Jean M. Hoffman

Each year, more than 12,000 tons of rubbery “soft baits” land at the bottom of lakes, streams, and rivers, says Hobbins, president of Lake Resources Group Inc., Waunakee, Wis.

Anglers have used the brightly colored lures to attract and land fish ranging from tiny bluegill and crappie to bass, walleye, and muskie. The lures are made from soft polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that’s so pliable that a run through thick weeds can rip or pull it off the hook, says Hobbins. “This won’t happen as easily with my soft-bait alternative called Iron- Clad, which sports tiny microfibers embedded into the soft PVC.”

“The fibers are placed in such a way that you still have the flexible lure, but you can’t rip it,” says Tim Osswald, a UW-Madison professor of mechanical engineering. “Now, they’re stiffer — but they’re still flexible and deliver the desired performance.”

The researchers at UW-Madison Polymer Engineering Center worked with Hobbins during lure development and are investigating alternative materials. “Half the weight of these lures is plasticizer, or very-low molecular-weight materials called phthalates,” says Osswald. “Phthalates make PVC flexible and several studies have linked them with a variety of adverse health effects.”

The researchers are also measuring what stresses the fibers can endure before they break and studying alternate applications — everything from golf-club grips and ladder handholds to the hand-contact points on military weapons. The overall outlook for IronClad lures, says Osswald, is positive. “You can use and reuse them,” he says. “In fact, even if the design continues to use PVCs, they will no longer end up on the bottoms of lakes and rivers.”

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Lake Resources Group Inc.

(877) 513-3535

lakeresourcesgroup.com

IronClad

Tim Osswald displays a mold and prototype of IronClad, a fiber-reinforced fishing lure.