“The main reason for closing is time, I just couldn’t keep up with the orders and was spending all my spare time making baits,” the Seaman High School graduate told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “I was missing out on all my family time. From the time I got off work until 2 or 3 in the morning, I was making baits every day. It was to the point where I needed to either slow down or go bigger. Looked into going bigger, but it would have taken a ton of money to try and compete with the big dogs. Just couldn’t take that risk with a family to think about.”
Manis’ longtime tournament partner, Marc Shepard, was among those to offer condolences on the end of an era in Kansas crappie fishing, adding that Manis is “a class act.”
“It’s sad to say the least, but as life changes, jobs change, too, and I get that. He’s been a rock in our partnership. We see each other more in the summer than our own wives,” Shepard said, laughing. “We respect each other’s decisions when we’re on the water and we communicate really well, which I believe is a key in our tournament success.
“His baits are by far the best I’ve ever used, and I’m not saying that because he’s my partner. Ask anyone on the circuit how many tournaments were won off Top Secret Jigs. His success in making great baits speaks for itself. I’m very fortunate to have a great partner on and off the water. He would do anything for me, and I for him.”
As Shepard suggested, Top Secret was perhaps the worst-kept secret in competitive fishing, as it had gained regional and even national notoriety thanks to a strong group of pro-staffers competing from the state level to the highest level of crappie fishing in the nation, the Crappie Masters circuit, as well as the American Crappie Trail. The company even sponsored an IMCA stock car race team, Matt Haid’s No. 22 car.
Among Top Secret’s pro-staffers in 2018 were well-known Kansas anglers Frank Haidusek, Ryan German, Dylan Faulconer, Allen Miller, Nic Luttman, Riley Wagner and Scott and Joey Wall, as well as Missourians Chad Nugent and John Wood and Vince Adcock, of Mississippi.
Manis said he still plans to keep them on staff and in stock throughout the 2019 season.
“Brandon provided unique, top-notch plastics in the Toad Tamer that helped me finish in the money, top 10s in numerous tournaments,” said Haidusek, a Riley resident. “He made the colors I requested and got them to me whenever I needed them for tournaments. He’s an all-around great baitmaker and person.”
Dalton Thomas, Haidusek’s partner, was also very high on Top Secret’s large selection of lures, which include the Toad Tamer, Reaper, Flapjack, Stinger and Curly Tail Grub in a huge assortment of colors.
“He was the first small bait company I had bought from when I started fishing over two years ago,” Thomas said. “I bought a couple pack of different baits and had fallen in love from that day forward. I have every style bait he makes, each in their own organizer with 25 colors each.”
Thomas, a Leavenworth resident, added that he and Haidusek won the state tournament last year using the Toad Tamer.
“The Toad Tamer is by far the No. 1 crappie jig on the planet,” Thomas said. “There is nothing on the market like it. It’s going to be tough finding a bait that fishes as well as it, but that’s OK because I have several bags I still haven’t opened yet. Hoping my supply is good for many years.”
Manis in January had also added the Topeka team of Dustin Hobbs and Megan Springer as pro-staffers for 2019.
“Brandon always went above and beyond to get us whatever colors we needed on tournament morning,” Springer said. “He created a custom color for Dustin and I called ‘The Ringer’ and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. He’s a great guy and Top Secret Jigs are a fantastic product. We will be making what we have left last for as long as possible.”
Those who weren’t sponsored were just as eager to use the baits during competition, as it became a staple of winning teams on the Kansas Crappie Club and Kansas Crappie Trail circuits.
Lawrence’s Joe Bragg, founder of the Kansas Crappie Club, said the competitive scene will surely miss Manis’ lures moving forward.
“I really hate to see Brandon shut it down, but I am sure he has a good reason for it,” said Bragg, who now fishes professionally on the ACT and Crappie Master circuits. “Brandon and Top Secret Jigs was a huge supporter of KCC, as well as tournament trails in several other states.
“From the swamps of Florida to winter-time brushpiles out here in the Midwest, those jigs were bad news for any crappie that crossed paths with one. White crappie, black crappie, no matter, after it came across a Top Secret jig it turned into a crispy, golden brown crappie.”
Faulconer, who organizes the Kansas Crappie Trail, echoed Bragg’s sentiments.
“I am saddened that Brandon will no longer be making baits,” Faulconer said. “His customer service was excellent and he spoiled us with fast service and the ability to make whatever custom colors we would come up with. I am, however, happy and would like to wish him the best of luck in his new career!”
Parker Still, a high school bass angler who began fishing competitively with the Kansas Crappie Club before moving over to bass, credited Manis with helping cultivate his successes as a young crappie angler while competing against adults.
“Brandon Manis helped me out a lot over the few years I fished crappie tournaments,” Still said. “He would hook me up with baits whenever I needed them and he also would make me some bass lures every once in awhile. It’s sad to see the doors close on such a great company.
“Brandon did a good job at keeping his customers happy and he did a great job making the baits. They were high quality and always put fish in the boat for me, my dad and Michael Roberts. Top Secret Jigs were all we used when we found them and we would never go back to a Bobby Garland. I hope to see the doors open again some day.”
Luckily for Still and other crappie enthusiasts, Manis said he is tentatively leaving the door open to someday return to the business.
“I most likely will reopen someday, but not in the next year or two,” Manis said. “For now, I’m just enjoying my family time and concentrating on my new career.”
He added that he’d like to thank all of his customers, as well as Don Huntley of Don and Tom’s Bait Shop for getting him started with selling to the public before he had a website. He also thanked Everhart Outdoors in Clinton, Mo., for carrying his baits, as well.
“And probably most importantly I want to thank Ryan and Jen German for all the behind-the-scenes help,” Manis said. “Couldn’t have had all the success without their help and time.”