Jared Ott is one among many high school students whom Mercury Marine engineer Kevin Anderson has mentored as a volunteer at the Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, STEM Academy. The charter school, located near Mercury world headquarters, teaches science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to prepare young people for careers in these disciplines. Ott stands out as the only student of the academy to have received a U.S. patent on his work, an innovative fishhook designed to prevent fish from nibbling away at bait worms without getting hooked.
“I love to go fishing,” Ott said. “Usually, I go with my grandpa. He taught me to fish as soon as I could hold a pole. I do go fishing by myself, but I think fishing is most enjoyed when done with your family and friends. I often jig for perch or walleye at my grandpa’s pond, or I go to Lakeside Park [in Fond du Lac] with my friends to catch whatever we can.”
By 2018, Ott was a 16‑year‑old high school sophomore at the STEM Academy, and he had concluded that the fish were winning the game more often than he liked. “I created this hook because I always got annoyed when fish would steal my worm. I would routinely have my worm taken by fish that somehow avoided the hook. After experiencing this frustration too many times, I knew I had to find a solution, and I got to work on my idea,” Ott said.
Ott first sought the advice of Anderson, whom Ott had met at one of the academy’s STEM Design Challenge events, where students work with adult mentors to design solutions to real‑life problems. “I had seen him work with students to help them refine their designs. I knew Mr. Anderson was a volunteer at STEM, so I contacted him to see if he could help me with my fishing hook idea. I have worked with him ever since,” Ott said.
“With Jared’s fishhook project, we talked about the best ways to make something, and how to go from an idea to a working prototype to production,” Anderson said. “Another thing we talked about was finding the ‘prior art’ — in this case fishhook types — and understanding their differences. We looked at catalogs with information on various brands. The goal was to identify the purposes for the different types of fishhooks and then use that as a framework to see how Jared’s thoughts were different. When he understood how his ideas were different from what was commercially available, he knew his ideas had merit.”
The next steps involved developing more detailed drawings and creating prototypes of a double-hooked design.
In evaluating his ideas, Ott recalled a famous quote from Albert Einstein, “The best solution is the simplest one that works.”
“The basic idea is that, with two hooks, there would be more points of contact to hold the worm in place. Mr. Anderson and a Mercury Marine welder, Aaron Novak, generously brazed the first prototypes of the hook. I tried the hooks and decided the idea was worth more time,” Ott said.
“From there, I learned how to solder and started to create my own prototypes using a tin‑based solder. These prototypes broke too easily, and, while I did get some feedback from test users, these prototypes were not close enough to a real product. I researched more solutions and decided to use silver solder, which is stronger and more durable. These prototypes held up much better, and I started to distribute samples,” Ott added.
With favorable feedback from product testers — including Anderson, himself an avid angler — the next step involved the complicated process of applying for a U.S. design patent. Ott sought assistance from an attorney who had given a presentation on intellectual property — including patents, trademarks and copyrights — at the STEM Academy. Ott submitted drawings according to design patent requirements and drafted a proposal explaining how his fishing hook differed from any other.
After a 14‑month wait, in December 2020 Ott received his design patent. For 15 years, the patent prevents business competitors from making or selling a fishing hook that looks the same as, or is substantially similar to, his hook.
“Much of Jared’s success was due to both his creativity and his hard work to get it from an idea to a commercial product,” Anderson said.
Now a 19‑year‑old graduate of the STEM Academy, Ott plans to license or sell his invention while he takes advantage of a partial scholarship to study mechanical engineering at Michigan Technological University in the fall.
“I can’t even describe how important my mentors have been to my success. Mr. Anderson has been the most influential mentor in my education. I aspire to be like him someday, as a man, volunteer and an engineer. He inspired me to go down the path I am on, and he has helped me turn my aspirations into reality. I have worked with Mr. Anderson for years, and he has always answered my questions, made time for me and connected me to resources, despite his packed schedule. I would not be where I am today without Mr. Anderson and other generous mentors,” Ott said.
According the Anderson, the benefits of helping young minds discover the STEM disciplines are manifold.
“I volunteer because I enjoy it. I like seeing how different students look at and assess a problem, and eventually solve it,” he said. “Furthermore, I know that, for our society to grow and be productive, we need more passionate people in the STEM fields. These are very good-paying jobs that are very rewarding. If I can give young people a view into what a STEM person does on a daily basis, they will have some insights that many adults don’t have. It’s important that we get students engaged at an early age on real‑world STEM topics. Companies like Mercury depend on bright young talent entering engineering and the other technical professions.”