Like many other mad keen fisherman I am a complete sucker for a tackle shop. I can’t walk past without going in and once I am in, I rarely leave without a bag full of gear. Of course I don’t need it all but that never stops me thinking I do.
They say fish can only see light and dark – the lures are patterned and coloured to attract us – not the fish, and it works every time. On each fishing trip you convince yourself that if you had only bought that 150mm orange and blue, twist wiggle, walk the dog, kill the cat, deep diving dribble popper, you would have caught a bigger fish. And of course that’s the point – if the retailers only had a rod, reel, spool of line, bag of hooks, some frozen pillies, a grey soft plastic minnow and a metal slug, it would not be much of a shopping experience – would it.
I thought I would share a few of my tackle shop experiences. As usual, I apologise in advance to all those who work in them. I love you all really!
Tackle shops and those who staff them, come in a myriad of formats. The small independents are getting rarer as the ‘big box’ (BCF / Anaconda, etc) outlets make it harder for them to compete – but there will always be those of us who are willing to pay a bit extra for good advice coupled with some local knowledge.
Each type has its advantages – I like the big ones where, on a rainy day, you can buy a coffee and watch your way through all the stores’ fishing DVDs on the demo flat screen. Fortunately if your legs get tired, they also have camping gear so you can unfold a chair. No need to worry that anyone will bother you as nobody has worked there for longer than three weeks, so they don’t know where the fishing section is yet. The only exception to this rule is the manager, who is usually out making a fishing video with the professionals his store sponsors. But all the staff have shiny new uniforms and, thank goodness – that universal symbol of retail humiliation – a name badge. I used to think this was to assist us, the customer, so that when we brought back the really crap pink kids fishing combo that fell apart 3 minutes after we reached the beach, we could remember who sold it to us. Now I realise it is much more straightforward – the staff turnover is so rapid that this is the only way the manager can figure out their names.
Most of these chains also have shonky Japanese sounding, own brand tackle that is all actually made in China, like everything else. This is universally crap quality but it is also incredibly cheap. Reputation risk is not an issue for these retailers – they have such a bad reputation that quality does not worry them too much. In their defence, at least they never tire of exchanging their crap for new when it breaks, which is fairly often. I am currently on my twelfth own-brand fishing headlamp from one of them – they last about a week on average.
The independent fishing stores offer another set of challenges. It can be a bit like Mitre 10. You may think you know what you want, but first you have to get passed the “helpful” staff.
“I’d like some size 4 fishing hooks, please?” I announce.
“What are you chasing?” asks fishing shop man with a knowing smirk.
“Fish”, I feel like responding. “Whiting” I reply.
“You’d be better off with size 6. Where will you be fishing?”
“Mind your own business” I feel like responding. “The Nerang River”, I say.
“Forget it. At the moment, what you want to do, is go after Flatties up at Bribie Island – have you tried the Didgeridoo pinkshine Vicks vapour Rub flavoured 5” dancing stickleback soft plastic – their magic.”
“No I’m just after the Whiting hooks actually.”
“Whiting love poppers you know – How about these Kamakazi Sushi twinkle poppers, in the used toilet paper colour, there only $23 each – the Japanese swear by them.”
“Oh really” I say. What I want to say is “How the hell would you know – get a lot of Japanese anglers in here do you? I bet they don’t even have bloody Whiting in Japan.”
He pauses, disappointed that, like some kind of reluctant reef species, I seem to have gone off the bite. But then he gets that twinkle in his eye.
“Ok then – What bait will you be using, what sinker size, what size mainline, what size leader, run in or run out tide?”
If you hesitate, for even a moment at this stage, you are doomed. If your answers are not spot on you will have a lecture on sinker weights, the merits of regular vs lead free and a detailed run through of popular sinker shapes and sizes in common use, in Australian tidal waters, since 1923. You may even get sold the DIY make your own sinker set complete with zinc furnace. Before you know it you will have bought 5 mini snaffle snip death adder wiggle blades which you will never get out of your tackle box again and you will need to auction a kidney on e bay, to pay for them.
He is only doing his job, but sometimes it’s enough to drive you straight back to the ‘big box’ outlet. Never ever let your wife visit this shop in the week before Christmas. The wife is the perfect target for the fly rod combo sale. As if it is not hard enough to catch fish with regular tackle! She mentions she is looking for something for her husband for Christmas and you can hear fishing shop bloke rubbing his hands together. She leaves with the complete fly rod combo and a whole bag of pink feathers, cotton and other lint (which she could have just picked up from under the sofa) and a bag of ludicrously expensive tiny hooks, so her delighted husband can learn to tie his own flies. He doesn’t want to tie his own flies, he wants to go fishing!
Then there is the riverside fishing shop located in the middle of a top tourist location. The bloke who runs this one is the ultimate frustrated fisherman. It must be torture. A steady stream of customers wanders through the shop all day. But they never buy anything because they’ve already stocked up with the pink and blue kids combos from the ‘big box’ Boasting, Crapping and Farting chain store at home. This means he cannot flog them his slightly poorer quality, more expensive combo, that he has also had made up in China. All day long they arrive asking where the fish are biting. It’s a miracle he doesn’t eventually respond with the only truly appropriate answer: “In the f***ing river”. Instead he has a generic fishing guide, that he mumbles to them as he slips into a coma of desperation. “Flathead on the weed beds, Whiting on the sandbanks, Bream from the jetty. Dawn and dusk are the best times to fish and they like fresh bait”. His worm man is constantly on the grog during holiday periods, so despite the blackboard saying otherwise, he has no live worms and can only offer a bit of frozen squid and a cheerful – “Good Luck!”.
Then there is the tackle shop at the rarely visited, but excellent fishing spot. The bloke who owns this one is in fishing heaven, but somehow he has to pay for his habit. He usually opens late and closes early. Or, if the fish are really biting, he does not open at all. The shop is stocked with a selection of extremely out dated but, consistently overpriced tackle. You find extinct lures, and brands that perished long ago. A bag of ice goes for around $9.00 and it is just under half the size of a normal one. Tide guides are $2.50 each and it’s only when you start fishing that you realise they are last years. This chap knows what you need – so he has simply scrawled a mud map on an A4 sheet showing three fishing spots – one on the beach, one in the river and one on the rocks. He has photocopied it and sells these at $2.50 a pop. If it’s pouring with rain and blowing a gale and you ask about the weather it’s always ‘looking good for tomorrow’.
All these outlets share one thing in common – their ability to separate anglers from their cash. We are like lambs to the slaughter. If the fish had any idea how much we spend on trying to catch them, it would be a major boost to their self-esteem. I couldn’t live without the tackle stores, but my catch would certainly work out cheaper, if I bought it at the fish and chip shop.