Vending machine brings 24/7 bait to Holcombe area
At just four years old, Alex Piontek had an idea for his own business. He told his dad he wanted to start his own fishing lure company.
“So, I went out and bought a book on how to carve wooden lures, and we carved probably the ugliest lure you could ever imagine,” said Jesse Piontek, Alex’s dad.
The first time Alex cast that homemade lure, he caught a pike on it. They made the wooden lures for three years, and caught a ton of fish.
By the time Alex was seven, people were interested in purchasing the lures, so Jesse worked to make sure they had the small business licensing needed in 2016. Soon afterward, Alex took the leap into the business world, selling lures for bass, northern pike and musky.
“I don’t make them, he (Jesse) does,” said Alex. “I design them.”
Alex comes up with the color schemes for the lures, but sharp wire prevents the youngster from constructing the lures himself.
“They’re very heavy-duty,” said Jesse of the lures.
Now 11, Alex is the owner of James Gang Fishing Company, based in Elk Mound.
“He’s the one behind all of this,” said Jesse.
Alex also did trade shows for a number of years.
Alex has also been sponsored by The Ike Foundation, a non-profit foundation with the goal of introducing children to fishing, since he was eight.
“Which is a pretty cool deal,” said Jesse. “So, he’s actually become friends with this really famous angler and he’s hung out with these kids in Bassmaster weigh-ins.”
James Gang Fishing began selling lures at bait shops in Stanley and Mondovi. Three years ago, they also started selling lures at the Big Minnow in Holcombe.
“Within that first summer, his buzz bait became the No. 1 selling lure here,” said Jesse.
The company has expanded to include an option for 24-hour bait and lure sales, starting June 23, with a vending machine positioned outside of the Big Minnow. Besides the homemade lures and live bait, the machine also has hooks, bobbers, sinkers.
“One neat thing in there, is he’s got trailer bearings and trailer grease,” said Jesse.
Jesse says the vending machine is something they have thought about for a couple years. When the Big Minnow shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, they decided to try the vending machine.
Vending machine purchases can be made with cash and Jesse says they just signed the paperwork for a credit card reader on the machine.
Since the Minnow is not open every day or early in the morning, the vending machine offers the chance to buy fishing supplies when the store is not open. The vending machine will also offer bait over winter, for those going ice fishing or for the springtime crappie bite.
Alex also noted a few hunting supplies will be available in the vending machine during the hunting season.
“So, we’re going to be seasonal with our inventory in there as well,” said Jesse.
After a slow start to the sales, Jesse says the vending machine has seen use. One of the first sales through the vending machine was worms Alex dug up in their back yard.
“It looks like, right off the bat, catfish stuff is going well,” said Jesse of the sales so far.
Fishing continues to be a favorite pastime for Alex, offering him a way to enjoy the outdoors.
“Bass fishing, to me, is not really relaxing,” said Alex. “It’s a lot more fun.”
Jesse says he hopes the profitability of the business continues to grow, to help Alex get a good start, whether that be college, investments or something else.
“Something cool will come out of it,” said Jesse.
James Gang Fishing also has a website, jamesgangfish.com, where people can buy the lures online, or read fishing tips and recipes.[caption id="attachment_72540" align="alignnone" width="250"] A vending machine outside the Big Minnow in Holcombe doesn’t carry the normal food and snacks. Instead, passersby will find a 24/7 option for live bait and lures, along with other items for outdoorsmen. Alex Piontek (right), with the help of his dad, Jesse (left), opened the vending machine for business in June. Photo by Julia Wolf[/caption]