A Feast for the Senses: The Local Bait Shop
I was standing in a bait and tackle store the other day, realizing it had been a long time since I had smelled that heady aroma of rotting earthworms.
The pungent smell of deceased annelids emanating from the old butcher’s display case violently assaulted my nostrils but also took me back into the mists of time.
In an instant I was again 12-years-old, quivering with excitement as my grandfather and I stepped through the screen door into that strange and wonderful world of the bait shop. Part retail business, part museum and part gathering place, the establishment was the center of the local fishing world regardless of where your world happened to be located. For young boys (and girls, I suppose) who only wanted to become professional fishermen when they grew up, it was like a trip to Candyland.
Over the years, I have visited an incredible plethora of bait shops ranging from friendly little mom-and-pop operations to one spot in rural South Carolina that was a combination juke joint/bait shop run by an outlaw biker gang. Needless to say, we didn’t go back to complain after finding half the worms we bought were dead.
All real bait shops are small-time affairs as the profit margin on worms, crickets and minnows is next to nothing. If the truth were known, most bait shop owners simply run their business out of love rather than hopes of buying vacation homes. For that simple reason alone, you should adore your local bait dealer.
Though each bait shop is unique and different, like individual snowflakes, they also have a strange commonality.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous of all standard bait shop features is the resident geezer. With the demise of the local hardware store and the removal of ‘liar’s benches’ from the town square, cantankerous old people need a place to loiter. That’s why every bait store in the country has a geezer, sometimes two or three, and you can’t escape their clutches without exchanging at least a few pleasantries while purchasing hooks and minnows.
Geezers are typically male, retired, range in age from 65 years to older than metamorphic rock and spend inordinate amounts of time chewing, spitting and offering unsolicited advice. From their well-worn place of honor next to the cash register, they can be a great source of information about current fishing trends. However, always take the advice with a grain of salt since many of them have not actually left their chair since the Eisenhower administration.
Expert fishermen know a quick trip to a nearby bait store is the best way to find the hottest local lures. Though a geezer will undoubtedly be there to offer advice, there is a quicker way to determine which lures are favored by area fishermen: dust. As most merchandise doesn’t turn over very frequently, a heavy coat of dust is a good indicator that the lure in question was purchased by the owner simply to fill space in the display.
Likewise, avoid purchasing any snack foods with more than 1/16 of an inch of dust on the wrapper unless you don’t have any plans for the next few days.
Another common aspect of bait shops is the taxidermy display. No self-respecting shop owner would think about opening for business without at least a dozen stuffed fish adorning the walls.
The interesting thing is that the fish being displayed rarely meet normal taxidermy industry quality standards. Apparently when someone opens a bait shop, novice taxidermists will beat a path to their door with armloads of pop-eyed walleye, droopy-mouth bass and panfish so overstuffed that they appear ready to burst.
Fortunately, by the time the inert fish gather an inch or two of dust, the character flaws are much less noticeable.
Real bait shops also have a lazy mascot in residence. Cats are common but small grouchy dogs seem most popular. Even if the owner claims the pooch doesn’t bite, keep your throat covered because without warning these senile, arthritic dogs that haven’t moved in weeks can suddenly turn into a toothy missile aimed at your jugular with the slightest provocation, such as speaking.
Ultimately, in spite of shortcomings, let me remind you that regardless of what you need- bait, lures or simply information- don’t forget there is still a great traditional resource waiting out there to help fisherman have a great day on the water: the Internet.
It doesn’t smell so bad on warm days, either.
[mks_pullquote align="left" width="600" size="12" bg_color="#003300" txt_color="#ffffff"]Editor’s Note: The last paragraph is merely humor- please support the local bait store, along with the local tackle shop, gun dealer and all other neighborhood businesses that support the local community but face tough competition from “Big Box Retailers.”
Small business is what makes America great! [/mks_pullquote]