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Retailers hooked on Sault inventor's ice fishing device

Batchewana man finds success with automatic hook-setting gear

After years spent developing his ice fishing device The Trigger, Brendan Syrette was browsing the aisles at Canadian Tire one day when he came face to face with his own product.

For the self-described “bushman,” seeing his vision come to life, available for sale at one of Canada’s most iconic retailers, was an indescribable moment.

“I’m standing in Canadian Tire and I’m staring at The Trigger on the shelf, and I’m just – I don’t even know what to say,” recalled Syrette. “For one, it really humbles me, and two, it’s exciting.”

The Trigger holds an ice fishing rod and, when positioned properly, helps set a hook to aid in catching fish. Its simple design, comprised of steel pipe, moulded plastic and a metal pin, has struck a chord with ice fishers across North America.

It had already been available for sale online and through a handful of local retailers, gaining notoriety amongst aficionados as a tried-and-true method for catching more fish. But following some local media attention, the device’s popularity skyrocketed, and that’s when Canadian Tire came calling.

The Trigger was approved for listing with the retail giant last year, first appearing in five stores. Demand quickly outpaced supply, and Syrette and his small crew of family and friends worked frantically to keep up with requests, assembling units at his modest shop in the Blue Heron Industrial Park on the Batchewana First Nation.

“With Canadian Tire (in Sault Ste. Marie), we dropped off 45 in the morning, and that evening they were calling us and asking us for more,” Syrette said.

Sales were equally brisk at local retailers like Joe’s Sports and Surplus, which sold 19 Triggers in one day.

To date, Syrette’s company, Black Fox Fishing, has sold 5,000 units – they retail for $37.95 – which are shipped right across Canada and the U.S.

Growing up in Batchewana First Nation, Syrette has spent his whole life exploring the outdoors. He found traditional ice fishing gear bulky, heavy and hard to lug onto the ice, and so several years ago, he set about creating an alternative that was light, affordable, and easy to use.

There have been challenges along the way, but Syrette said he consulted with Elders to put him on the right path, and mentorship and resources from organizations like the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and the Blue Heron Industrial Park has been crucial in getting to this point.

“I could picture this when I first got into this, but it was so far out of my reach,” he said. “To get a mould costs thousands of dollars; to get another mould costs more thousands of dollars. I just wasn’t there in life.”

But he persisted, convinced there was something to his idea.

One day, while doodling on a piece of paper, Syrette came up with a fox design for the setting mechanism, and he sent it off to Rynz Innovative in Parry Sound to have a prototype made. The fox is now the prominent feature in the product’s design.

Rynz continues to do all the injection moulding for the company, and Syrette is immensely proud that the entire product is made and assembled in Canada.

Michael Babcock, the company’s vice-president, said each Trigger is tested a minimum of three times before it’s sent out to the customer to ensure it works. Only two of the 5,000 units sold so far have come back, a 0.0001 per cent return rate.

Babcock said the company is aiming to further reduce the price for consumers, and a key part of that will be moving from a prototype phase into a production phase, which will mean a difference of dollars versus cents in terms of cost per unit.

The company also has some additional ideas it’s working on – it wants to be more than just a one-trick pony.

“We’re in a good position because we sell a product that isn’t the next lure or the next fishing line. We’re actually in a space where the person that’s going to use it is going to catch more fish,” Babcock said. “It’s a primary objective of any angler to catch more fish, so it puts us automatically in an advantage.”

But the first priorities are to streamline the assembly process and continue growing awareness and market share of The Trigger.

This year, the company used a grant from the Broadband for E-Business and Marketing (BEAM) program to update its website and e-commerce payment systems. Syrette is also looking into expanding into a new building, a development that would require him to hire between three and four workers.

“We’re putting together prices for buildings and we’re going to actually see if we can get this up a few notches and start supplying demand,” Syrette said.

Black Fox Fishing currently has applications into provincial and federal funding agencies to get assistance with that growth.

Despite his early success, Syrette emphasizes he’s not in the business to make lots of money. A carpenter by trade, and modest in his demeanor, Syrette simply likes building for people, finding gratification in making a product that helps make fishing better.

"One of our biggest things that we look for at Black Fox Fishing (BFF) is that we want to provide people with something that works,” Syrette said.

“The biggest challenge, I think, to any entrepreneur out there that wants to get into creating their own thing, you have to make sure you're doing it with the people in mind as opposed to how much money you're going to make because that's not what it's about."