Open the tackle box of any Minnesota angler, and chances are good you'll find a Mepps spinner or two inside. Chances also are good the spinners will be dressed with squirrel-tail hair.
Mepps, whose U.S. headquarters is in Antigo, Wis., uses squirrel tail hair on its lures because no synthetic has proved to be as attractive to fish, trout in particular. (Mepps uses buck tails for larger muskie, bass and northern lures.)
Now Mepps — which brands itself as "the world's largest recycler of squirrel tails'' — is sponsoring the Squirrels Unlimited Squirrel Cook Off World Championships on Sept. 7 in Bentonville, Ark., with a $500 cash prize going to the winner.
Said Jim Martinsen of Mepps: "It was a no-brainer for us. We were 'in' as soon as we were contacted by Joe Wilson, president of Squirrels Unlimited."
The cook-off, like everyone and everything else, has a website, squirrelcookoff.com. According to the site:
"Skinning, quartering, aging and marinating are some but not all of the important aspects of the perfect squirrel dish. Each competitor will bring their unique methods to showcase in front of the crowd and judges in hopes of claiming the renowned title of Master Chef.''
Said Wilson: "The cook-off is going extremely well, with teams from coast to coast signed up to compete. This year's event will be aired on television as well."
"We love to cook and we love to brag,'' the website continues. "That's what makes the World Champion Squirrel Cook Off the greatest cooking event in the country."
Mepps has bought fox, black, and grey squirrel tails for more than three decades, and will pay from 16 to 25 cents each for them, depending on quality and quantity. The cash value is doubled if the tails are traded for Mepps lures.
"Hundreds of other materials, both natural and synthetic, have been tested, but few materials work as well," Martinsen said. He stressed Mepps is only interested in recycling tails taken from squirrels that have been harvested for the table.
"We do not advocate taking squirrels strictly for their tails," he said.
Information about the Mepps squirrel tail recycling program can be found at mepps.com/squirrels. Squirrel hunters also can call 800-679-3474.