The warehouse complex at 755 Prior Avenue North in St. Paul most famously houses entities like Can Can Wonderland and BlackStack Brewing.
But in the northwest corner of the building sits Supernatural Big Baits, where founder and owner Duff Thury has been hand-making some seriously big baits for serious muskie anglers since 2013.
Duff is relatively soft-spoken, but not shy. He’s about as quirky as you’d expect someone who makes giant muskie lures for a living to be and extremely sociable. If you meet him at his shop, he might even give you a “fifty-cent tour” of the whole building.
Supernatural Big Baits’ workshop is modestly sized. When you walk in, you’re hit with a strong smell of epoxy. Two big workbenches take up most of the middle of the room with storage and drying racks along all four walls.
There are hundreds of lures all over this section of the shop, the smallest one clocking in at seven-and-a-half inches long, the largest being almost two feet in length.
Fishing and woodworking have always been constants in life, Duff explains, stretching back to when he was a little kid. His mother was a nurse by profession, but a painter and potter by hobby. He says that’s where he gets his knack for working with his hands. He used to paint and wire up her clothespins with a hook and go somewhere nearby to wet a line.
“I made my first lure in first grade,” explains Duff, “and went down to Minnehaha Creek.”
He carried his passion for woodworking with him into adulthood, and after completing his modern Wood Technology certificate from Hennepin Technical College in Eden Prairie in 1986, he started making cabinets. But, after a while, he got bored.
“It wasn’t enough for me,” Duff said. “It was just making kitchens and boxes.”
He wanted to learn about design and got connected at a woodworking show with Dean Wilson, then a professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, who just so happened to be starting a furniture design course.
As a 22-year-old with some building experience, he knew the secret was connecting what his hands could make to what his brain could imagine.
“If I had gone to design school at 18, I probably would have flunked out.”
– Duff Thury
“When your hands can do what your brain wants it to do, when you can think like that, then you can go somewhere,” he explains. “If I had gone to design school at 18, I probably would have flunked out.”
But he didn’t. And ever since he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts at MCAD in 1991, he’s been “unemployable.” “I can’t work for anybody,” Duff says endearingly. “That’s just my mentality.”
He eventually met Scott McGlasson, owner of Woodsport, when a mutual friend introduced them, Duff estimates in the mid- to late-90s. Duff was making furniture at a co-op in Northeast and McGlasson was looking for some space to do the same.
After almost two decades of making furniture, though, Duff grew tired with what he was building and decided to test new waters: lures.
Small Shop, Big Baits
Mounted racks in back, rolling racks in front, bins upon bins stacked on big storage shelves, all teeming with giant bait. There are lure blanks, freshly shaped, cured and machined, ready for priming and painting, neatly stacked on the big square workbench. Up front sit two boxes of finished lures, hooked and ready to ship to Thorne Bros. up in Blaine, Minnesota, one of his regular customers.
Through a large metal sliding door on the right is the other section of the shop. That’s where you’ll find Duff’s table saws, routers, power sanders, and a pallet of long, fragrant planks of western red cedar stacked four feet high.
His process is straightforward but extremely meticulous. The average lure requires about 100 individual steps from beginning to end.
“My machining process is taking a blank,” Duff explains, “and shaping it with [the] efficiency and accuracy necessary to keep our strict tolerances and quality.”
Before any lure is put to a sander or router, they spend about eight to 12 hours in a “hot box” (essentially a kiln MacGyver-ed out of an old freezer) to remove as much moisture as possible, which helps keep the paint on and the moisture out. After that, he’ll take a small length of wood (a “blank”) and use an edge sander and router to give the lure its shape. Once they pass inspection, he brings them back into the main shop for a detailed paint and epoxy process.
The sizes, colors, and patterns depend largely on who places the order but they’re all designed for a specific lake, region, or bait fish.
“We’ve got six standard colors that go to retail stores,” Duff says, “and the people who buy them generally want a pattern that looks like what they have in their lake.” Beyond retailers, he also works with individuals to craft custom bait.
To the untrained eye, they just look like brightly colored fishing lures that are absurdly large. But it’s immediately apparent how much he loves this painstaking process and how much he cares about quality.
“These are handmade for a specific, serious angler,” he says, “who are looking for an experience, maybe an heirloom their kids are going to have. [A fishing lure] seems like a disposable thing. I don’t look at it like that.
“I’m not selling a bait,” he continues. “I’m selling a way of fishing.”
Bins Full of Stories
Like any good angler, Duff is quite the storyteller. Out of the hundreds of lures in his shop, it seems he has a story for pretty much every single one.
He moves over to a towering shelf with bins and boxes full of completed lures. From a green bin, he pulls out a sea blue lure with spots and an orange belly, saying this one was designed to look like a splake. The story goes, a guy was having success fishing for splake when all of a sudden the fishing dried up. He realized why when, on one of his last casts, he hooked a splake and there was a huge muskie trailing right behind it.
So he called Duff. And Duff delivered.
He ends with a doozy about a guy who had heard of Supernatural Big Baits and bought two big lures before he even had a boat to troll or a rod to cast.
But for how seriously he takes his craft, for the heart and soul he pours into his business, he knows fishing is supposed to be fun. Every year, he takes a fishing trip with his now seven-year-old son and Duff knows how to keep him interested.
“Eat lots of snacks,” he says, describing their five-day trip. “If it’s raining and you’re not having any fun, we’ll go in. If we haven’t caught anything for a few hours and you’re sick of being around me, we’re gone.”
And at the end of the day he still appreciates the novelty of these giant fishing lures and gets a kick out of simply driving the boat, smoking his cigars, and watching a big lure dance behind him.