I actually had a chance to do a little fishing recently. It doesn’t happen often enough, so when it does, I try to take advantage.
Bass fishing is my favorite, but I love catching trout and bluegill on a fly rod, chasing crappie in the spring, catching inshore saltwater species like speckled trout, redfish and snook and too many other kinds of fishing to mention here.
But bass fishing is my passion, and I take pride in knowing something about the sport, its history, its contributors and its records.
I also love tackle shops. It’s part of the reason I’m the managing editor of FTR. I’ve been visiting tackle shops for longer than I can remember, and I often stop in just to check out the atmosphere, the offerings and the personalities you can find there. In fact, I rarely pass within sight of a tackle shop without going inside.
So, when I was on a fishing trip and saw a tackle store I had never seen before, I had to check it out. It’s called _____ Outfitters Live Bait & Tackle. I’ll leave the name out only because I hate the kind of shaming, ostracism and trolling that the internet is famous for, and I don’t want that landing on the proprietor … or coming back on me somehow.
_____’s is pretty ordinary fare when it comes to small tackle shops out in the country. The focus is on live bait. The lures on the pegs are dusty. Many are long out of production, and there are a few locally-made baits for sale — mostly soft plastics.
I usually buy a couple of packs of the local lures and scan through the out-of-production stuff in search of a forgotten gem or two. I found some here.
The prices were high, but not unconscionable, and the shop was small enough that I could carry on a conversation with the proprietor while I looked around. It was old ___ himself.
He wasn’t a local, like I expected he would be. He lived elsewhere for part of the year and ran the shop in season. He seemed like a nice guy. Middle-aged, beard, a few too many pounds.
Quite often, looking at a tackle shop owner is a little like looking in the mirror.
I asked him for recommendations on the lake I’d be fishing, but he was more interested in telling me about a different lake where he offered a guide service and “outfitting.” I told him that I was already committed to the first lake, but that just escalated the pitch for “his” lake.
He told me that he took an 18-pound, 2-ounce largemouth from his lake just a year or two earlier.
“That would break the state record,” I said. He just nodded.
“Why didn’t you get it certified?”
“Did you keep the fish?”
“The mount is at my other house.”
He kept selling.
“They found a 27-pound bass floating dead at the lake a few weeks ago,” he added. “It was in the local paper. The state knows about it and confirmed it.”
He obviously had no idea who he was lying to. I’ve written and published hundreds of thousands of words about this stuff.
“Do you know what the world record is?” I asked.
“About 23 or 24 pounds, I think.”
“Twenty-two, five,” I told him. “That’s almost five pounds better than the world record.”
“Yeah, no one ever caught that fish, but I know at least four guys who had it on, including me. That fish was smart. You don’t get that big by being dumb!”
If size equaled intelligence among humans, he would have been smart enough to stop talking at this point.
“Who wrote the story about it?”
He couldn’t remember the reporter’s name but told me the city where the paper is published.
“Who came out from the state fisheries office?”
“Are there pictures?”
He said he had pictures of both giants somewhere on the computer behind the counter. He pressed a few keys and clicked the mouse a couple of times in a valiant search.
“If I come back tomorrow, do you think you can find them?” I asked.
I bought a couple of things and left. He was probably surprised when I came back the next day. I asked if he had found the pictures.
“No. I can’t find them anywhere. Not sure what happened.”
Instead, he showed me a photo of a man with a bass he claimed weighed 15 pounds and a picture of a young woman with a big bass. Both supposedly came from the lake he was promoting.
And both fish were big, but they didn’t look that big.
“That’s my daughter,” he said of the young woman, “and that bass weighed 12-2.”
I gave him a card and asked him to email the pictures when he found them. He assured me that he would.
Of course, I bought a couple more baits. (I can’t help myself.)
When I got back home and did a little searching on the internet, I found the same photo of the young woman. It had run in the newspaper he referenced a day earlier. The caption gave the name of the woman and the weight of the bass — 7 pounds, 10 ounces. That’s a nice fish, but a far cry from 12-2.
I have no idea if the woman is his daughter. I can only tell you they have different surnames.
Encounters like this irritate me more than they probably should. I know enough about fishing — and especially bass fishing — that I’m not going to fall prey to tactics like that. But what about the casual angler? What about the kid just starting out and trying to find his way in the sport? How are they supposed to ferret out these kinds of lies?
And before you say that _____ is harmless, remember that he’s taking people’s money and using lies to do it. He is selling a lie to consumers who are unable to protect themselves. That’s not OK.
Shop owners like _____ give our industry a bad name, misrepresent an experience and generally taint honest retailers who are trying to do right by their customers. We don’t need them, and they don’t need to lie to make a buck.
I bet _____ could have told me a hundred truths that would have made his lake more appealing. Instead he chose lies.
As a result, I won’t be back.