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Ode to an old fisherman

01/08/2017, 12:34am EST
By By MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

Dennis Bryant was 1-man-band, making 2,500 fishing lures a day

Ode to an old fisherman

Dennis Bryant was the owner of Zap Custom Lure Co. on Upton Avenue and his custom-made fishing lures were popular with Lake Erie charter boat captains, tournament bass fishermen, and anglers who fished the walleye and white bass runs on the Maumee River.

There were drawers stuffed full of awards and certificates from fishing clubs and tournaments throughout the region. Dennis Bryant was a 35-year veteran of the “bass wars” and had plenty of hardware and honors to document his 181 Top 10 finishes in bass fishing tournaments.

But none of that stuff meant nearly as much to this humble old fisherman as one photograph from the other side of the world. It showed a soldier proudly holding up a fish he had caught while serving in Iraq, pulled from the pond behind Saddam Hussein’s castle, which was visible in the background.

The young U.S. military man caught that fish on a Zap Lure, custom made in Toledo by a former Marine named Dennis Bryant, who regularly sent fishing lures to our service members who were deployed overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.

“Seeing that picture, with a fish caught on one of his lures — that was an extremely proud moment for him,” Chris Bryant said about his father, who passed away just before Christmas. “He wanted to support those guys in any way that he could.”

Dennis left us about three weeks before he would have marked his 73rd year on this big fishing hole we call planet Earth. The end was sudden and unexpected, since the guy was on the go constantly and regularly worked 15 hour days at his shop on Upton Avenue. He came home after a full shift at his Zap Custom Lure Co. where he made a wide array of fishing tackle, had a bowl of chili, sat down on the couch, and died of a heart attack.

“It was a shock, because dad was going strong and he always said he planned to work until he was 80,” Chris Bryant said.

“But the response we’ve received from people who knew him and bought his fishing lures — it has been absolutely overwhelming. He touched so many lives in one way or another, and it’s hard to believe you can do that with selling fishing lures.”

Although the lures he made were of the finest quality since he was a stickler for detail and precision, his angler customers and friends will likely first miss that gregarious laugh, that voice lathered with a deep and soothing dose of gravel to it, and that trademark mustache. Dennis Bryant wore a mustache, and he got his money’s worth out of it. His was a full-fledged cookie duster.

Bryant was a Toledo product, and a graduate of Macomber High School who served his country as a Marine during the Vietnam War. He attended college in Maryland after leaving the service, studying business management and operations, and worked a stint for a finance company.

After moving back to Toledo, Bryant worked for Toledo Edison and made fishing lures in the basement of the family home on Blanchard Street. After an on-the-job injury forced him to take early retirement from Edison at age 53, Bryant turned his hobby and passion for fishing into a business.

“Everything he did was absolutely by the book — once a Marine, always a Marine,” Chris Bryant said. “He had a structure to his life and a tremendous amount of pride in his work. You might say he left the Marines, but the Marines never left him.”

Bryant taught his sons Chris and Keith to fish on frequent outings to Metzger Marsh.

“Dad let us have our fun and make some mistakes, but he was always the teacher,” Chris said. “He would play along, but when it was time, he would reel us back in. That’s just the way he did things.”

Bryant supplied fishing lures to many of the Lake Erie charter boat captains and to a number of professional anglers, but he was likely most identifiable to the river fishermen who chased the spring walleye and white bass runs on the Maumee River.

You knew the run was on if that Zap Lures van was parked on the gravel along River Road and just down from Riverside Cemetery, and next to the arm of the Maumee River that wraps around Blue Grass Island at Side Cut Metropark. He sold his lures at a very reasonable price, and dispensed the smile, that throaty laugh, and honest information on the fishing all for free.

Following his father’s death, Chris Bryant heard from one young man who said that as a kid years earlier he had been down along the river with his own dad and sat there watching eagerly while his father fished.

“They only had one pole and the father was fishing, so my dad pulled a new fishing rod and tackle box out of his van and handed it to the kid and told him to go fishing. The young man said he remembered the kind gesture, and he remembered my father’s mustache,” Chris Bryant said. “That story was touching and it made me feel good, but I wasn’t surprised at all. That was my dad.”

Following Dennis Bryant’s death, the fate of the business is in limbo. Dennis Bryant was a one-man-band, and now the music of him making 2,500 fishing lures a day has gone silent.

“Unfortunately, my dad was the company and every lure had his own personal touch,” Chris Bryant said. “So I guess we’ll find a way to sell everything, and maybe keep his molds and try to revive it sometime later.”

Dennis Bryant had told his two sons he would teach them the business when he reached 75, but he never made it. When that Master Angler in the sky taps you on the shoulder, you know your work on terra firma is complete.

“It’s tough, losing him like that, but dad would never have wanted to waste away or go to a nursing home,” Chris Bryant said. “He was surrounded by fishing and he did what he loved to do every day of his life. He was one of the lucky ones — he got all of his wishes.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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