In small towns and big cities throughout the United Sates, there is a plague that is killing off the heart of the recreational fishing industry. Each year another community loses a cornerstone of its heritage when their small family owned bait shop goes out of business.
Before the big box sporting goods stores and ecommerce came along, those looking for fishing tackle and live bait visited their local bait and tackle shop. Usually located near the local fishing grounds, these stores provided a selection of baits, lures, and tackle all tuned to the local fishery and season. There you could buy a fishing rod or reel, have your existing reel serviced, purchased some hooks and sinkers, as well as some fresh bait for a day’s outing. As a bonus, these merchants where well diverse in what fish were biting and where you could find them and these shopkeepers were eager to provide this local knowledge free of charge. If you were lucky you could also pick up a fresh cup of coffee and a snack for the road as well as some ice for your cooler. Much like the local coffee shop or corner bar, these places were woven into the fabric of our communities.
Today these baits and tackle shops are under extreme pressure with tighter profit margins and fewer customers. In years past a bait and tackle shop could provide a good living for a small family. Shop owners weren’t going to become millionaires but they could earn enough to support their families. Today with excessive regulation and high overheads which include rent, utilities, and insurances, it’s becoming harder and harder to open the doors each morning. What makes these shop owners wake up in the pre-dawn hours every day just to be ready for the early morning fishermen is not the ideal of riches but the love of fishing.
So what can be done to ensure these institutions are here for future generations, support them today. In today’s market, the trend is for large sporting goods stores to offer greater selection with less customer service in the form of fewer employees on the sales floor. Ever go to a large store, see row upon row of soft plastic lures and not know which one best suits your needs. Then after spending a half hour tracking down someone on the sales floor you asked them which colored swimbait is good for stained water and all you get is a blank stare. Well at your local bait shop they’ll be able to guide you to a color which has been producing well over the past few weeks or days. For Crappie and Speck fishermen you know that jig colors can change by the day or location on the lake and you almost need real-time information to have a successful outing, you’ll find this hard to find at a big box store. Then you have the local gas stations or corner convenience stores selling bait and el-cheapo tackle. To them these are just another SKU item (Stock Keeping Unit) and they wouldn’t know an egg sinker from a bullet sinker. And finally we have ecommerce, a.k.a. internet warehouses. Yes they can be less expensive than the big box stores and even have a greater selection, but if you have a question there is no one to talk to or you could end up having an open chat session with someone from India. When was the last time you bought some wild shiners from an internet warehouse?
In today’s economy we all know that every dollar is precious and we need to be wise with our purchases, but bait and tackle shops can’t live on bait sales alone. Nor can they survive on a declining customer base. Therefore it falls upon the shoulders of every fishermen to support your local shop. In small towns if you’re local shop closes you could be forced to travel 30-40 miles or more just to get some live minnows or nightcrawlers for a day’s outing. Think of it this way, if you just paid a dollar or two extra on your SPRO Frog you’d wouldn’t have to spend $10.00 in gas and an hour of your time for a ¼ pound of minnows. I’ve frequented many bait shops throughout the country. One time I was charter fishing for salmon and I needed to buy a fishing license so my charter captain took me to a local tackle shop. While there he ‘suggested’ that I buy just one lure from the tackle shop. This wasn’t to add another lure to his tackle box, this was to support the tackle shop so that they could survive during the offseason. Since then I buy at least one lure from a local shop no matter where I fish. Other times, when I was a regular fishing off the piers of south Florida, I used to get telephone calls from the bait shop when the blues, mackerel, and mullet where running. Then when I came in I always bought something from the bait shop, even if it was just a bottle of water. Now if more fishermen were like this then many of the now closed shops might have had a fighting chance to stay alive.
Here’s a suggestion that would help our local shops and won’t cost you a dime. Being October, we are entering a new fishing-tourism season. What if our local guides would meet their clients at a local tackle shop or take them to the shop and ‘suggest’ they buy just one lure or package of plastic worms to fish with for the day. Quite possibly our local shops would have a fighting chance to survive the offseason and be around for the next generation of fishermen. As they say in life, use it or lose it.