If I'm on the Pinellas side of the pond, there are at least three stores I can be found at. One is Mastry's down on Fourth Street South -- right down the street from where I live in Crescent Heights. I've known the guy named Larry Mastry, and his dad, for a long, long time. The old man taught Phil Plastic (among many others) how to sport fish 100lb tarps under the Skyway. I think there are cork bobbers in my bag (or garage) somewhere I think I bought the second time I was in his store. With newspaper money.
There's Bett's, too, where I see a friend of mine named Captain TommyZ, or Captain Steve Betz, or Fireman John. The first two are probably in the top-ten list of professional charter captains I've met (more than four) that treat clients as gently as they handle a snook, and the third somebody who introduced me -- and ten thousand other people I've seen around -- to DOA Shrimp. Cool guys all -- knowing them is something that's made a lot of people's lives more fun and certainly more productive on the water. I know these guys; we have old jokes to laugh about, or secret spots to hide. But have a 'newbie' walk into that gorgeous store and all eyes -- and attention -- turn to answering any question. And hopefully get them to laugh at the same jokes, and often even point that secret spot out on a map. It's the magic taking hold.
What makes a tackle shop the kind of place you want to hang out at? Buying that $15 lure (do trout even know how much those things cost?) only takes twelve minutes (8 for it to hook you with those deadly trebles, 4 to wipe the credit card).
This weekend I spent four hours at a seminar series sponsored by Shimano, Sebile, Costa Del Mar sunglasses and a few others at a store in Tampa called Tampa Fishing Outfitters. A number of the guides reporting for us at TheOnlineFisherman.com are sponsored 'house' guides at the store. On Saturday there was an event there hosted by -- among others -- Sebile, Shimano, and Costa Del Mar. I own Costas (of course), I've certainly caught fish on my new favorite $15 hard baits (shaking my head every time) and Shimano's my middle name. I belong where I can spend money on tackle. If you've gottent his far in this article, so do you.
But what makes a good store? Running into old (too old?) friends. Great tackle -- I can stop at any decent tackle shop and find what I need when I need it. But there's something different about the real killer stores. The ones I go to, whether I need a bait pen for a kingfish tournament the next morning (who does that, right?) or that have some special magic that makes them the ones I drive to an extra 10 or 25 miles; they're the ones I know I'm going to shop at if I drive the 2 hours to fish Tarpon in Charlotte Harbor.
The 'something' about the stores you love and the stores you just stop at when you need to, is personality. It's what makes our independents -- every single one of them, from the smallest to the Tampa Fishing Outfitters and Bett's and Discount Tackle's of the world (or at least our little part of the world-of-fish) different. And magical.
The author (right) and a guy named Don. Don's lifetime of retail management connected with his knowledge of our sport and willingness to keep all of his customers happy (regardless of their planet of origin) aren't unique in the best tackle shops. Tackle buys can be serious; WalMart can't afford experts in our sport. The experts have to roll the dice to start and maintain their stores; they know what they do.
Although I haven't done it (yet), there's a history behind the BassPro shops; there's history behind the hot online tackle stores. And we certainly know that there's history behind WalMart. There's cheap tackle at WalMart, right? Do you shop at WalMart when you want to pick your next perfect backwater snook tackle? I hope you don't buy your bulk vitamins at Tampa Fishing Outfitters (although the owner, an incredible guy named Lee, would sure stock them if we needed them to increase our odds of finding and hauling a 40" snoon). And I hope you don't expect to learn to toss a ten-foot castnet at Staples or Office Depot.
Actually, I taught somebody to throw one in the parking lot of Staples once, but I wasn't on their payroll.
I hate Sebile lures. I'm of the belief that I could be stranded on a desert island (or on a street corner with a sign that says "Will Fish for Food") with nothing more than 2 sabiki and a white bucktail jig. That's still a truth. But the first time I tossed one of these things underhand into the flow of a spillway after a one-inch rain, and three snook -- one-after-another -- grabbed one, I said "what the hell" and spent $75. I had no room in my "artificial" plastic box. Had to move jigs into another box, and the whole discovery of Sebile-effectiveness caused a shift in the structure of my tackle bag. It cost me 2.5 hours to fix that. These things should be a write off (oh yeah -- they are).
Getting back to stores, and why I don't shop WalMart for tackle or Office Depot for castnets. The first one is a corporation whose revenue stream spans 12,000 products, not 200. There's nothing wrong with WalMart; but there is something right about supporting people like Eric or Lee or thousands of others around this nation who put their money, their time, and their sacred honor betting that enough of us will be hooked by those $15 hard plastics to keep them alive.
And us teaching kids, laughing our butts off, sticking hooks in parts of our body that should have been covered, and living a lifestyle that brings something to us that cannot be defined. You can call it fishing all you want. But you can't stop there.
There's nothing inherently wrong with buying split shots at WalMart while your wife spends 12 minutes finding the best value on animal crackers among a row containing 18 kinds of animal crackers. But think about this. If that stupid new plastic lure costs $15 at Bett's or Tampa Fishing Outfitters and a mere $13 at WalMart, what are you saving. What's the real cost of saving money?
Support your local stores. Always. They support us in too many ways to define. And you never know who you might run into there. One group can always be found there -- any time, any day, and anywere.