By Debbie Adams and Matt Estes
If you see a white trailer with a copper silhouette of a big brown trout on the side, that’s Grumpaw’s Tackle, LLC, a mobile business in and around Vinton.
Owner Matt Estes designs, assembles, markets, and sells fishing tackle for trout, bass, and other gamefish. He sells house-made inline spinners and jigs, soft plastics under his brand, alongside brands like Appalachian Baits, NRV Baits & X Factor Tackle. He carries dough baits from Appalachian Baits as well, and a good selection of flies.
“We’re always looking to connect with hobbyist bait-makers and fly-tiers who don’t want to jump through all the hoops of making their pastime into something more demanding, but who want to offset the cost of their hobby,” Estes says. “Our retail goals are to offer high quality and ‘locally sourced’ tackle that you won’t find in a big box store.
“In 2019, I decided to sell off some of the jigs I had tied up for my own use,” Estes says. “I’d made way more than I could reasonably expect to use on my own, but I didn’t want to stop tying them just because my boxes were full. So, I put a listing up on Facebook Marketplace just to thin out my collection.
“I had a guy reach out to me who fishes striper tournaments and asked me if I could tie up a specific style of jig that I’d never tied before. The gentleman who had been supplying him passed away, and he needed more. He sent me a couple pictures and I got to work. I found a way to flare out the hair and give the jig a larger profile without bulking it up with too much hair. Let’s just say they were very effective, so he ordered a bunch more.
“I’d never thought before about my tying being a way to make money, but that opened up the door. And it really couldn’t have happened at a better time. My oldest is on the Autism Spectrum” with costs for occupational and speech therapies. “It wasn’t an overnight success or anything, but this tackle-related opportunity was laying the groundwork to be able to get those therapy bills paid.”
Estes has a day job as an account executive with Trust Point Insurance. He calls Grumpaw’s Tackle his “retirement plan,” hoping that in 20 years “it’ll be my only job.”
“Grumpaw’s Tackle isn’t really about employing me,” Estes says. “At least not for the next two decades. My oldest will be graduating high school in a few short years. I’m blessed, and grateful, that he’s on the High Functioning end of the Autism Spectrum, but that’s not the same thing as saying I can expect that he’ll be ready to ‘fly the nest.’ He does well in school and has a deep passion for learning and a thirst for knowledge. But he does require a one-on-one instructional aide.”
Estes says “more than half of young men and women on the Spectrum end up unenrolled in secondary education or unemployed for the two years following graduation from high school. So, as we’ve moved beyond just a means to cover therapy costs, the focus has been on identifying which business functions will play to my son’s strengths, so that Grumpaw’s Tackle can create a position to help him transition to the working world. Many kids on the Spectrum possess a very high level of attention to detail, which is exactly what you want when making quality fishing tackle.
Grumpaw’s Tackle seeks to be a launchpad where young men and women on the Spectrum can work in a for-profit environment that is accommodating of their different abilities and helps start their careers. We don’t ’hire to retire,’ we ‘hire-to-advance’ and will celebrate each ‘Ausome Employee’ who leaves us for a better opportunity.”
Estes sets up his trailer at various events, like the upcoming Augusta Fishing Expo the weekend of February 11-12, the Sharpening Men’s Event at Fincastle Baptist Church, and the Sunflower Festival in Buchanan. He set up at the Vinton Fall Festival last October. During the spring, Grumpaw’s Tackle can be found every Saturday morning at The Hidden Gem, a pay stream on Porter Mountain over the Bedford County line. KB Mercantile in Vinton lets Estes setup outside their shop.
As a result of festivals, Grumpaw’s Tackle has diversified and added fishing-themed earrings under a product line called “She’s a Catch” to “help lady-anglers share their passion through their fashion.”
At his first festival, he kept drawing crowds of women who thought at first glance he was selling earrings. His significant other, Megan, encouraged him to add them to his product line—“Fish like shiny things; so do people.” Estes says that at in-person events he tends to sell more earrings than tackle.
The earrings are typically made entirely or partly from fishing tackle. Estes says some of the jewelry has been described as “kitschy,” but some are actually quite lovely. He says it’s “not high fashion; it’s fun fashion.”
As for the name of his business, Grumpaw’s Tackle, Estes says he chose the named based on Proverbs 13:22, which says in part, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”
“I’ve been fortunate to have two fathers that have earned the title of ‘Good Men’ in this sense. I’m not saying they left me money, land or stuff. What I’ve inherited from them combined is work ethic, a sacrificial love for my kids, and a passion for fishing. ‘Grumpaw’ is what my kids call my father who is still living. He’s the one that really sparked my love of fishing and the water. Way back before I was born, he was eaten up with bass fishing. I have some solid memories of fishing with him on a few occasions, but for the most part he spent his time working hard and ‘horse-trading’ vehicles (and forklifts) to keep his household and three kids afloat. Meanwhile, I was raiding his tackle box in the attic on the weekends I was with him. Not only was I stealing his lures and rods, but also the knowledge from his notebook. It was a little spiral bound book that noted what lures he caught them on, and the weather and water conditions he was using at the time. So, it’s an homage. It helps that it’s a catchy and unique name, but I hope in some ways it ultimately honors both men and impacts the lives of my kids as well.”
Estes, originally from Tennessee, moved to this area because of his work; he says he chose Vinton because of “the community and the location. When I look around, I see hard working folks like me. People who are out there every day working to make the best lives they can for their families. It’s just generally good, honest folks making their way through life. And it’s also conveniently located near some of my favorite stretches of water in the Roanoke area.”
Estes is also using his business to raise funds for autism awareness. April is World Autism Month. This past April, Grumpaw’s Tackle was able to raise about $550 for Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center (BRAAC) by selling stickers.
“This April, we are asking that people make a donation directly to BRAAC or a non-profit called Autism Anglers,” Estes says. “When they send us a screenshot of the donation, we’ll mail them an autism and fishing-themed sticker. In the meantime, we’re selling a larger version of the ’22 sticker for a suggested price of $5, or whatever they want to give. That’s to help offset the cost of the stickers that we’ll be giving away in April.”
Grumpaw’s Tackle does not have regular retail hours. People can shop at https://grumpaws.com/ 24 hours a day and schedule free local pick-up. They can call 540-870-1266 to set up an appointment to browse in person, or they can text “GRUMPAW” to 540-870-5583 to get updates by text on where you can find Grumpaw’s Tackle. Estes keeps a stock of merchandise on hand, but a lot of his items are made to order. Take a lot at theproducts and scheduled events on the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/grumpaws/.