Trout fishing may not be common around northern Minnesota, but there’s one Bemidji business that caters to anglers across the continent.

TroutBeads has called Bemidji home since 2019 and makes fishing beads that mimic the look of natural fish eggs, a useful approach for catching trout, salmon and steelhead. Their beads come in a variety of eye-popping colors, which is what makes them appealing to fish and anglers alike.

“It’s a lot like if you were using a fly for fly fishing to mimic the larva or the bugs on the water,” owner Sandy Heffner said. “The beads are meant to mimic the eggs floating in the water.”

Millions of beads are housed in TroutBeads’ small warehouse near the south shore of Lake Bemidji. The company’s more than 700 products are sold online at and through its dealers and distributors in 19 states and four Canadian provinces.

TroutBeads offers a number of bright colors and also a glow-in-the-dark option. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
TroutBeads offers a number of bright colors and also a glow-in-the-dark option. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

The business actually originated in Cooper Landing, Alaska, a small town on the Kenai Peninsula about 100 miles south of Anchorage. Heffner’s first husband, Cameron Hawthorne, came up with the idea for TroutBeads in 2004.

“It was the brainchild of my first husband, who passed away in 2014, but we had a lodge and a small little tackle shop,” Heffner said. “We were able to do all kinds of things in there to experiment with new things to catch fish. Up there at the time, real bait wasn’t permitted, so people were looking for something artificial.”

Heffner is from Alaska and her husband, Mo, hails from Michigan, so how did they end up in Bemidji?

“I have an extremely supportive husband and we came here on our honeymoon a few years ago and we loved it,” Heffner said. “We fell in love with it right when we got here and decided that we would want to be here.”

The Heffners set out from their previous home in Billings, Montana, and moved to Bemidji last year, taking TroutBeads with them.

“We just fell in love with the people and the way people are here and how beautiful it is,” Heffner said. “The question that people ask us all the time is, ‘Well, why do you have a company here that specializes in salmon, trout and steelhead when that isn’t really the fishing thing here?’ But we’re an online company. We sell online, we’re not open to the public, so we can kind of be anywhere we want.”

The company is developing products to try to expand into this neck of the woods with beads for walleye and bass that can be used for lure building and crawler harnesses.

“It’s evolved a lot in the last 5-6 years,” Heffner said. “We’ve added lots of new products, lots of new colors, new packaging. We have a new logo and a brand new website. Thankfully, I’ve been really blessed that it’s growing.”

For a company with Alaska roots, TroutBeads has found a new home in Bemidji.

“We’re really thankful to be here and we’re really thankful that people here are so nice,” Heffner said. “That was one of the things that impressed me so much is that there really is such a thing as Minnesota nice.”