*** Note from Hannable - This is one of the A Picture Is Worth 1000 words essays. In it I reference directly the picture used that week for inspiration. You can find a link to it HERE.
Also, this piece was edited and submitted to the Central Carolina Community College Red Brick Review for consideration for use in their Spring 2011 edition.
Like the roadside fruit stands of my youth, the small family owned tackle shops are all fading away, or more so have become shells of dreams that stand watch over highways and river banks. You find them often, likes the ones in the photo above, with weathered siding and faded signs, hanging over an OPEN sign that someone forgot to take down years ago, forever lying to any who can plainly see that they are CLOSED, have been for a long time, and likely forever will remain so.
There used to be magic in these little shops – rows upon rows of shiny lacquered cane poles, bins of weights from those so light you did not know why anyone would bother up to large chunks of lead that would hold a minnow in place in the fastest waters the Cape Fear could challenge you with.
There were corks, made from real cork, and plastic bobbers; there were hooks so fine they seemed smaller than the fishing line tied to them, to the always present treble hook so large that a “ gonna catch me a shark “ joke was all but mandatory. Jigs, spoons, spinners, beetle spins, rooster tails – a sheer cornucopia of fishing treasure, all laid out where you could hold it, examine it, debate it’s merits.
There were more spools of filament and fishing line here than there were spools of thread at the fabric store. And a small shelf, with shotgun shells, and a few boxes of .30-06 and 30-30 rifle bullets – always Winchester – you don’t even have to ask.
There was that smell, too. That bait shop smell – they all smelled the same – a mixture of cigarette smoke, the occasional earthiness of a cigar or pipe, the dank rotted wood smell of the live cricket bin. And minnows- that aquarium fog of pond water that was so thick but pleasant. Of course, if you were on the coast, there was a slight salt twist in the air, and if you were real lucky the bait shop also had fish for sale for the unlucky , or lazy – spots, pompano, and always shrimp.
It was a Man’s place – a place where little boys went and felt like Men too – with dreams of record breaking smallmouths, or of furtive river trips were beer was plentiful and fishing was nil.
Occasionally a woman did darken the threshold – and these quickly fell into one of three categories – there were those who were being drug along against their wishes by an excited husband or son, and clearly would rather be elsewhere. Better than those were the Mother or Wife, who while knowing nothing of the art of fishing was on a clandestine trip to pick up a birthday or anniversary gift. These ladies got very special treatment, as any and every man was more than willing to help another man out by making sure his wife picked out something of quality.
And then there were the “Fishers of women” – those special but rare divine creations that loved to fish, knew how to fish – and probably caught more fish in a year than most men would in a lifetime. These rare creatures were always viewed in awe, if perchance distrusted by those with bruised egos of “getting beat by a girl”.
My favorite aspect though was always the pictures and photos. You could gauge how successful and popular the shop was by the photos of men slightly drunk and smiling like it was their wedding night, all the while holding up a bass or crappie. Little kids sitting on the ground with a huge fan of shell cracker bream spread around them – and grins large enough to park a boat in. The stoic old timer standing by his tailgate hounds in the box and rabbits laid out like cordwood. The little gap toothed girl, orange hat on the head, holding the tines of a nice whitetail buck, rifle lying in the leaves in front. These photos were the testament to the veracity of a good store.
Times change, people change. Larger stores and huge catalogue companies drove the market down. Now you can go to a Wal-Mart, and get your groceries, your oil filters, a pair of shoes and your fishing tackle. While the Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shop were a godsend to rural folks with no access to fancy equipment and high end gear, and filled many an evening for guys sitting on the john, they sadly lent a helping hand to the closing of those very small shops that their colorful ads reminded folks of.
There are a few of these small shops left – and I try to frequent the ones I know. I’ll stop by sometimes to get a drink and a honey bun, and maybe a pack of rubber worms, just to chip in. But I can ride past 5, within a half hour of my home, which are no more.
I do not know where the one from the photo is from; I have no idea if it is even still standing. But I feel its loss just as much as those who lived close by – and I hope after reading this, you do too.