Down Mexico Way

kentMention the name “Romney,” and the angler probably doesn’t think of fishing lures.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been crossing the nation, hoping to win his party’s nomination to challenge the President.

Meanwhile, a second cousin, Kent Romney, has been quietly residing in Mexico, where he manufactures and assembles lures for U.S. compaines.

The company, PRODEPEC, or Productos Deportivos de Pesca, specializes in colorful top-water plugs that are popular for peacock bass fishing in Brazil and Florida.

Kent Romney, 66, said he has never met his political cousin, although he lives in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua — the town where Mitt Romney’s father was born. The candidate’s notoriety, however, has neither helped nor hurt his distant cousin’s business.

“It’s a neutral thing,’ Kent said. “My customers don’t care if I’m related to JFK or Mitt Romney. What they are concerned about is how much it costs to manufacture their product, the best quality possible, and ship to them in a timely fashion.

“One of the advantages we offer our customers is a fast turnaround time over operations in China.

” Kent Romney was born in St. George, Utah but his family moved to Mexico when he was 10 years old.

“When I was 12 or 14 years old, I used to travel all over the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico to fish for native trout,” he said. “Most of my fishing has been for native Mexican trout.”

It wasn’t until 2000 that he got into the fishing lure business.

A friend of a friend mentioned someone who was manufacturing lures in Guatemala and thought he could do better in Mexico. He contacted Kent who did some research, and then started his business in 2000.

The baits he makes for High Roller Custom Fishing Lures in Gainesville, Fla., are made of sugar pine and turned on lathes, and then painted in bright colors with airbrushes.

Terry Jertberg of High Roller said the lures Romney makes for him are primarily used on peacock bass in Brazil, although he likes to point out that he knows plenty of Texans have taken them on trips to the Amazon.

But, Jertberg said, there is another Texas connection. The sugar pine Kent Romney uses is shipped to El Paso where he picks it up and hauls it by trailer to his manufacturing plant, about three hours drive southwest of Juarez, Mexico.

Jertberg said Romney is “kind of a cowboy-type of a guy.”

“He’s a very honest person, eager to serve and satisfy his customers,” Jertberg said. “He bends over backwards a lot of times and he has done a really good job making our lures.”

Romney makes an array of jigheads made of lead or glass that are used in freshwater and saltwater fishing. He also makes buzz baits, snagging hooks and lead weights.

The North American Free Trade Agreement to ship his products duty free back into the U.S.

Romney employs eight to 20 workers, depending on time of year and demand for lures. At the top of the economy in 2006, Romney had 40 workers before the U.S. economy slid in 2008.

“It seems the fishing lure industry is down about 50 percent of what it used to be a few years ago,” Romney said.

Nevertheless, Romney is optimistic.

“From my vantage point, I see big possibilities in overseas marketing of fishing lures,” he said. “A company like High Roller has been selling in Brazil, and now some of these companies have been looking into markets in France and Thailand.

“It’s an encouraging move in the right direction.” Although Mitt Romney is a top runner in the GOP race, the nominee won’t be known for several months. His cousin confirmed, however, that he has retained his U.S. citizenship.

He plans to vote in November.