Ode to a Tackle Shop

When I was a kid — 13 or 14 years old — there was a tackle shop near where I grew up in South Carolina. As I recall, it was on Highway 378, just east of what locals call “The Circle.”

The place was great. It was one of the first honest-to-goodness tackle stores I ever visited. You see, my parents weren’t anglers, and weekends were mostly spent on the farm, taking care of the cows and the usual chores you have out in the country.

But once in a while, we’d find ourselves on the road from Saluda to the giant metropolis of Columbia, and that would put us smack dab on the road by “The Bass Hole.”

I probably only went inside two or three times, but each visit was memorable. I got to see the stuff I only saw in the pages of Field & Stream, Outdoor Life or Bassmaster Magazine. I suppose I could have ordered such exotic items from a catalog, but I didn’t know any catalogs except the ones from Sears and farm implement stores.

The Bass Hole was kind of dimly lit, but that only added to the mystique. I figured that if I explored every inch of the place I could find anything and everything I ever wanted as far as bass fishing was concerned. I was just as certain I could catch every bass in the state — quite possibly the southeast — if I had such treasures at my disposal.

The guys who ran The Bass Hole were young, maybe in their late 20s, and extremely nice to a kid who only had $10 or $15 to spend. When I got to the register they extolled the virtues of the products I selected, made recommendations on how and where I might use them. They even threw in a few items … no charge.

Whatever meagre purchases I made, they’d always give me an extra bag of worms or two. I guessed they were priming the pump. They knew I loved fishing and was already planning to be their customer for life.

One Saturday I scraped a few bucks together because we were headed to Columbia, and I had negotiated a stop at The Bass Hole. I can’t remember what I was hoping to buy, but I know I was hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the early Fenwick Flippin’ Stiks, so it must have been around 1976 or ’77.

As we rounded the Circle and made a beeline toward Lexington, I was all set — cash in my front pocket and ready to scour the store. But something was wrong. It had been months since my last visit, and The Bass Hole was now closed. Someone had blacked out the “B” on the sign (a fairly regular occurrence), and the shop was empty.

At school on Monday I asked some fishing friends if they knew what happened. They heard that the owners had been arrested on drug charges. The rumor was The Bass Hole sold more than fishing tackle.

In retrospect, I think The Bass Hole taught me a lesson about things not always being what they appear. Occasionally, things really are too good to be true. Sometimes there’s a hidden agenda.

But the fishing is always exactly as good as it is in my dreams. Every visit to every tackle shop is an adventure and an exploration. In that way, I’ve never grown up, never become jaded.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.