NUNEZ — Fishermen always want to get their fingers on quality artificial lures so they can get their hands on quality fish.

Zach Dubois is an accomplished bass fisherman, a good stick, as they say in the sport, who gets his hands on quality bass. What’s more, Dubois makes quality soft plastic baits that are in demand here and across the region.

And he does it his way, the Cajun way. Hence the name of the soft plastics that are sought after by fishermen who chase quality bass, speckled trout and sac-a-lait.

Cajun Lures LLC is his business, his livelihood, his labor of love that comes with its share of mostly ups and a few downs. The company’s Bayou Bugs, Crackin’ Craws, Cooyon Croakers, to name a few, are wildly popular for bass while speckled trout and redfish go wild over Mad Minnas, Zydeco Shads and Meen Beetles.

His soft plastics are sold in approximately 50 stores (all but two in Texas and the rest in Louisiana) and online, a sizeable operation that belies the size of the physical “manufacturing plant.”

Dubois, 27, lives in Nunez, a small community 3 ½ miles east of Kaplan. The tiny storage shed next to his house is where it all happens.

He had a good laugh recently when the mother of a University of Louisiana Fishing Team member asked if the Ragin’ Cajuns could tour the manufacturing plant while they were in town one weekend.

“I had to explain to her it was just a very small shed at my house and not an actual ‘large’ factory. I told her the tour would take less than five minutes,” he said in mid-February as a visitor toured the storage shed. “I’m like, this is all 120-square-feet of it. This is where it gets done.”

There are special moments when he realizes how much Cajun Lures LLC products mean to anglers across Louisiana. He was on his way back a few weeks ago from Toledo Bend, where his family has a camp along Negreet Creek, when he stopped in Leesville to gas up his pickup truck, which has a Cajun Lures LLC logo covering the rear window.

A Louisiana State Police trooper who also was pumping gas saw the logo and began talking to him about Cajun Lures. The trooper told him how he fished for bass with the soft plastics “all the time.”

When the law enforcement officer found out he was the owner, he walked over and the conversation continued. Dubois showed him photos and his business card and realized how impressed the state trooper was with Cajun Lures.

“That’s funny. How random. A state trooper in Leesville. He not just knew about it but was excited about it,” he said.

Dubois can laugh about it. He can appreciate the growing number of users. And he can get his share of headaches associated with a small business.

For example, at the time, he was very unhappy because a sorely needed mold that was supposed to be ready a month earlier was nowhere to be seen, wasn’t even built yet. With it, countless more soft plastics would be rolling off the, ummmm, assembly line because he took out a small business loan to buy a used injection machine that stands on the floor in the middle of the building.

Basically, he said, supply isn’t meeting the demand for some of the most popular soft plastics, with the Mad Minna at the top of the list.

Without the mold, he said, “I’ve had to change some plans for the year. I need the mold for Cooyon Croakers, Slim Jimmys, Bayou Bugs, a lot of different products I was selling throughout the past year.

“You know, it’s funny. The whole mold situation has been a burden lately, kind of dampened my spirits. It’s kind of an uphill battle,” he said.

But talks with the ULL Fishing Team member’s mother and the state trooper are welcome picker uppers.

“My goal and dream is to make a bunch of money doing this. I haven’t gotten there yet. I will one day … Once I get all the molds for the machine, I’ll get there,” he said.

Bottom line, he said about the business of designing, prototyping and manufacturing the finished product, more than 1 million pieces each year, “It’s definitely still fun for me. I definitely enjoy making baits, injecting them and the mold (making). There’s that.”

Mostly, Dubois has used hand molds that produce either four or 12 pieces at a time. He longs for the day he has all the molds for the injection machine.

The Kaplan High School graduate earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial design  from ULL in 2014, then worked 2 ½ years as a full time marine designer before the company parted ways with him. His Cajun Lures LLC started operation in January 2015.

“It’s been five full years going on six. I’ve been doing it full time for 2 ½ years now. My goal each day is just to make the baits and get them out,” he said.

He gets timely assistance from his mother, Eve Dubois, a teacher who is nearing retirement, other relatives and friends. His mom, he bragged, is by far the fastest (“lighting fast,” he said) at inserting the soft plastics into the bags.

Dubois and his wife, Kayla Kebedeaux Dubois, an educator at Kaplan Elementary School, moved into the house three years ago. His father, Darren Dubois, helped him move his artificial lure making equipment out of the family home’s large shed – 30×40 – a veritable barn compared to the new site.

The injection machine takes up most of the floor space. The shop is crowded but he gets around, using available room as efficiently as possible.

“The business has expanded but the shop hasn’t,” he said.

His Cajun ingenuity is paying off. For example, the liquid plastic in large metal barrels needs to be stirred before using it to make soft plastics.

Stirring it by hand took up 20 percent of his time in the process, he learned long ago, and the contraption he set up shook the whole barrel.

A drum mixer on the market costs approximately $800, Dubois said, so he improvised by using wooden blocks with vises to secure a steel rod with a large stirring paddle. He can plug the stirring machine in and go about his business.

“I’ve got to figure out the most cost efficient way … Most of the time it ends up with me inventing something like that. It only took me a college degree and some 2x4s to figure it out,” he said with a soft laught.

The liquid plastic in the barrels is for different densities. The “soft” liquid plastic is for  worms. The “medium” liquid plastic is for creature baits and such. The “heavy” plastic is for saltwater baits, like the madly popular Mad Minna.

The printer he bought to make bar codes doubles up as a way to print out logos for special occasions, which he did for 100 bags of Crackin Craws he donated to the Big Bass Classic recently on Lake Fausse Pointe. The popular tournament benefitted the Lydia Cancer Association and Acadiana Hope for a Cure.

Those fishermen who got their hands on those free bags with the slogan “Catch Em on a Cajun” are doing just that while the one-man business keeps churning out the soft plastics in Vermilion Parish.

Don Shoopman, originally published in The Daily Iberian, March 8, 2020