president David Breckenridge, I learned that it was his father, George, who started the fledgling fishing tackle company in 1947. He hit a home run with his first order of business.
In 1950, BRECKS was appointed the Canadian home of the famous Mepps lure.
Originally developed in France in the 1930s and brought back to North America by returning war-weary servicemen, the straight-shafted spinner was the brainchild of Andre Muelnart, who was working at the time for a tackle company called Manufacturier D’Engins De Precision Pour Sportive.
Hence the Mepps moniker.
With sales of Mepps spinners now closing in on the half-billion mark, it is the single-most popular selling fishing lure of all time.
When David Breckenridge took over the family business in 1964, he continued hitting balls out of the park. First with the acquisition of the Mister Twister line of soft plastic lures and then with the exclusive Canadian distributorship for Maximum fishing lines.
But the younger Breckenridge made his most daring move in 1989 when he acquired the Williams Fishing Tackle Company. It was the perfect marriage—Canada’s most prestigious fishing company now manufacturing Canada’s most famous line of lures.
Since 1923, the Williams Company has made a worldwide name for itself with its illustrious line up of spoons. The Williams Wabler was the one that started it all for the company in 1920.
The Whitefish in 1940, the Dartee in 1948, the Ice Jig in 1959, the Trophy in 1993, the Quicksilver in 1992, and the Bully in 2001 followed it.
For more than 80 years, Williams spoons have been celebrated by trout and salmon anglers, in part because of their fish-catching designs and because they were the only lures that are plated with pure silver and gold.
The precious metal coatings produce an explosion of flash and light reflecting colours that can’t be simulated or reproduced by any other material.
Not surprisingly, walleye, bass, pike, pan fish, and muskie anglers also have discovered the unique properties of the spoons—as witnessed by the recent new world record (ice-fishing) walleye being hooked on a Williams lure.
While I was watching the gigantic trays of spoons being dipped, bathed, and plated with gold and silver, though, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the photographs of the famous hockey players and myriad of NHL plaques and trophies that adorn the plating plant’s walls.
I was to learn that in 1990, Breckenridge added a corporate recognition and custom jewellery component to the operation that caters to the needs of most professional sports organizations.
I was like a kid in a candy shop looking at and touching the very rings worn by the Stanley Cup champions and individual player award winners (I also couldn’t help but think what a unique and attractive addition a pair of rings like this would make for the winners each year of the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship and/or the Kenora Bass International).
Not one to rest on his laurels, in 2002 Breckenridge acquired the American-based J.A. Green Company, makers of the illustrious Mooselook Wobbler. The Mooselook is one of the most popular land-locked salmon and trout lures.
Indeed, since 1938, it has attained almost cult status among anglers throughout New England and eastern Canada. But you should see the Mooselook now.
Although he was careful to maintain the original shapes, weights, and actions, Breckenridge upgraded everything else about the historic baits. First he changed from factory grade to premium needle sharp VMC round bend treble hooks.
Then he switched from using standard base metal for the bodies to polished brass and copper. Finally, he added the celebrated Williams finishes, including some new ones that incorporate automotive quality anti-chip powder paints with colour accents.
Even the original Mooselook is making a return. The one that back in 1939 was called “gold.” Only now it really is 24-karat—just like its parent company.
Something to think about the next time you see the word BRECKS.

Posted in Uncategorized