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Indianola fishing/hunting business grows from $15 worm business

Slater’s Jigs/Quality Outdoor Products sells all over the U.S.

Indianola — A love of fishing and the desire to catch more fish led to the founding of Slater’s Jigs and Quality Outdoor Products. Now a mainstay for fishing and hunting in the Mississippi Delta, Slater’s is known far and wide and ships products all over the country through its Web site and mail order catalogue.

It began 33 years ago when Eddie Slater, 69, lost his fishing worm business in a heavy rain. They were known as Slater’s Wigglers, and Slater, who worked for Mississippi Power & Light Company at the time, boxed worms at night and ran routes in Greenville and Greenwood on weekends to sell them. He had built his $15 investment into millions of worms.

After losing the worms, a friend showed Slater how to make a fishing lure with nylon rope and lead shot. He took $30 from his savings and used $15 to buy a single cavity mold and the rest to buy supplies. With an orange head, black chenille body and yellow calf hair tail, the first Slater’s jig was born.

“I made six jigs and named it Slater’s Standby,” he says. “It’s still a top seller and when everything else fails, we tell folks to go to the Standby. We make over 300 jigs now, but that one still produces and it’s one of the top four I use.”

Slater took those first six jigs and four poles to Mossy Lake in Leflore County for what turned out to be an eventful day of crappie fishing that would secure his future. As he was going in, he met a fisherman coming out who advised him that it was so bad there was no need for him to put his pole in the water. But that word of warning did not stop the determined Slater.

“Fish started hitting that first pole and I never got the second pole in the water. I was continuously catching fish and had 38 in three hours time,” he said. “Some guys in another boat weren’t catching anything and wanted to know what I was using.”

That encounter spurred an order for two dozen jigs which Slater sold for $3 a dozen and word spread. The Kroger Family Center in Greenville called and asked for 52 dozen, which he delivered on a Friday night. The store called the following Monday morning to let him know they had sold out. Other stores started calling with orders. Slater soon hired his first person and in three months hired four people.

“The Lord has blessed us tremendously and I give the credit to Him,” he says. “We have customers all over the country and value all of them.”

A state crappie champion, Slater has served as a crappie guide for the National Hunting and Fishing Library. He fished in some of the first tournaments organized in the state, including seven in partnership with former state fish and game commission director Billy Joe Cross.

He still enjoys the business and plans to continue, but says his son, Jimmy, is now the president and he’s content to serve as “the gopher.” Two grandsons fish with him and help out in the business, too.

Jimmy recalls the time-consuming task of hand tying lures as a little boy in his parents’ backyard. Today, Slater’s Jigs are made by seven or eight women around town who do it as piecework. The 300 varieties featured in Slater’s catalogue are made in a combination of colors and hook sizes.

The business has expanded to include all equipment related to fishing and hunting from the 10,000-square-foot facility on U.S. 49 in Indianola. “It’s like three different businesses going on in one store — retail, wholesale to distributors and mail order,” Jimmy said.

The Slaters carry guns, muzzle loaders, scopes, tree stands, ammunition, licenses, duck calls, boat paddles, cricket cages, fishing poles, reels, guides — you name it. If it’s related to hunting and fishing, they have it.

“We sell a lot of camouflage clothing in all the latest patterns, but we have to be careful when buying that we don’t get stuck with it,” he said. “The patterns change just about every year and hunters like to keep up with new things.”

A lot of business comes from the numerous duck hunting guide services and deer camps in the Delta with deer hunters outnumbering all other kind of outdoorsmen. However, Slater feels the retail business has taken a hit from recent industries that have closed in the Delta.

Catching the limit

Slater has come up with a new idea that’s in the current catalogue. It’s Slater’s Dandy Dozen and sells for $30 in a compartmentalized plastic box. “I’ve picked out 12 of my favorites. They can be made in any hook size — 2, 4, 6 or 8 — four of each color you want,” he says. “They’re the ones I use the most and they’re guaranteed to catch fish if you put them in water where there are fish.”

The founder of Slater’s Jigs says the last three times he’s gone to fish at Wolf Lake, he’s caught the limit of 30 fish each time. He recalls that he always liked fishing from the time he was a boy on the Sunflower River. He grew up at Slater’s Ferry, 18 miles south of Indianola.

“The river was the only mode of transportation for many years and the Slaters ran that ferry until they did away with it in about 1951,” he said. “It operated between Humphreys and Washington counties and was pulled by an old T-model engine.”

Now, he and his wife, Dorothy, live on the Watson place where she was born. They built a home there in 1998 and established Slaterville when Jimmy and their daughter, Valina Winters, also built homes there.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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