Deep River Customs Grown From Deep River Roots

Co-owner of Deep River Customs Bait Co. Ethan Forbes unhooks a smallmouth bass caught with his ProShot bait on the St. Lawrence River near Clayton. Kara Dry/NNY Business

By: Alex Gault
Ethan D. Forbes has been fishing for longer than he can remember, and now he’s bringing that experience to the bait manufacturing industry.

    Mr. Forbes founded Deep River Customs just this year, at the age of 22. He started off making baits in March, and started selling them in May. He said that he originally got into baitmaking as a way to save money, and didn’t initially plan to make it a business. 

    “I was blowing about $4,000 a year on artificial baits, specifically soft plastic baits, so I figured I might as well make one that is exactly the way I want it, the texture is exactly the way I want it, does everything I want it to do, and I can make it in the colors I want, I can tweak colors and stuff to make it exactly the way I want,” he said. “Then I would still be spending, ballpark, $4,000, and from that point on every bag of baits I went through would be exponentially cheaper.” 

    He said he didn’t consider selling what he made until his older brother, and now business partner, Steven P. Forbes used them. He started selling them online, and started seeing orders from all over the world, from as far away as Australia. 

    Mr. Forbes said that a huge part of his business model has been marketing on social media. He has active accounts for his business on Facebook, Instagram, and the popular video sharing app TikTok. 

    “I have a buddy that helps me out with marketing stuff, he lives out near Lake Champlain, he told me about TikTok, doing that, I didn’t even realize how important that would be,” he said. “The amount of people viewing that stuff is incredible. I had a couple videos go over a half-million views, and because of that, I would get 20 orders from each of those videos.” 

    Mr. Forbes said he was surprised by the efficiency of using social media, but after getting more into the industry, he’s found that many brands have been built on platforms like YouTube. He said that he gets a few requests per month from people wanting him to colormatch baits from the Googan Squad line, which he can’t do. The Googan Squad is a collection of popular creators who film bass fishing content and post it to YouTube, and have built up a combined following of nearly 7 million subscribers. 

Deep River Customs

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Kara Dry/NNY Business

    So far, the business has been doing well, Mr. Forbes said. He’s invested about $10,000 thus far, and is on track to make that back in a relatively short timeframe. He said that to really blow up, he expects he would have to invest at least $170,000 for machine injectors, full sized molds, a warehouse and custom packaging. He said he isn’t ready to do that quite yet, but is willing to once the opportunity presents itself. 

    From his workshop in LaFargeville, Mr. Forbes can make multiple different types of worm baits, as well as other requested styles like crawfish. He says he has spent many hours tweaking his sizing, colors, scents and formula, and has built up formulas that work for all types of fishing. 

    Mr. Forbes said that he’s had to expand into other types of baits in order to see more than just local success. He said that for bass fishing in the St. Lawrence, annis-impregnated baits are the most popular and some of the most effective. But down in the South, garlic-scented crawfish baits are the most useful. 

    “I can’t just market stuff to the locals and expect to be successful, because this town is solely run by tourists,” Mr. Forbes said. “There’s a lot of people locally that back me, but they don’t support me financially, so I’ve got to depend on people that have a fishing season that actually exists, which is down South.” 

    Mr. Forbes said that he designed his baits based off of his own experiences as an angler, and he has a lot of it. 

    “If there’s an artificial bait in somebody’s tacklebox, chances are I’ve thrown it,” he said. 

    Mr. Forbes said he grew up in LaFargeville, on a farm. He would visit his grandparents cottage on Clear Lake, and that’s where he and his brothers picked up an interest in fishing. 

    “I grew up fishing right from the get-go, and I didn’t start in a family of fishermen, he said. “My parent’s don’t fish, they don’t hunt, but for some reason m brothers and I gravitated towards outdoor recreational activities.” 

    Mr. Forbes started fishing in the Indian River lake chain, and said he grew up thinking that was the best fishing in the world. He said that when he was growing up, the lakes were overshadowed by the St. Lawrence River, and thus were very underused. 

    “I could never really understand why people love the St. Lawrence River, then once I started getting boats that were motorized instead of kayaks, I started fishing the St. Lawrence and realized just how incredible the fishing here is,” he said. 

    Besides running the bait business, Mr. Forbes works as a deckhand for Little Buck’s fishing charters out of Clayton. He also works as a construction carpenter, and takes on side work as a mechanic, snowplow operator and various other odd jobs. 

    “I want the bait business to become my main source of income,” he said. “I don’t need to be rich, but as long as I can make a decent living and live my life the way I want to live it, being able to fish most of the time, I plan on getting my guide’s license and running my bass boat through Little Buck’s fishing charters, as long as I can do that and make baits for income, that’s incredible, that’s all I’m trying to do.”