Osceola County man reflects on unique tip-up invention

HOME “MADE”: Don Akers of Osceola County assembles two sets of his Fish Brothers Tackle Co. tip-ups at his Tustin home. (Herald Review photo/John Raffel)
HOME “MADE”: Don Akers of Osceola County assembles two sets of his Fish Brothers Tackle Co. tip-ups at his Tustin home. (Herald Review photo/John Raffel)

TUSTIN — Don Akers is an inventor, a very unique inventor, that is.

Akers owns Fish Brother’s Tackle Co. in Tustin, a private company categorized under Fishing Tackle Manufacturers-Supplies Manufacturers. It was established in 1999 and incorporated in Michigan.

“What it amounts to is Fish Brothers Tip-ups, even though I named it a tackle company,” he said. “I didn’t know how far it would progress.”

He started manufacturing ice fishing tip-ups 14 years ago.

“I never really put a lot of marketing strategy together,” he said. “It’s a great product and everyone sees how nice it is. I have it manufactured, all-American made, in Mesick. It’s something that we toyed with. I get orders on my phone number.”

He’s been on TV and radio in the past to promote his product in the early days.

Akers has lived in the Tustin area and Osceola County since 1966. He retired 15 years ago from AAR in Cadillac, which manufactures mobility equipment for the military.

His tip-ups involved his first venture into inventing.

“I was a maintenance supervisor at AAR,” he said. “I had a lot of chances to be innovative in things that were built for them to be used throughout the shop. I’ve used this type of tip-up since 1961 or 1962. I built homemade ones and I found out where this plastic place is. It’s amazing plastic. It stays pliable cold or warm and is a quality plastic. It’s done by Spencer Plastic in Mesick.

The tip-up is easy to set up, The line goes down to the depth desired. It alerts the angler when a fish is on the line. The hole is covered to keep the snow from blowing in.

“If there’s any sunlight, it absorbs heat and keeps the hole from freezing shut,” Akers said. “You get two sets (in a package). They’re made to fit in a five-gallon pail.

“Most people that ice fish carry their equipment in a five-gallon pail. This will fit in a five-gallon pail.”

Akers said he’s aware of a place in the Upper Peninsula that uses his device for perch.

“What makes it unique is that it’s just about indestructible,” he said. “It’s compact, you get two where with anything else you buy, you get just one. When you put it in your pail it doesn’t tangle up with your other equipment either. It keeps snow from blowing into the hole and from freezing shut under some conditions. I made them in bright colors and snowmobilers don’t run them over because they’re in bright colors. They’re quite visible for anybody to see. I’ll drive past Lake Cadillac and will look out and see 10 to 15 to 20 of my tip-ups out there.

“You can tell that they’re mine because of the bright colors and height and they’re not similar to other tip-ups.”

Akers guesses that 10,000 of the tip-ups have been sold since he started. They were manufactured and assembled in Mesick at Spencer.

“They made the molds,” he said. “Mesick Mold and Spencer plastic are sister companies. They make it from me. They manufacture and assemble them and they even box them. Whenever I need an order, I give them an order. They’ve stocked them for me. I’m the owner of this product. It’s my invention. It cost $50,000 for the molds.”

The product has been stable “in the sense that some areas will take them for awhile, and then not,” Akers said. “They’re in different small bait shops. I don’t have them in any major stores, just small bait shops. I’ve been all over the United States and have even a couple of them like in Finland and some in Canada.”

The item costs around $24 retail.

“It’s pretty much stayed in the mid 20s,” Akers said. “I’ve always maintained that it’s a pretty poor fisherman that can’t modify his equipment to suit himself. Everybody comes up with little things, tricks, to make their fishing easier.”

He has worldwide recognition with his product’s bar-code.

Akers handles the marketing.

“Probably had I had somebody develop marketing for me, it would have been 10 times the business,” Akers said. “But I didn’t do that. I pretty much made the personal contacts myself. That’s something I like to do. It probably cost money in the long run.”

Akers said he’s seen people watching others use his tip-up, get the number and give him a call for an order.

“People see them and they love them,” he said. “Years ago, I probably could have sold 500,000 if I had marketed them properly. I like to make the contact myself. I like the personal contact with people. I probably could have made good money. I really like being out, delivering them, shipping them, whatever it took.

“I had one company that sold them on the Internet for awhile for three or four years.”

Akers enjoys ice fishing himself. He enjoys Rose Lake, Center Lake, Lake Cadillac and others. He fishes trout, walleye, panfish and pike. He’s been an avid ice fisherman for 65 years. He’s from the Grayling area.

Akers stays in the area year round but he also fishes at his daughter’s in Canada. Memorable local fish catches have included a 16-pound pike and an 8.5-pound walleye.

“It’s a great area,” he said. “There are a lot of lakes around here. I can’t think of one that doesn’t have decent ice fishing. They’re all nice lakes.”

Akers is encouraged that more youngsters are ice fishing.

“You don’t have to have high tech stuff,” he said. “This year is looking better. The ice is strong and clear. Last year was fairly poor compared to this year. This year is decent.”

Akers is an active builder including such items as benches and school desks.

He and his wife, Carole, are open-water fishing fans for salmon at Manistee, plus Rose Lake and Center Lake or pan fish. They also fish in Canada at Lake Simcoe.

“It’s an excellent lake. The perch in there are amazing,” he said. “You can go three days and get 300 perch. You can catch all the perch you can carry.”

Akers also is an avid deer hunter and is getting his grandchildren involved. He and his grandchidren killed three bucks this season.

“We don’t have trouble seeing 20 deer here anytime,” he said. “They come through here all the time, sometimes 50 deer a day. It keeps you awake. I do just rifle.”

He’s 74 and Akers said he’s “winding down. It’s time to do something else. We raise a big garden and can food for the big kids. I’ll probably turn (his business) to the plastics place and let them do what they want to with it, now that I got to this point.”

Akers got a call in early January from a man who had gotten a set up of Akers tip-ups from his daughter 10  years ago

“He took the number off it, he owns Ace Hardware in Rogers City,” Akers said. “He took the number off the label and ordered tip-ups. That’s what I get all the time.”

He also recalls the captain of the Canadian International Ice Fishing team which fishes all over the world, was given a couple of Akers’ tip-ups. He translated the instructions into French.

“So I now have English on one side and French on the other since I have some tip-ups in Canada,,” he said.

In his years of business, Akers recalls only one case of nonpayment.

“If somebody calls me, I don’t care where they’re at, I say ‘you send the check and I’ll send the tip-up and they’ll pass in the mail,’” Akers said. “I’ve only gotten stung once.”