EAST ORLAND – Lloyd Turner Jr. has enjoyed ice fishing since his childhood days on Verona Island.
It wasn’t until some 25 years later, in 1989, that he ran out of patience with his old-fashioned tipups. The traps were often triggered by gusts of wind instead of fish strikes, were prone to freeze-ups, and required frequent repairs to keep them operational.
Out of his frustration, the concept of a more user-friendly ice fishing trap was born.
“I used the old-style traps, the ones with the flat spring on the back, and the damned staples were always falling out of them,” said the 46-year-old Turner, a power plant engineer at Champion International paper in Bucksport.
“I went out in the garage and took some tubing and a hack saw and I made one,” he said.
Within a year of his initial tinkering, Turner was making the Heritage ice fishing trap at his shop on Route 1. He took the finished product to sporting goods king L.L. Bean, which endorsed the trap.
“After I talked to L.L. Bean with that first one and they said, `you’re not going to have any problem,’ I figured I’d go ahead,” said Turner, who invested $60,000 to get the company started.
Ten years later, a seven-person crew made up mostly of family members will crank out some 18,000 traps for Heritage Tackle and Gear again this season.
A two-room garage measuring 54 feet by 36 feet houses all the equipment and materials needed to produce what is considered one of the state’s best ice fishing traps.
“It is a real popular trap. We sell more of those than anything,” said Van Raymond of Van Raymond Outfitters in Brewer. “It’s a good quality product and works fine. They’re great for togue and salmon, pickerel and perch.”
Chris Lander of Orrington, an avid ice fisherman, swears by the Heritage traps, which are made from maple cut produced by Houlton International Corporation.
“I like them a lot,” Lander said. “I’ve never had a freeze-up with them. They’re very low-maintenance, and when it’s real cold out on the the lake, low maintenance is a good thing. I don’t have a wind flag or have to fool with my traps all day long.”
The Heritage workers make the process look easy as they take turns drilling holes, installing bolts, bending aluminum, injecting lubricant, cutting tubing, and sticking on flags.
It took an incredible amount of design work and planning by Turner to develop an effective, inexpensive ice fishing trap that is durable, yet lightweight, won’t freeze up, and which has an adjustable drag on the spool.
“When you design something, you’ve got to think about how every person’s going to treat that piece of equipment,” Turner said. “You make it as good as you can and try to keep the cost down.”
The depth of the Heritage trap’s design and the complexity of the production process can be summed up with some numbers. Turner owns a U.S. patent for 19 different components of the device.
It requires 36 pieces, including grease and glue, to build each trap.
Heritage has an assortment of 27 machines and devices, most of which have custom-made dies, to manufacture and assemble the traps, assuring quality. Turner also relies on several other companies to provide precut aircraft aluminum and other parts built to Heritage specifications.
Of all the features on the trap, Turner is proudest of his no-freeze trip mechanism. A stainless steel wire is encased in a foot-long section of copper tubing containing a synthetic lubricant. When the spool is rotated, the wire trips a spring-loaded flag.
“It doesn’t freeze up and the grease in that tube is biodegradeable,” Turner said of the gadget, which retains the liquid. “It goes down to 65 degrees below zero.”
A variety of ice fishing traps is available in Maine sporting goods stores and departments stores. The Heritage trap competes with other Maine-made brands, including the Tip ‘n Spin manufactured by Maine Wood Products in Old Town, the Allagash trap made by JHM Specialties in Kents Hill, the Jack Trap by Tim Jackson in Monmouth, and the Moosehead trap.
Prices range anywhere from $7.49 up to $35 for Jackson’s Big Bob tipup. The Heritage trap retails for $13 to $17.
To Turner, affordability and quality are as important as the functionality of the tipup. He said he has increased the price of the traps by only 65-70 cents over the years to cover the increase in the cost of materials.
Heritage also sells all the replacement parts for its traps.
“If somebody’s gonna spend 15 or 16 bucks, it ought to last them a while,” Turner said.
“I bet I haven’t had 25 come back and, out of the 25, probably half of those were because somebody ran over them. I designed these things so I could take them apart and fix them.”
Not to say the business hasn’t been profitable. Turner has put his daughters, Jenny and Jeszelcq, through college while providing jobs for his employees, among them his mother and father, Gloria and Lloyd Turner Sr.
Heritage ice fishing traps are sold across the Northeast. In addition to L.L. Bean, Wal-Mart, Sears, Rite Aid and other chains stock Turner’s tipups during the winter.
Turner estimates Heritage has sold upwards of 200,000 traps in 10 years, all without any advertising, save for the first year or two.
“If it isn’t good enough that people say it’s good, then it ain’t good enough,” Turner said.
Heritage is a seasonal company and limits its prodcution to six months in compliance with Maine law. Work usually begins in late August and runs through late December or early January.
One season, the company cranked out and sold 36,000 traps. But Turner learned long ago that trying to increase profit brings with it some unwanted byproducts – fatigue and pressure.
“Everybody was tired and the shop wasn’t big enough,” Turner said. “The big distributors were pressuring us and I had more headaches than I really wanted, so I slowed it down.”
It was similar stresses that led Turner back to Maine more than 20 years ago. Upon graduating from Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, he worked for 3 1/2 years in Connecticut at General Dynamics, handling the refueling of the Navy’s nuclear submarines.
“There was too much pressure,” Turner said of the dangerous, heavily regulated job. “I couldn’t take it any more.
As Turner reflects on the thousands of Heritage tipups scattered across Maine lakes every winter, he hopes the traps have helped bring families closer together.
“I’m trying to promote fishing as a family recreation,” said Turner, whose daughters fished with him as youngsters. “It’s one of the cheapest sports to get into and you can take your whole family.”
Once this year’s orders are filled, Turner hopes to make his way onto some local lakes and take advantage of his ingenuity.