Knowledge is power, as the old saying goes, never more true than with respect to the recreational pastime of fishing. Where and how to find and fool the scaly, finicky critters is paramount to one’s success. Gaining such knowledge often takes years of trail and error, especially if work and family limit your time on the water. But there are some shortcuts.
One is to take time off and use the boat more, especially on a weekday. Another is to utilize your local tackle shop more than you do now. Tackle shops are usually owned and operated by very savvy fishermen, people who’ve spent years fishing and wanted to turn their vocation into a business.
Tapping into the well of fishing facts is often as easy as walking in the front door, buying something, then asking a polite question. Don’t try this on a busy Saturday when the store jammed with eager beavers on their way to the grounds, eye on the tide wanting to get out of the marina before low water or to arrive at some sea bass wreck just at slack water.
Whatever the reasons, the people behind the counter will not have time to talk or demonstrate during those hectic times.
But if you come back on a Tuesday after the morning push for bait is gone, there is more time to chat, answer questions, highlight a spot on a chart, demonstrate a new piece of equipment or iron the bumps in the road.
Don’t be afraid to ask simple questions. It’s likely other heads in the store might turn, wanting the same answer, but fearful of looking like a dope in front of their peers.
Sense and cents
Look at it this way: It’s good business for tackle shop people to take the time to address your questions because if you catch fish, you will probably return to buy more bait and maybe a new rod and reel to pursue the sport to a higher level.
For instance, there is a salt pond not far from my home where stripers bite well, often caught in all manner of small boats. It’s great therapy after work, watching a great sunset while chasing bass to 30 inches that are on the hunt for a meal. The kicker is, the bass will not hit well until the sun heads over a small hill. If that occurs around 7:30 p.m., expect first hits around 7:35. The schedule is not 100 percent accurate, but maybe seven evenings out of 10 they respond as if on cue. So calling it quits to an after-work trip at 7 p.m. snatches defeat from the jaws of victory only 30 minutes down the road.
That’s the kind of info a tackle-shop source can provide. And, I can tell you from years of experience, it’s possible to land eight to 12 school stripers in a fun-filled hour before dark — quite a contrast to the frustrated angler already on his way up I-95 at the time.
The more you go into a tackle shop, the more friendly the owner usually becomes as he notices you and eventually designates you as a good or steady customer, one possibly deserving extra points for the money you are spending in his place of business.
You might only want some squid for an afternoon of fluke drifting, but learn in short order that blues and some bass were on the surface tearing into bait off Point X just before lunch. This timely tip may put you into large blues on a surface popper or maybe an 18-pound bass that hit the top water, a fun catch in the afternoon sun and a great way to start a fluke trip.
Favorite sons of tackle shops can benefit in many other ways. Some stores have a used-tackle section where old, but serviceable, gear is left on consignment. The store gets a percentage when sold, and the seller arrives to find a check that can be put to a new reel — the whole circle of events beneficial to all concerned.
Especially good customers might find themselves on the receiving end of an invitation to head south during the winter. One shop owner I know sponsors bonefish trips to the far islands of the Bahamas, asking a small circle of friends or customers to join him. Great fun, great sport, all in T-shirts and shorts while the northeast weather hangs low, cold and dreary.
Tackle shops sometimes bring in local pros to do seminars during the offseason. Most are open to the public for a fee, but a few are invitation-only, a great opportunity to learn and ask questions in a quiet setting.
I know one owner that had a speaker come to his house to give a slide show to family and a few select customers. I know because I gave the show to that small audience, using a small blackboard to go into more detail, all appreciated by those in the man’s living room that night.
If you’re in need of people to come to your boat to demonstrate how to run the new rig better or to go out on a trip with you and your kids, showing how to run the boat and how to set up the tackle, the phone numbers or Web sites of such people are available in the tackle shop either by verbal recommendation or a bulletin board.
If you have a few extra bucks in the fish budget, there is no better way than to get a pro aboard your boat. He’s yours for the whole day, able to rig up a lead core rod to troll the deadly tube and worm for stripers, or maybe show you how to set a gill net to catch live bunker. It’s a classroom afloat, great learning brought about because you went into a local tackle shop.
The Big Box Store won’t weigh your fish in at the end of the day, nor can they likely enter your fish in the shop’s contest. The Big Box might not also have boats for sale on the same or nearby wall, sometimes great buys for the man with an eye for value, able to find those nuggets of used gold.
The Big Box is also likely not open before the sun rises, sometimes with a fresh pot of coffee for the early birds, often with more timely tips from the day before, great intelligence that should be acted upon while the iron remains hot.
If the fishing gets so hot you break a reel handle, guess who is likely to get it fixed right away: the steady in-once-a-weeker or the fellow in once a year?
Patronizing a good, local tackle shop provides so much more besides just bait and gear. It is a wonderful source of information of all kinds, ready for the person that recognizes its potential and able to use it to improve their next trip, making use of whatever precious time he can spare.
This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue.