The ‘reel’ deal: Catfish Steve looking to scale rod and reel repair, bait business

: Steve Herbison, known as Catfish Steve, works on a fishing rod in his home shop. He opened the business at the start of the pandemic last year. Wendy Nugent/HC Now

By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now

NEWTON—His name is Steve Herbison. But friends know him by a different moniker.

“Most people just call me Catfish,” Herbison said.

The Newton resident runs Catfish Steve Rod and Reel Repair out of his garage at 430 W. Third St. and is an avid angler of flatheads.

“Soon, I’ll be adding bait and tackle to that,” he said about his shop while sitting in his business location with his large dog Apollo resting nearby.

Catfish Steve Rod and Reel Repair opened at about the start of the pandemic last year—March 1, 2020.

“A bad year to go into businesses, but I [created] a three-year plan in August of 2019,” Herbison said, adding that first year he opened and tried to get the word out about his rod and reel repair.

“I started to build custom rods last year, too,” he said.

This second year, he’s doing much broader advertising and getting into selling live bait.

“Hopefully, you break even on expenses,” he said about the second year.

In his third year, he wants to make a profit and branch out with more business in a larger area, which he’s done some already.

“When you get a tax number, you gotta show a profit, or they pull your number,” Herbison said.

There is something his business can offer that others like his can’t.

“I got my own special recipe of catfish bait I whip up,” he said. “Mine is the strangest, but it catches fish.”

His joy of catching catfish comes from his childhood.

“I grew up near the creek in our backyard,” he said, adding it had bullheads, perch and turtles. “That’s when I got into it. I caught my first fish at 5 years old. The excitement, the feeling—I remember that like it was yesterday. It was 56 years ago. When I catch a fish today, I still feel that thrill.”

His two passions in life are fishing and cooking, but they don’t go hand in hand, since he doesn’t keep his fish. He says he does what they call CPR when fishing—catch, picture, release.

Herbison said some ask him how he can sit on the water all morning and night and not catch anything.

Catfish Steve sits in his business, Catfish Steve Rod and Reel Repair, in Newton. With him is his dog Apollo. Wendy Nugent/HC Now

He likes the payoff.

Flatheads are elusive, he said, and two summers ago, he was at one spot every Saturday night for six weeks. His waiting paid off on the seventh week.

“Ooo, la, la,” he said. “Paid off. Got a big one.”

It was 23 pounds. That’s the biggest he’s ever caught.

“I’ve had bigger ones that broke off,” he said.

He works in the back of his large garage, where he has repair tools, a desk, a TV blasting 1970s and ’80s rock tunes, a number of signs with clever sayings on them and his own fishing gear collection.

“My personal arsenal is here along the wall,” he said.

Some of his stuff is for sale; some of it is not.

“I go through them and refurbish them before selling them,” he said.

People can just show up to his business if needing work done, or they can call him at 316-217-1949.

“If the garage door is open, I’m here,” he said, adding he plans to get an “open and closed” sign for the business.

Herbison does various kinds of repairs on fishing rods.

“Sometimes, they’ll need a guide replaced,” he said. “Or they’ll break their rod. Then, I’ll have to put it all together.”

Sometimes, he has to order parts, and he can make new cork handles and EBA handles. He also can build a rod from scratch, whatever people want.

He said, right now, he probably could work a year on things in his garage and not be done.

Repairs can take anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours, depending on the damage.

“It’s picking up little by little,” he said of his business, adding he’ll be the only bait shop in the area until the county opens one.

He said his specialty is vintage gear.

“I collect vintage reels,” Herbison said. “The little red and black reel was the original protocol.”

He was talking about a 1954 Johnson Century. Herbison said 1955 was the first year they came out with the first Century.

“That’s all the revisions in the years up there,” he said, indicating where he has them displayed on a wall.

“Everything you see up there is 45 years or older,” he said. “I got a bunch of that stuff.”

He still fishes.

“Every chance I get,” he said.

He said that one time, he and his friend Jeff Layne were out fishing during a 12-hour catfish tournament. At 6:30 a.m., Herbison said he tagged into a good one and got it up to the dock. Layne told him it was a big one and said Herbison was gonna win.

The fish was 12 or 13 pounds.

“He pulled it up by the line, and there was one tail flop, and it was gone,” Herbison said of his helping friend, laughing. “He said he was sorry. I had nothing worth weighing after that. I lost.”

People ask Herbison how he lost his leg, and he tells a fish tale, relating how he was fishing by hand in the water.

“Big flathead bit if right off,” he said. “First and last noodle experience. Bit my leg off.”

That’s not how he lost part of his leg. He fell 30 feet off a roof, destroying his ankle and foot, and his leg broke in two places.

“Due to a medical condition I got, the bones were not healing, and that’s why they amputated nine months later,” he said.