June 12th, 2024

Former SFU player Hartnagle continuing his father’s passion with company

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on February 24, 2023.

Matt Hartnagle, shown in a handout photo, is continuing his father's passion. In 2001, Steven Hartnagle began Blackfly Lures, a company that produces handmade fishing products. Matt, a former offensive lineman at Simon Fraser University, took over the business in 2019 after his father passed away following a year-long battle with cancer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Matt Hartnagle **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Matt Hartnagle is continuing his father’s passion.

In 2001, Steven Hartnagle began Blackfly Lures, a company that produces handmade fishing products. Matt Hartnagle, a former offensive lineman at Simon Fraser University, took over the business in 2019 after his father died following a yearlong battle with cancer.

“I don’t need a reminder of my dad because for 16 hours a day I’m working on what he was most proud of,” Hartnagle said during a recent telephone interview. “My dad was a painter, he painted to pay the bills and this (Blackfly Lures) was his passion and what he actually liked to do.”

Steven Hartnagle began Blackfly Lures partly because he couldn’t find a spinnerbait he liked.

“It was mostly out of stubbornness that he started the company,” Matt Hartnagle said with a chuckle. “That was his thing.

“He wasn’t a tournament angler, he wasn’t a professional fisherman. He’d fish when he had time. It was like, ‘I can’t find a decent spinnerbait to save my life, so…'”

The spinnerbait is one of fishing’s most versatile lures. It can be used for multiple species at various depths along weed edges or bumped off stumps and rocks to provoke strikes.

It consists of a hook that comes from a head that’s usually moulded from lead. A wire, with beads and various-shaped blades, protrudes from the head, which is dressed with a silicone or rubber skirt. The lures come in an assortment of colours and sizes.

Blackfly Lures carries traditional spinnerbaits (with single or double Willow and Colorado blades) and colours. But it also developed baits with Hatchet Blades, which feature a unique, distinctive curve that provide more flash and vibration in water.

“The Hatchet Blades are kind of our signature offering,” Hartnagle said. “It has a unique action that does really well in pressured waters because it’s something fish haven’t seen or heard before.”

Other subtle differences in Blackfly Lures’ spinnerbaits include closed eyelets (so line doesn’t slide down the metal arm), stainless steel wires to skirts (not rubber), double-coloured eyes and black-coated wire to limit detection in water.

The company also offers many other baits for bass, northern pike and muskellunge, separate tackle boxes (depending on species), terminal tackle and apparel, which are all available online (www.blackflylures.com).

Hartnagle, 31, resides in North Bay. Ont., where he operates the business which provides product for 15 stores province-wide. He was working in B.C. when his father was first diagnosed in 2018 and immediately returned home be with his family and assist with his father’s care.

Hartnagle has faced challenges since taking over his father’s business. He had little time to grieve as two days after his father’s death, Hartnagle was at a trade show representing Blackfly Lures. And while learning the nuances of the operation on the fly, then came the global pandemic.

“That was interesting, for sure,” Hartnagle said. “The first year was trying to figure everything out because I’d helped him before but I’d never ordered things, I’d never run the company so it was trying to figure everything out.

“And then you had COVID on top of that so everything was kind of messed up . . . it was a big learning curve and took a little longer to figure everything out.”

But there was a silver lining to the COVID cloud.

“I didn’t really know my stock levels and stuff like that so I guess it was kind of good the stores weren’t open and I could kind of build up stock,” Hartnagle said. “I’d never really run a full season with dad so I didn’t know what I’d need for stores.”

Not long ago, it appeared Hartnagle’s future was in pro football. The towering six-foot-seven, 300-pound offensive lineman had garnered CFL attention at Simon Fraser before a chronic left shoulder ailment – which required multiple surgeries – scuttled those plans.

Hartnagle, now 25 pounds under his playing weight, sometimes wonders what might’ve been regarding pro football. But it’s not something he dwells upon because he looked at a CFL career as a dream, not a goal.

“It would’ve been a different life, for sure,” he said.

Hartnagle came from a football family. His older brother, J.D., played tight end at Western Ontario.

These days, Matt Hartnagle says he’s in a good place.

The business is doing well enough that Hartnagle is optimistic of future expansion. And while operating a lure company would appear to be the dream job for a recreational angler like Hartnagle, he has precious little time to enjoy the fruits of his labour because he must work during fishing season so other anglers have the tools needed to be successful.

Hartnagle has also been able to honour his father’s memory, participating in a beard-shaving promotion to raise money for the wing at Toronto’s Princess Margaret’s Hospital, where Steven Hartnagle was treated.

“I mean, I make fishing lures for a living, which is great,” he said. “Spending each day doing something my dad was so proud of and getting those constant reminders of the silly little things he’d say to me is awesome.”

Hartnagle does wish he could pick his father’s brain about the business. At least, though, he knows what went into the company name.

“We black-coat our spinnerbait wires so dad wanted to play on that,” Hartnagle said. “It used to be the black fly bite was a badge of honour for Ontario fishermen so that’s kind of where the name came from.

“But I wish I would’ve asked him, ‘Why did you start the Hatchet Blade or why do you do this?’ There’s always questions I want to ask but on the whole it’s been really amazing and really, really cool.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.

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