Recycling squirrel tails

ANTIGO, Wis. – Mepps recycles. But the folks at the Sheldons’, Inc., lure manufacturing plant don’t want your aluminum cans or plastic soda bottles. They want your squirrel tails. They need them to create hand-tied dressed hooks that do a great job catching fish.

“We know this for a fact,” said Mepps spokesperson Jim Martinsen points out. “Because here at Mepps, we’ve been recycling squirrel tails for about a half a century, and we recycle more of them than anyone else in the world. This makes us a recycling pioneer and we’re proud of it.”

Mepps has tried hundreds of other materials, both natural and synthetic and nothing else works as well. Company founder Todd Sheldon discovered this in the early 1960s. While fishing the Wolf River with Mepps spinners, he caught his limit of trout and was heading back to his car when he met a boy who also had limited out fishing with Mepps. And in true Norman Rockwell fashion, all of the boy’s trout were larger than Todd’s. He noticed the Mepps spinner attached to the boy’s line had a tuft of squirrel tail tied to the hook so he began experimenting with dressed hooks. Bear hair was tried as well as fox, coyote, badger, skunk, deer, even Angus cow. But the only two tails that provided the pulsating action Todd was looking for were squirrel tails and buck tails.

Squirrel tail quickly became the dressing of choice for Mepps trout spinners. Big spinners for trophy musky, pike and bass were dressed with bucktail. It wasn’t long before Mepps Bucktails had caught more trophy musky and northern pike than any other lure in the world. Mepps has been recycling squirrel and deer tails ever since.

“Squirrel Tails Wanted” reads the carved wooden sign on Wisconsin’s highway 45 north in Antigo. The sign amuses and intrigues motorists, some of whom stop to find out what we’re all about. The Mepps folks welcome visitors and offer weekday tours. But among their favorite visitors are squirrel hunters who stop by with tails to sell.

While Mepps buys squirrel tails from individual hunters, most of their deer tails come from fur buyers or meat processors.

Processing both squirrel and deer tails is a lot of work. Every deer tail must be trimmed to remove any body hair. Squirrel tails seldom need trimming, but they do need to be sorted and graded. All of the tails need to be washed, not once, but several times. After drying, some are left natural while others are dyed brilliant hues. In the hands of a skilled fly-tyer they become a Mepps dressed hook.

“Mepps is only interested in recycling tails taken from squirrels that have been harvested for the table,” Martinsen said. “We do not advocate taking squirrels strictly for their tails.”

You can also exchange squirrel tails for Mepps lures. Details on the Mepps squirrel tail recycling program, including care and handing instructions, can be found at: www.mepps.com/squirrels. Interested hunters can also call (800) 713-3474.

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