When the midsummer sun finally sets over this southern Minnesota town and Scott Kleinschmidt darkens his basement workshop, he’s done for the day handcrafting the FrankenSpitz, also the Baby Spitzer, Mr. Automatic, the Hypnotizer and the Serial Killer.
Each is a muskie bait of his own creation, built to exacting specifications under his brand name, Musky Safari, and some nights, after bending over his workbench for a few hours, Kleinschmidt will lie in bed and in his mind’s eye review each lure as it parades before him, one after another.
Woodwork. Check. Painting. Check. Hardware strong enough to withstand the most vicious attacks. Check.
“It’s like giving birth, finishing one of my lures,’’ Kleinschmidt says.
The other evening, outside Kleinschmidt’s home on the edge of this picturesque town, a young boy pushed a bicycle atop blacktop, while an old guy tooled down the same street in a golf cart.
Far from sight, paradoxically, was even a single muskie — certainly none swam among the massive corn and soybean fields that stretched to the horizon in all directions.
Yet by happenstance, this is where the muskie visions and realities that form much of Kleinschmidt’s psyche have landed, with a Ranger fishing boat parked in his garage the only telltale sign of his preoccupation with freshwater-fishing’s toothiest, and most elusive, fish.
“It took me two years to catch my first muskie,’’ he said. “But I learned a lot in the process. And I kept learning, mostly from older guys who had fished them a long time, 20 years or more.’’
Though by wide acclaim Kleinschmidt’s baits are works of art, he skips the loopy affectations common to the creative class when describing his handiwork. Instead he combines the precision-speak of an engineer with the exhortations of a tent preacher while recalling exactly what led him to spend so much time in his basement making muskie baits.
“When I first started, my intention wasn’t to sell baits,’’ he said. “I just wanted the baits I was buying to work the same way every trip, one to the next.
“I was sick and tired of liking how one bait worked, and then buying another of the same kind, only to find it didn’t have the same action,’’ he said. “When that happened, I’d have to modify the bait. Either that or I’d have to buy 10 to find one that swam the way I wanted.
“I also grew tired of baits blowing up (disassembling) when I hooked a good fish. A guy just shouldn’t have to put up with that. I thought, ‘These baits should be made better.’ ’’
A graduate of St. Cloud State University, Kleinschmidt and his wife, Patricia, were living near Green Bay, Wis., when he converted from walleye fisherman to Esox masquinongy nut, his baptism occurring in eastern Wisconsin’s muskie-rich waters.
“It turned into an obsession,’’ Kleinschmidt said. “And the learning curve for a beginning muskie fisherman is steep. Fortunately, I had some old guys who schooled me; who showed me, for instance, that for a lot of muskie baits, the angler is responsible for putting the action into the lure.
“Throwing crankbaits is a no-brainer. Anyone can do that and reel them in. But if someone doesn’t show you, for example, how to ‘walk the dog’ with a glide bait, and when to throw a glide bait, you’re lost — just like you’re lost if you’re fishing a poorly made bait that doesn’t swim correctly.’’
In those early days — as now — Kleinschmidt fished for muskies whenever and wherever he could, including in Minnesota, where Leech Lake became a favorite, also Winnibigoshish and Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods.
So in 1999 when he changed day jobs and moved to Kenyon with his wife, Kleinschmidt already knew which Minnesota lakes held the biggest, baddest fish.