Big Box or Ma’-n-Pa’?

Aberdeen Bait and TackleAs many of you have probably figured out by now, I spent my formative years (some would argue deformative) working in a tackle shop in southern California. Our shop had all the latest and greatest any bass fisherman or saltwater angler could want. We specialized in mainly western gear – although it wasn’t called that back then – and we built custom rods, repaired reels and always had a pot of coffee on. If you were lucky enough to stop by at lunchtime, Bob (the owner) would buy anyone in the store lunch, which usually consisted of Church’s Chicken.

In the surrounding area of good-old Norwalk, California, there were a number of privately owned tackle shops, all catering to the local angler. There was Fisherman’s Paradise, Sav-On Tackle and Wayne’s Tackle – all within 10 miles of each other. At the time, we were all in competition but we also worked amicably together. If Wayne’s needed a 5000C for a customer, we’d send one over or if we needed a hundred crawdads, we could get them from Fisherman’s. I’m sure the three or four shops in the Valley did the same as possibly the San Diego shops.

The reason I’m saying all of this is privately owned tackle shops are becoming a thing of the past. Most everyone these days shops online or at the Big Box stores like Bass Pro and Cabelas. It used to be that the tackle shop was the place to congregate to share fish stories and learn – now the congregation place is Facebook or one of the many message boards on the Internet. The Internet is fun and all but I would choose a real shop over that any day. Unfortunately the last state I lived in (for 20 years), Idaho, wasn’t a mecca of bass fishing and the town I lived in had no decent tackle shop at all. Unless you consider Sportsman’s Warehouse a top-shelf tackle shop – NOT.

Well the day job and career brought me earlier this year to North Carolina. Talk about being excited not to have to deal with snow, ice and maybe six months a year of bass fishing. I was ready to be able to fish 12 months a year again, not have to drive two hours but mostly I was excited to “maybe” have a real tackle shop within 200 miles.

Let me break it to you folks, I have two of them. That’s right, two real live-bait smelling, jig heads in coffee cans, local baits hanging on the wall, “I can order anything you need,” tackle shops within 30 minutes of me. Taking the words from Phil Robertson, I’m Happy Happy Happy.

The Shop closest to me is Thomas’ Bait and Tackle. I knew I’d like this place the minute I pulled into the gravel parking lot. The blue building is made from corrugated metal and might be 100 feet by 30 feet in dimension. You walk in the store and you’re greeted with a smile by the owner, Jimmy Thomas. While Jimmy doesn’t have the total inventory of a Bass Pro or Cabelas, none of his inventory is a waste of space. If you want it he probably has it and if he doesn’t, he can get it for you. From what I understand, Thomas’ has been in business for around 30 years and by the looks of how many customers he has going into his shop, I’m sure he’ll be in business for another 30.

The next shop in the area is Aberdeen Bait and Tackle. I recently had some time to kill and decided to pay a visit after a number of fishing friends told me I had to go. As you walk in the door you get that instant blast of the live bait tank and its contents – to me that’s better than any cologne. But what take you completely by surprise is the amount of tackle – wall to wall, floor to ceiling. And I’m not kidding about ceiling. They actually have those “long-reach grabbers” located in each aisle so you can pull down lures that are 6 feet or higher on the pegboard. The store is owned by Robert and Robbie Everett and it appears that they know how to stock a store. I would be willing to bet that this place has more tackle in it than a Bass Pro or Cabelas – no kidding.

Aberdeen’s claim to fame, which I’d completely forgotten until Pete told me, is old hard-to-get baits like original Rogues, Rebels, Fat Raps, you name it – they have it or can get it. In fact, Robbie used to put out a monthly emailer with his stock of “new” old stuff. About 6 or 7 years ago Pete actually signed me up for the emailer and I bought a number of old baits from Aberdeen – it just never dawned on me that this was the same store.

Anyway, in the very near future I’m going to sit down with Jimmy, Robert and Robbie and ask them about their businesses and how they’ve succeeded in the world of the Internet and Big Box stores. When I do, I’ll be sure to share it with you as shops like this deserve to be recognized. They’re a place you can go and actually talk to a human and not only that, that human knows bass fishing. None of this keyboard crap, none of this hiding behind a monitor. Real eye-to-eye contact, a firm handshake and who knows, maybe even a cup of coffee.

So, do you have a locally owned and operated tackle shop near you that deserves to be mentioned? If so, please let us know about it.

  • Last weekend I was in Arizona for a triathlon, and one night, I found myself out with friends walking into a swanky bar. My friend (who I know from high school) knew the bouncer and he told him about how my dad had a bait and tackle shop. I tried to explain what it was like, and what all I used to do there (arrange Mickey Mouse boots, count waxworms, create signs, pick out which tackle would make the prettiest earrings). I don’t think they get a lot of girls in Scottsdale who know how to set a hook. Anyway, it definitely took me back to Earl’s Sport Stop, and this was a fun piece to read on my first morning back in the office.

  • JWM

    Bobcat’s in Clarksville, VA. Mile from Buggs Island, the best tackle store in northern NC/southern VA. They have everything you need and decent prices.

  • I think that the net has done more to kill independent tackle shops than the big box stores. I like a well stocked, local shop a lot, But I also enjoy shopping at home in the middle of the night, with all the research info in the world at my fingertips.

    What I really like — or used to — is real, old tackle shops. I recall going into one in Dallas on my way to Mexico, and finding a whole shelf full of Pedigo pork frogs on the pork rack in the back. Bought every jar of black and every jar of brown. Or one in Kentucky that seemingly had every model crankbait ever made, in every size and color it ever came in.

    These days however, that shop has likely changed hands, and the new owners have taken all the rare and uncommon stuff to ebay to get stupid prices for it. The same internet that’s my friend is my worst enemy, too.

    SIGH.

    • Yep Rich, I have the same love-hate relationship with the net too. Wish there was some form of happy medium.