What does it take to make some of the best topwater fishing lures worldwide? We go in-depth with OTL founder and lure maker Michael Knight.
Started as a builders apprentice at 16, to building homes, and now handcrafting some of the hottest wooden lures for the demanding topwater fishing market – if a life built around a perfect blend of your passions and expertise, resulting into a sustainable career and worldwide acclaim is your meaning of success – Mike Knight is crushing it.
Being stuck at home for the past couple of months provided me with a lot of time to clean and organize my decrepit tackle station at home. After going through my GT fishing lure bag, I noticed one the OTL Chops I’ve received from guests, that had serious teeth marks on them.
Remembering how much OTL’s I’ve seen on the water and how great they swam, I wanted to learn more about the lures and their maker.
Grabbed the phone and after some brief introductions through Instagram, Mike Knight agreed to share the story of OTL and happily spent some of his time to answer some questions that intrigued the tackle nerd in me.
OTL’s story is amazing and inspiring. I hope it inspires you as it had inspired me to keep doing what you love, and specialize in what you are passionate about.
Here’s Mike and Rita’s story on how OTL was born, what it is now, and what they have planned for the future.
Who are the people behind OTL (On Top Lures)?
A true family business, Mike and his wife Rita are a model husband and wife tandem. Mike on the tools and Rita in the office and their two daughters Lila and Indi as their biggest cheerleaders.
Mike and his family live in the small seaside town of Waipu in the far north of New Zealand. Having the ocean 5 minutes away from home was just perfect for them as Mike and the family love spending time there, where Mike gets to split his spare time between surfing and fishing.
“I started a building apprenticeship at the age of 16 and worked full time for the next 15 years doing high-end architecturally designed houses.”
If a builder of high-end designer homes for 15-plus years is hand-crafting lures for big angry fish, you know they’re hot.
How did OTL start?
Fishing his home waters a lot with mates led to them peer pressuring him to make lures. It wasn’t long until he gave in to the pressure and started making prototypes.
“My mates and I had been fishing $30.00 lures straight out of the packet and had been catching amazing fish. One of my good mates upped the ante by picking up a couple of well-known Japanese lures which I’d never seen in person before with a price tag of NZ$500.00 for two lures! It blew my mind that people actually buy these to potentially tie on your line and lose in the first cast or take. Being a builder by trade, it gave me the urge to see if I could make something similar. I kept trying to make better ones and giving them to mates to use and they were loving them, so I just kept on making them and never stopped!”
And from that moment on, in between building, fishing, or surfing he was in his shed improving and perfecting his creations.
The design process
When asked how his design process worked, Mike was very adamant about trial and error, along with listening to the feedback from his pool of expert fishing friends.
“The first 2 years was a lot of trial and error with literally hundreds of blanks being thrown in the fire. I’m still refining lures and will always be looking for ways to make them better and always making new models to try out.”
User feedback is also a top priority when making his lures. “I always take anyone’s feedback on my finished products seriously. I make these lures for the customer and want them to be the best they can be.”
Feedback from customers on his final product is one thing, but for his prototypes, it’s a different story.
“I only give prototypes to people whom I know have a sound opinion and know what they are about though. All my mates that fish pretty much have my lures and give me feedback. Dennis Verreet is a good friend of mine and I always trust his word with feedback, and he has made prototypes with me. Johnny Brooks has had a few prototypes from me as well and he’s an amazing fisherman. Milan from Big Angry Fish television show helped out with a few things as well.”
The Dumbbell Popper
Specially designed for Giant Trevally, the dumbbell popper works exceptionally well while still being fairly light on the body.
Unlike other deep cupped faces that require massive forces to pop well, the Dumbbell received some special design touches to make it perform the way it does.
“The dumbbell was designed for targeting GT, there was a lot of design and thought went into this lure. We wanted something that wasn’t going to kill your arms with huge cup faces shifting huge amounts of water. This was why we designed the slanted shallow cup with the low tow points to propel water rather than ‘scoop’ water.
The Chop Stickbait
A floating stickbait that swims well even in choppy conditions. A very difficult combination to make work, but Mike and his mates figured it out.
“When we first started designing lures I had 2 prototypes on the go. One was a high buoyancy and one was the CHOP. It is very easy to swim and holds extremely well in choppy conditions, hence the name.”
Probably one of my favorite types of plugs to recommend to beginner topwater anglers, the pinfish style skipping stickbait.
Burning the Piper on the surface by performing a fast retrieve will mimic a fleeing bait fish so well without the need for complicated rod manipulation.
“With the abundance of Piper in our NZ harbors and sheltered bays, it was a no brainer to try and make a lure to mimic the action of a fleeing Piper.”
The Swimming Popper
The sultry and seductive sub-surface zig zag bubble trail. Looks so good and works so well. We love the swimming popper.
“I’d say that I needed a lure in my lineup that created a big bubble trail with the ability to hold in almost any conditions. Users should be able to swim it from a high boat bow or a high rocky ledge. The Swim Pop is my favorite lure for early season Kings in NZ.”
The production line
Mike handcrafts the lures by himself. Starting from wood selection, blank cutting, shaping, wiring to painting, and finishing.
“At the moment I’m working on 35 lures a week from scratch to finish. Actual time in my hands is about an hour to an hour and a half but add on about 3 days of the resin drying.”
If you’ve ever bought an OTL plug in a physical store before, you might have wondered why the lack of packaging.
Well, the team’s love and care they have for the environment reflects in everything they do at OTL. No plastic is used in the packaging and shipping of lures. Caring for the environment and getting others to jump on the bandwagon is a huge goal of theirs.
“Even though our packaging is plastic free for the most part we pack them well in shredded recycled paper and very sturdy cardboard boxes and have to this day never had any damage from the packaging. We loved our plastic-free approach! Keep these waters beautiful for our children and our children’s children.”
On the topic of children, I had to ask Mike how he and Rita handle the production, logistics, accounting, and sales while still getting some family time and fishing in.
“We just do it! We always make time for everything. Obviously, family comes first, and we make sure that the kiddos get their fair share of mum and dad fun time but we just seem to fit it all in and we are happy!”
OTL in NZ and the rest of the world.
With some of the best fishing spots just 5 minutes away from home, I wanted to find out what other destinations he has on his fishing bucket list.
“I obviously love fishing in NZ and very passionate about my land-based fishing which is insane over here. I love fishing in Niue and fishing is pretty much untouched and gnarly. I’m dying to get back there once this COVID stuff is over. Fiji is also another place that I’ve had some great fishing. I was supposed to be fishing the Saudi international tournament this year with a crew and was gutted to miss that. Have been invited also to Cape Cod to target Giant Bluefin….which was stopped by COVID again!”
OB: What is the most memorable fish ever caught on an OTL lure?
MK: “I’d say the first most memorable would have to be Jonny Brooks (Froth Cafe) with his Land-Based GT in Oman . He was on his first reef raiders trip and it was one of the first land-based GT ever caught in Oman on a custom 100gm OTL Chop. Then it would be my friend Mahommad Al-Asffar from the UAE with his 85kg Yellowfin Tuna caught on a 100gm OTL Pink Panther. And just as I’m typing this I have been messaged by a guy called Mick with a 330lb Bluefin Tuna on the coast of Ireland on a 100gm OTL Black Jack. There are so many more!!”
The quality of the lures just speaks for itself. You’d have to check out OTL’s Instagram to see where and what the lures are catching.
On future plans
We asked Mike if there is anything new we should look out for in 2021? New designs? New merch? Special editions?
“We have just updated our website with a cart for all our Merch, Hooks, Tasline, etc. Working on a prototype 180gm slow pitch lure with Dennis Verreet and possibly more collaborations!”
Would you guys be keen on an OTL x Ocean Blue Fishing custom lure?
Where to buy OTL?
OB: Apart from your website and online store, do you already have national and international retailers who stock your products? Where can we find them?
MK: Busted Fishing in Victoria AUS, Hooked Bluewater in Cairns, Fishhead Tackle (SOON) in Byron Bay, KBE in Dubai, YAKUMO-LBG in Japan, Saltwater Connection in NZ, with the 2 current collabs being Jonny Brooks AUS & Moocher Hunters NZ.
OB: Apart from missing international fishing trips this year, has COVID negatively affected OTL’s production and sales?
MK: “To be honest and surprisingly COVID didn’t really affect our business too much. We sort of prepared for it to get a bit quiet, but it did the absolute opposite. I guess people were just stuck at home with nothing better to do than online shop and organize their next fishing trip. It astounded us. We were only semi-prepared for this really and found we hadn’t ordered enough components to fulfill orders and also couriers had a period of not running so that made things difficult, but most people were happy to wait.
OB: What do you know now that you didn’t before?
MK: “Persistence is key! Trialing, trialing, trialing. And that goes with anything in life, any business! Keep chipping away and never give up and it will just happen. Sometimes my wife and I have to pinch ourselves because we have made it far beyond we thought we would.”
Mike, Rita, and their two girls are doing an epic job at punching out some of the world’s finest hand-crafted timber lures.
Combining your skills and expertise with your passion and making a living out of it is everyone’s dream.
As Mike said “Persistence is key! Keep chipping away and never give up and it will just happen.”
We can feel the love and passion for his craft in every one of his lures that we get a hold of. And after talking to Mike about how many hours of chipping away was needed before he eventually figured out the final product, we now understand why OTL has reached this level of popularity and reputation.
If you don’t own an OTL plug yet, I highly recommend you to get some now.
But like most high-end hand-crafted lures, there is a waiting period. It’s best to stay updated by following OTL’s social media pages.
If you are keen to learn more about a collaboration or creating a custom design with OTL, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at https://ontoplures.co.nz/.
Special thanks to OTL, Brooksy, Dennis Verreet and Briggsy for the great photos.
What is your favorite OTL plug?