By Steve Weisman
Kabele’s Trading Post has been a popular baitshop in Spirit Lake since Ed and Alice Kabele opened it in 1968. In 2004, Thane Johnson purchased the baitshop from Ed and Alice and over the past 11 years has built and grown the business based on the foundation that had been established.
Thane says he and his wife Tanya still believe that Kabele’s “is a mom and pop baitshop, but we are working very hard to make Kabele’s a must stop destination for families coming to the Iowa Great Lakes. We can really be their one-stop destination. The shop is an independently owned, stand alone retailer with fishing expertise of the Iowa Great Lakes. If you can fish for it in our lakes, we will have what you need.”
However, since they began their remodeling in 2007, Kabele’s Trading Post has changed dramatically. First came the 8-room lodge for open water, ice fishing and vacation enthusiasts. All rooms are finished suites with separate bedrooms, bathrooms, living area and kitchenette, along with high speed wireless Internet. Plenty of room is available for boat trailers with electrical hookups. Guests can also clean fish in the Trading Post during business hours.
Then in 2012, Thane and Tanya set about updating and expanding their store. “We expanded our floor space to about 3,000 square feet,” notes Thane, “ and we now offer all of the top brands for both open water and ice fishing. Plus, we have the employees that are extremely knowledgeable about our lakes and fish frequently. We want to be able to answer our customers’ questions.”
Spreading the word
Realizing that though Kabele’s was well known in the Iowa Great Lakes area, that wasn’t so away from the area, Thane and Tanya developed a powerful facebook page. “Our Facebook page has been huge for us and has expanded our business way beyond just around here.”
As mentioned earlier, Thane and Tanya want Kabele’s to be the destination, but they must have everything an angler would want. That’s what their facebook page does. It allows Thane and Tanya to reach out to anyone interested in fishing the Iowa Great Lakes. During each season they make certain that daily fishing updates are given with photos of anglers with their catches and their responses about their fishing experience. Plus they give as much information as possible about lures, presentation strategies and bait. During the winter months, they will offer ice depth and ice conditions.
Of course, as often as possible, Thane and Tanya are on the lake to help offer updates. In addition, each November, Thane and Tanya organize their annual “Shop With the Pros” as a way to kick off the ice fishing season. It’s a day set aside just for ice fishing, a day to meet pro anglers, to talk with representatives of top ice fishing manufacturers and to see all of the latest ice fishing gear. Kabele’s also offers a wide range of rebates and discounts during the day. There is no charge. Tanya says, “We have people come from four to five hours away to be part of this day, and we know how important it is for them to be able to spend time looking at products and learning more about these products.”
This option has literally taken on a life of its own! “We didn’t clean fish until about four years ago. At that time, we were thinking of a way to offer even more for our customers and also a way for our employees to make some extra money. Kyle Moses, one of our employees was interested in doing it, so we started. We have had lots of practice, and I would say that Kyle and I can clean up to 200 fish per hour at a pretty even pace,” says Thane. “There are weekends when the yellow bass are really biting when we will clean up to 2500 fish in a weekend!”
With that many fish, Thane knows that there will be a backlog as limits of fish are brought to the Trading Post. “We will make sure that the fish remain fresh and will keep them in our tanks or the fridge. If people are flexible and can come back we will appreciate it. However, we also know that people have deadlines and need to head back home, so we will try to accommodate them as much as we can. If people do know they will be coming off the water late, they can let Kyle know in advance, and he will clean fish after hours.”
At the same time, there are some requirements for those who bring in their fish. “We won’t clean frozen fish in the winter. It’s not worth it to risk getting hurt, and we won’t clean rotten fish that haven’t been properly taken care of in the summer!”
Pride…that’s the key to being good fish cleaners. The last thing an angler wants is a cleaned fillet with bones in it, fins still attached or chunks taken out. Thane and Kyle will fillet, debone and rinse thoroughly before vacuum sealing the fillets either frozen or refrigerated.
Being able to fillet efficiently with an electric knife is important, but there is a little secret to their total success. The use the SKINZIT® Electric Fish Skinner, which Thane says is the quickest and easiest way to remove rib bones and skin, while at the same time minimizing loss of meat. “The SKINZIT® is an amazing tool for us. Once you get the hang of it, it cuts the time down tremendously.”
For Thane and Tanya, it’s all about their customers. Their goal is to continue to make improvements that will make things easier for their customers. “We’re still a mom and pop business, but we want to offer the most and the best for our customers!”