As a walleye tournament pro, Keith Eshbaugh painted lures in colors and patterns he knew would catch fish.
When he retired from competitive angling to his Claysville farm, he decided to turn lure painting and restoration into a business, Dutch Fork Custom Lures, that features ultra-durable chrome-finishing by a patented, proprietary process, Eshbaugh said.
"With electro-plating and other conventional chroming methods, if you chip the finish, when water gets in it eventually causes the chrome to peel off like a layer of tin foil," he said. "My chrome looks like a show car bumper and it won't peel."
Apart from chroming, Eshbaugh also removes gouges and teeth marks and repaints lures using high-quality automotive finishes.
"People ask us to refinish old beat-up lures or reproduce discontinued colors," he said, "and we get a lot of requests from guys wanting us to paint brand new lures in completely different colors."
Eshbaugh also paints soft plastic trailers for hard-bodied lures.
"You can only buy tails off the shelf in basic colors," Eshbaugh said. "We do a lot of custom painting of big tails for muskie anglers."
Since his business went online in January, Eshbaugh has received requests from as far as Great Britain.
"A guy who had me paint old lures in Atomic Perch sent me pictures of the Nile perch he caught on them when he fished Lake Nassar in Egypt," Eshbaugh said. "Another guy sent me 10 Shad Raps to paint blue with orange bellies because that's what he catches fish on."
Prices vary according to size, starting at about $7. Find details at www.custompaintalure.com.
Eshbaugh asks interested anglers to send in color samples or photos.
"I can sometimes get an exact match by scraping old paint off the lure I'm refinishing. I just did that for a guy who wanted a baby blue, 10-inch muskie lure, and it turned out beautiful," he said. "Some guys leave it up to me to choose colors for them, but most serious fishermen know exactly what they want."
He said a New Hampshire bass angler sent him Bomber Long-A lures from the 1970s, with instructions to paint them copper with orange bellies.
"He told me the lures ran perfectly for him and caught a lot of fish, and he was worried I'd put too much topcoat or paint on," Eshbaugh said. "So I weighed each lure before and after I painted it and there wasn't 1 gram of difference. He was pleased."
Eshbaugh expects customers to be finicky.
"When a lure means a lot to someone and produces for him, you have to be careful with it," he said.
Eshbaugh paints each lure by hand, and spends most of his time on preparation.
"The painting goes pretty quick, but you're not going to have a perfect finish without a nice base coat," he said. "That's really the key."
For fun, Eshbaugh paints lures in odd or whimsical patterns, featuring wood grain, water droplets, tiger skin or skulls. And while he owns and handles all kinds of lures, his personal favorites are Reef Runners for Lake Erie and floating Rapalas for western Pennsylvania rivers in patterns such as Wonderbread, Chrome Rainbow and Funky Cold Medina. Last year, fishing Lake Chautauqua and local rivers, Eshbaugh caught seven muskies on a Double D lure in Black Light, which is black with pink dots.
"Your best color," he said, "is the one you have confidence in."
Eshbaugh said anglers willing to invest in quality lures often fail to keep them maintained, which is as simple as occasionally changing the hooks and filling in nicks and scratches with a good-quality topcoat.
"Hooks are cheap enough, I change them as soon as they get dull," he said. "Filling scratches with topcoat or fingernail polish will help your lures last a heckuva lot longer."