Behind the Baits: Interview with Ben Kiscellus of SpitFire Musky Baits
This month, we've reached out to our friend Ben Kiscellus who is in the early stages of producing a chatterbait that seems to sell out faster than we can get them in stock. Ben's hobby/passion project has turned into a widely loved and easy to use bait for customers of the Musky Shop, so we've asked him to answer a few questions so that our readers can put a face with the name.
Musky Shop: What was the deciding push that made you want to start producing baits?
There were several factors that got me into making baits, but money was definitely the biggest influence. My home water is the Fox River in northeastern Illinois. The river is very shallow and full of, rock, timber, random debris and trash. While I've gotten better at it over the years, I still lose a ton of baits. It was pretty rare if I didn't donate $20-$40 an outing the 1st couple years I started targeting musky. To me, it was a cost of doing business, explaining that cost to my wife proved impossible. For a while, I almost seemed like a junky trying to hide his habit. Later that summer, I fished with Steve Paul of Musky 360 for the 1st time, and he was intrigued by the large chatterbaits I had brought along. I had been making the blades out of sheet metal, getting a rough cut by hand and then finishing the shape on a grinding wheel. Two weeks later I was daydreaming at work, thinking about turning the bait making into a side business. My phone rings, and it's Steve, asking if I could send him a batch of blades to play around with on different baits. Everything snowballed from there, and we started prototyping the Kamikaze that fall. I definitely approach bait making differently now vs when I first started out. I want whatever baits I produce to be affordable to anglers no matter their budget. There are a few prototypes I've created that came out really well, but were also very difficult to make. I don't want to be one of those guys trying to sell baits that cost $100+. I feel anyone spending that kind of money on a bait is either going to be too afraid to use it in certain situations where snags are present, or fish it so cautiously that its not going to be nearly as effective. Too me, finding an efficient way to produce a bait, keeping the cost down, is just as important as the overall design of the bait. Being a mechanic, having access and knowledge to a vast number of tools and equipment has been huge in being able to re-purpose an existing tool, or design my own tools to improve the overall efficiency in producing baits. Countless hours have been spent scouring the internet, trying to the best possible price on components without sacrificing quality. Rather than making a prototype and deciding how much the final product should retail for. I take the approach of having a reasonable price in mind and challenging myself to find a way to produce it at that price. I've yet to take a paycheck from bait sales. Any profits I've made continue to get re-invested into expanding what I'm able to produce. My ultimate goal is to have spitfire baits become a household name amongst musky anglers. Having that kind of legacy is far more important to me than trying to make a quick buck. The most rewarding moment throughout this whole process was having a young kid (guessing around 10-12 years old) come up to me and tell me how he caught his PB on a Spitfire Kamikaze. The people I've met and friendships I've made as a result of producing baits has already made it more than worth the effort I've put into it.
Musky Shop: Who were your fishing influences as a young fisherman?
My dad and my older brother. My family had always taken a summer vacation up north centered around fishing since before I was even born. My dad would also take a trip every fall "to help take out the pier" at my uncle's cabin in Lac Du Flambeau. On these fall trips, he and my uncles would target muskies and they always had a VHS camcorder in the boat. To pass the time, they would film skits while soaking suckers. Some of them were pretty funny, and occasionally they'd get some footage of a fish. This was my 1st glimpse into musky fishing. A few years later, when i started getting big enough to handle a bait caster and throwing larger baits, I had my 1st in-person encounter with a giant musky. We were walleye fishing a rock pile and the bite had suddenly gone dead. My dad snapped a Storm Thunderstick on his spinning rod, and within a few casts, hooked a low 30's musky, which to me was a giant at the time. He played the fish out a bit on the lighter tackle, and then as he got it boat side, a musky that was easily 50"+ tried grabbing it. It was at this moment I thought to myself "Why are we wasting our time with these other bullshit fish?" The next summer (I was 11 or 12) I caught my 1st musky (36") casting a bucktail from shore. It was over after that point, from there on if I was on musky water that's all I cared about chasing. I credit my dad with getting me into fishing and giving me a good foundation of knowledge and skill. My older brother Alex is largely responsible for the amount I've developed as an angler from my early teens up until now. As soon as he got his driver's license, time on local water during the summer went up exponentially. After he got married, he moved about an hour west near the Fox River. Fishing was usually the excuse for us to get together from time to time, and it didn't take very long for him to show me a few spots and teach me how to read/fish moving water. I'll never admit it to my wife, but when we bought our 1st home, proximity to the fox river was probably as big a factor as any when choosing between houses. Now that my brother and I both had similar access to the same water, there came a certain level of competition that I always wanted to out fish him. This pushed the obsession even further to constantly improve as an angler and get on the water whenever possible.
Musky Shop: What is the Best Musky Fishing Advice you ever received?
Hire a guide and pick his brain as much as possible. No matter how much information you consume, there's no substitute for in-person learning.
Musky Shop: What is your personal favorite Spit Fire selection?
The full size Kamikaze for sure. It's such a versatile bait. I can fish it fast or slow, high up in the water column or dragging bottom. I'll typically swap out the treble hook for a single and it runs very clean through cover. This is one of my go-to search baits when I'm trying to dial in a pattern. I can fish just about any type of spot on a given lake with it, and cover a wide range in the water column without having to switch baits.
Musky Shop: What is the number one requested Color from clients?
Black and white move pretty consistently, but if there was one color that usually seems to sell out first, it's Dirty Chart. That color was made completely by accident. I had initially planned 5 colors when the kamikaze first went on sale at the musky shop. There was a walleye pattern that looked pretty good during prototyping, but when it came time to get bulk skirt material at wholesale, a couple of the colors were off by just enough that I thought it ruined the look of the walleye pattern. I wanted to be able to offer more than just 4 colors, but lead time on getting the skirt material was over 2 months. I also didn't want to "steal" too much material that was set aside for 1 of the other 4 colors, and run out of it prematurely. I basically took what I considered the left over silicone, and started playing with different combos. It was the 3rd or 4th skirt that I tied when I knew I had nailed it. I feel like "Dirty Chart" appeals to most anglers because it doesn't look exactly like anything swimming, but it can kind of pass for a lot of different forage species. It comes close enough to matching the hatch, with just the right amount of white and chartreuse to stand out without looking gawdy.
Musky Shop: What is your favorite musky water & why?
It would be easy to say Lake of The Woods for obvious reasons. If I suddenly won the lottery, getting a place on LOTW would be on a short list of things I'd do right away. That being said, Squaw lake in Lac du Flambeau will always have a special place in my heart. While there is a certain sentimental value the lake holds, with my family making a trip there for 20+ consecutive years, the fishery itself is quite good. I view it as the perfect combination of an action lake that has big fish potential, while being small enough that its not hard to dial in on a pattern in 1 day. Also, since the water is so heavily stained and dark, the mid-day bite is almost as good as the prime-time low light periods.
Musky Shop: What is your personal best musky and story behind it?
My PB came in early May several years ago on the fox river. It was also the 1st musky I caught in my home state of Illinois. It was the 1st spring that I decided to really dedicate time to driving an hour south to a section of the fox that had a better musky population. I struggled early on, having many fruitless outings where I didn't even see a fish. The more I fished the stretch, things slowly started to click, I had raised a musky and lost 1 that was briefly hooked my last 2 outings. Unfortunately, we received a ton of rain shortly after and the river was near historic flood levels by the time i had a chance to get back to the river. I debated whether it was even worth making the drive, knowing I might get to the river and find it unfishable due to flooding. It was the 1st 80 degree day of the spring, and I didn't have anything better to do, I knew the spot I had contacted fish might be the 1 area in that stretch that still had some slack water for a musky to escape the current. When I got to the river, conditions were just as bad, if not worse, than I had expected. Picnic benches at the nearby park looked like swimming docks, only the table top visible above the water. Visibility was 6 inches at best. The one spot I thought might be fishable did still have a small pool out of the current, but it was about the size of a phone booth. I grinded it out for several hours until the sun went down. I packed up and started driving home, but turned the car around after a few minutes. I remembered just a little further down river, there was a small drainage channel that is normally would have a tiny trickle of water flowing into the river. I decided to go check it out to see how deep it was with the flood conditions and if it was even castable with all the brush that surrounded it, rather than potentially waste time on a future trip. I threw a rattle trap on 1 of my rods and headed over to a walking bridge that went over the mouth of the channel. I realized right away, there was no way to cast or fish the channel. The bank was lined with brush that was now submerged, and there was only about a 10'x12' area that you could pitch a cast to before the overhanging trees and brush really closed in on the center of the channel. Just out of curiosity, I dropped my rattle trap straight down in to gauge the depth. It was a little over 5' deep. I went to the other side of the bridge railing and dropped it again, this time getting hung up on the bottom. I popped it free and a split second later, my rod doubled over. The second the fish came to the surface I knew it was easily the bigger than my previous PB by a decent margin. Now I had to figure out how the hell I was going to land it. The bridge I was standing on wasn't more than a foot above the water, but it had a railing that was about chest high. There was about a 2' patch of grass adjacent to the bridge, right next to a large oak tree. This was the only place that didn't have thick brush lining the bank. I managed to bear hug the tree and get my rod around it so i could stand in the grass. The musky continued to make runs into the submerged brush, getting the line hung up every time. There were several moments where I thought lost the fish, because it would run into the brush anytime i tried grabbing it, getting the line hung up and only feeling the dead weight of the brush. Eventually, the musky would swim out of there and free up the line again. This went on for several minutes, before i decided it was time to end things, fearing for the health of the fish. I could see the rattle trap was easily accessible in the corner of the mouth. I pulled out my phone to snap a quick pic of the fish in the water, and was planning on grabbing the hooks with my pliers to shake the musky loose in the water. As i tried bringing the fish near the surface for a pic, it turned the wrong way when making a run and it partially beached itself at my feet. I took a picture of it at the water's edge, grabbed it and popped the hooks free, and took a quick selfie as I got it turned around and back in the water. It didn't take long to revive the fish, the water was still cool and full of oxygen from all the recent rain. I knew it was upper 40's at a minimum. I used some reference points from the 1st photo I took and cut a piece of line that I stretched out over those reference points. When I got home, I measured the line at 49.5". My gut tells me it was over 50", because I erred on underestimating the size when taking my measurements. At the time, I thought this was about as big a fish that the river was capable of producing. 2 years later, I spotted 1 below a dam at night with my headlamp that made this fish look very average. There's very little doubt in my mind that it would have broken the state record if caught at the right time of year.