The Mepps Man
Public Relations Posted Jan 28, 2015 by chenpr
When I was a lad my favorite fishing lure was the Mepps spinner.
Made in Antigo, Wisconsin, Mepps spinners were (and still are) a pretty good choice if you wanted to tie something on to the end of your line and catch fish. Their annual catalog, timed to hit my mailbox when spring fever was at full pique, featured pictures of regular folks holding fish they’d caught with a Mepps spinner. As a boy growing up in New England, apart from trips to Nova Scotia to visit my grandparents, or to summer Bible camp in the Adirondacks, I never ranged very far from home and those photos transported me to faraway, wild places where I imagined the abundant waters teemed with enormous fish.
In addition to its photos of real people with real fish, the Mepps catalog included personal stories by Mr. Shepherd recounting his trips to Alaska where he used his spinners to catch trout, salmon, northern pike and the exotic sheefish. The back cover of the catalog always included the request, “squirrel hunters: don’t throw away those tails!” and an offer to take said tails, the fur of which was used to dress the spinners’ hooks, in trade for merchandise credit.
Whether it was his picture on the cover of the catalog, his stories inside or the entreaty on the back, it felt to me like I knew T. Layton “Shep” Shepherd. And so I wrote him a letter. Likely scrawled in the sloppy cursive of a pre-teen boy, I shared my own stories of fishing prowess using Mepps spinners in order to thank him for being a part of my love of the sport.
And wouldn’t you know it, he wrote me back. T. Layton “Shep” Shepherd, globetrotting sportsman and president of a world famous tackle company in faraway Antigo, Wisconsin, responded to every one of my letters. And I wrote a few.
These weren’t form letters with a boilerplate “Dear Mepps Fan” salutation, but correspondence specific to the letters I’d written. Each was signed “Shep” in ball point pen.
While it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a secretary wrote those letters, I tend to believe they were as genuine as I remember. I have an image in my mind of a kindly gentleman, pipe clenched between his teeth, taking time from his day to dash off a letter on an old Underwood typewriter just before grabbing a fishing rod and heading for the water. And I like to think that Mr. Shepherd looked forward to my letters as much as I looked forward to his—and that he missed hearing from me when I outgrew the practice.
He passed away twenty years ago, at the age of 81, having built one of the most respected brands in recreational fishing, and having left an indelible mark on the life of at least one young angler.
Most of the fishing I do these days is with a fly rod, but on those occasions when I grab a spinning rod, there’s a good chance I’ll be casting a Mepps. I’m still fiercely loyal to those spinners and it’s all because of one man who took the time to write a letter to a young boy.
And not just any man; the Mepps Man.
At 9:36 this morning I got an email.
“Thanks for the great memoir of your younger days. It brought back memories for me, too. So much has changed since then,” the letter began, and I felt the same joy I did as a young boy tearing open an envelop imprinted with the Mepps logo.
You see, that email was from T. Layton Shepherd. Seems I’d confused him with Mepps’ founder Todd Sheldon in reporting that he’d passed away. Indeed, “Shep” is still very much alive and still very much a part of Mepps. What a delight to see that name appear in my in-box. There was some history and new information passed along. Shep was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame last year. And, yes, he handled his own correspondence. Of course he did. And still does.
“Mike, I sure appreciate the compliments from you and that I made a difference in your life. I hope I’m still connecting with fishermen all over the country. I still answer all my own emails and I’m very busy on the road testing lures and new products.”
An early draft of my blog included an expression of my regret for having missed the opportunity to thank Shep for taking the time to write to me and help instill a deeper love of fishing. How wonderful to hear back from the man and to be able to rectify that oversight.
I replied to Mr. Shepherd immediately and thanked him directly. I also told him that his letters were a lesson to me that I’ve tried to apply in my own life. Sure, we’ve got to earn a living, but it’s the people we meet and the relationships we make that matter most.
Having read my blog, Shep said he went into the company’s archives and found a record of my participation in the Mepps angler award program; he invited me to continue my pursuit some forty years later. I’d earned two chevrons for fish caught out of a local pond, and with two more qualifying fish I’ll finally become a Mepps Master Angler. (You can bet I’ll try!)
His email ended on a familiar chord.
“Mike, thanks again for the article. As always…………..Good fishin’,