Few are the anglers who don’t dream now and then of turning their love of fishing into a full-time pursuit. But fewer still are the number who actually accomplish such a goal. You can count Jeff “Jiggy” Andersen and Josh Kragthorpe among the elite fraternity who’ve managed to meld business with pleasure, thanks in no small part to their shared passion for pursuing giant northern pike.
The two enterprising Minnesota anglers met while attending Bemidji State University in the late ’90s. It didn’t take long for fishing to help forge a friendship that took them on adventures ranging from quick trips on nearby lakes to extended getaways on far-flung fisheries like legendary Lake of the Woods. They particularly enjoyed tip-up fishing for pike, and soon began tinkering with tackle to boost their success in this style of fishing.
“Jeff is such a hard-core angler and innovator, he thought that instead of relying on rigs that might fail, we should just build our own,” recalls Kragthorpe. For his part, Andersen traces his desire to create high-quality tackle to a heart-breaking battle with a giant pike off the south shore of Lake of the Woods in the winter of 1998.
“I hooked a huge fish and fought it hand-over-hand up to the hole,” he recalls. “But suddenly, it was gone. I pulled up the line and the rig was broken. I remember thinking that I never want that to happen again.” While losing the fish of a lifetime was discouraging, it sparked an idea that would launch a tackle company, and eventually revolutionize how anglers chase pike through the ice.
A Better Idea
At the time Andersen and Kragthorpe began designing rigs for holding the large sucker minnows used to tempt winter pike beneath tip-ups, most such set-ups were in-line configurations that dangled the bait in vertical position. “That didn’t make sense to us,” says Andersen. “So Josh and I put our heads together and came up with a Y-style rig that held the bait horizontally.”
The pair also experimented with various components, hooks and crimping protocols until they found the perfect combination of form and function. The new rig not only suspended bait in a manner that attracted pike and enticed them to strike, it engendered solid hooksets and stood up to the merciless abuse dished out by their behemoth quarry. From that point forward, any lost fish would be credited to angler error, not a rig’s failings.
As a plus, Andersen and Kragthorpe’s creation proved far gentler on giant pike than traditional tip-up rigs. Their “quickstrike” design featured dual trebles, which allowed anglers to set the hook as soon as a pike took the bait. Hookups were solid, yet typically in the mouth where they caused little harm to the fish and were relatively easy to remove.
This was a vast improvement over single-hook rigs of the time, which required fishermen to wait longer before setting—thereby increasing the odds a fish would swallow the rig and be seriously injured, either during the ensuing battle or the unhooking process. As catch-and-release grew in popularity as a means to preserve fragile trophy pike fisheries, dual-hook rigs set the standard for reducing post-release mortality.
Bigtooth Is Born
The new rig and fledgling company needed a name, and as fate would have it, a fitting epithet emerged during one of Andersen and Kragthorpe’s road trips. “We were driving back to my rental home in Bemidji after an amazing trip to Lake of the Woods that produced several 40-inch-plus pike,” Andersen remembers. “I looked down at the floor of my old beater truck, and picked up a tooth that had fallen out of one of the fish. Josh said, ‘Man, that’s a big tooth.’ The rest is history.”
Now that it had a catchy name and fish-catching rig, Bigtooth Tackle Company needed its first sale. So, in 2000, armed with a fistful of Bigtooth Rigs and battling countless butterflies, the nervous young businessmen marched into Bemidji’s oldest and arguably most iconic tackle shop, Taber’s Bait. “Owner Ron Bosek bought 10 on the spot,” says Anderson. “But they went so fast, he called back the next day and ordered 50 more.”
Soon, Bigtooth Rigs graced the shelves of bait shops across northern Minnesota. To keep pace with demand, Andersen and Kragthorpe spent many nights and weekends tying rigs. “After we both got married, getting together for couples’ night meant tying 300 rigs,” laughs Kragthorpe. Eventually, they found a manufacturer in Brainerd who could produce the rigs for them, freeing them up to focus on sales.
With each winter season, the Bigtooth Rig gained momentum. Much of its success hinged on its fish-catching powers, but Andersen and Kragthorpe are quick to credit the support of friends—both within their circle of fishing buddies and among the larger, emerging fraternity of trophy pike fans.
Monster Pike Revolution
“All of our friends fished with and promoted them,” says Kragthorpe. “Then Facebook blew up, and it just kept escalating.” Andersen adds that pioneers on the giant-pike scene, like Bemidji’s Mike Crawford, helped fan the flames of the monster pike revolution and usher in the use of cutting edge tackle like the Bigtooth Rig.
New And Improved
Many lures and rigs undergo evolutions, and the Bigtooth was no exception. “After many years of fishing with the original Y-style yoke, we found a problem—the rig would get hung up on the bottom of the ice,” Andersen explains. “We knew there had to be a better way.”
Eventually, Andersen met fellow big-pike fan and In-Fisherman staffer Jeff Simpson, and the two collaborated on a configuration that would not catch the ice. “We designed a rig in a loop fashion, that would cradle the bait and ultimately bring the one loose hook into the corner of the fish’s mouth,” says Andersen. “There will always be a place in my heart for the Original Bigtooth Rig, but what is now called the Bigtooth Zero Rig is without a doubt the best tip-up rig around.”
Along with introducing the new Bigtooth Zero, the company recently partnered with ice fishing icon Clam Outdoors to promote and sell its lineup. And on the open-water front, it unveiled a summertime topwater terror for trophy pike and muskies called the Klack. An oversized buzzbait that produces unique, strike-triggering sounds, the Klack has already racked up impressive catches, including the largest muskie ever captured on In-Fisherman Television.
Such success stems from Andersen and Kragthorpe’s passion for fishing, commitment to creating quality rigs for their customers, and also from a humble, everyman appeal to ice fishing’s masses. “People say they like us because we’re just regular guys,” says Kragthorpe. Make that easy-going yet fanatical fishermen who, through hard work and determination, have fulfilled the ultimate angler’s dream of carving out their niche in the fishing industry.