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Cal U freshman Nick Fulks holding fishing lures.

Time management can be a challenge for any college freshman. Cal U honors student Nick Fulks is finding time not only for classes and homework, but for keeping his business afloat.

The owner of Fulks Custom Cranks paints and sells “crankbaits,” wood or plastic fishing lures that resemble bait fish or crawfish. A competitive angler, Fulks began selling the customized lures so he could fish in high school bass tournaments.

Three years after starting his business, the Canon-McMillan High School graduate has 1,000 customers and paints 8,000 to 10,000 crankbaits a year.

His Cal U studies are a perfect fit, he says — a major in environmental studies with a concentration in fisheries and wildlife biology, and a minor in business. But making it all work takes discipline.

“I noticed a big difference right away during the first week of classes,” said Fulks, who’s taking a full course load.

“I need to keep a really tight schedule, keep my time straight and use my weekends wisely. As soon as I get home, I do my homework and get to painting.”

Match the hatch

Fulks buys his crankbaits in bulk and gives them several coats of paint with an airbrush, followed by epoxy. He finishes each one individually by adding split rings, hooks and eyes.

Unlike mass-production bait companies, Fulks creates lures to meet his customers’ specifications. He paints them to “match the hatch,” mimicking the aquatic life in a river or stream.

“It’s painting the baits to (look like) what the fish eat,” Fulks said. “If someone sends me a picture of a shad or minnow from their local river, I can get that matched.

“A lot of crawfish in the river have a greenish and brown look with orange pinchers, so I do that a lot.”

Crankbaits are the go-to lures for avid anglers, said Dr. David Argent, a fisheries expert from the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

“Having custom painted ones, as opposed to some off-the-rack deal, is special.”

Fulks hasn’t mapped his sales, but he believes he’s sold baits to anglers from nearly every U.S. state. He has customers in Canada, too.

Impressive stuff for a colorblind teenager whose dad, Ryan Fulks, marks all of his paint colors.

“I guess being an artist and colorblind is kind of different,” Fulks said with a laugh.

“Getting started was the hardest part, but now I’m in a pattern of doing things, so it comes automatically. I don’t see myself doing it any other way.” 

All about the bass

When he’s not in the classroom or painting lures, Fulks is likely to be fishing.

In 2015 he won the West Virginia B.A.S.S. High School Nation title and finished third in the Pennsylvania version of the event. He took fifth in the B.A.S.S Nation Mid-Atlantic Championship, which draws anglers from multiple states.

From 2009-2013 he was the junior club champion for Penn’s Waters Bass Busters, his home club, and he hopes to start a competitive bass fishing team at Cal U.

“I’ve been fishing since I could walk,” said Fulks, whose father and grandfather are both competitive fishermen.

As cold weather approaches, most anglers in the region will put away their rods and reels. But Fulks expects to be busier than ever.

“Most people in winter are thinking about fishing but can’t do anything about it, so they buy stuff and get ready for spring,” he said.

That means more orders for custom- painted lures, which Fulks sells online and at weekend shows and fishing tournaments.

He said he would like to expand his business or work for a larger company — and he expects that his University studies will broaden his career options.

Hearing Argent speak at his high school made Fulks aware of the many environmental programs offered at Cal U.

“He made me realize the classes I could take here went right along with my interests,” Fulks said.

He wants to learn more about operating a business. “And I’m really looking forward to going out and collecting samples, so I can base new colors on things I never knew were in the river.”