The news that Bass Pro Shops is swallowing Cabela’s, another major outdoor big-box retailer, is one more sign of the end of a great American institution: the mom-and-pop tackle shop.
The slide began awhile back, of course. There have always been mail-order hook and bullet outfits, but the most recent consolidation, promising Cabela’s shareholders $65 a share in a $5.5 billion deal, made me feel like another distinctive piece of Americana was disappearing.
Bass Pro Shops has 20,000 employees and 99 stores. Cabela’s has 19,000 employees and 85 stores. They started out as small fry, too, became bigger fish and finally behemoths. There’s something antithetical in these places to the hunting and fishing experience: lawyers, bankers and shareholders.
The New York Times reported that the transaction required “no fewer than 13 banks and law firms to advise on the process.” No word on how many fisherman or hunters they retained, probably not many.
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As a kid and adult in Minnesota, Oregon and now Sacramento, I have spent lots of time in fly shops and tackle and bait stores, and laid out serious money on Bass Orenos, Jitterbugs, Dardevles, Hula Poppers, Rapalas, Mepps spinners, Lazy Ikes, and all the other wonderfully named lures you jam into your tackle box.
That is the only big box I am into.
When you go into a tackle shop, there’s a very distinctive odor, a mix of fishy-smelling water tanks filled with minnows, Chinese food boxes in refrigerators containing nightcrawlers and mealworms, and Styrofoam cups with a dozen leeches. Yes, you can buy leeches, which are great for walleyes.
In my childhood, hundreds of rods, dozens of shiny reels (Johnson, Zebco, Garcia-Mitchells, Shimanos), and thousands of lures, bobbers, Lindy Rigs, swivels, split shot, leaders, Ford Fenders and sucker harnesses all called out to with questions.
Do you buy the jointed Rapala, or stick with the tried-and-true silver classic? Do you buy a Mepps or a Colorado Spinner? Do you choose the frog-colored plug or the flashier chartreuse spinner bait?
More importantly, there is something else that the 13 law firms and bank that worked on the deal won’t advise you about: what’s biting and where, or when the fall run begins.
The stock and trade of any independent tackle store is fishing information, which is something I’ve noticed the 19-year-olds at the Cabela’s generally do not have.
They don’t tell you if the reservoir is down and you should be using Triple Teazers, or whether the crappies are biting at 15 feet. They don’t say that the largemouth are hammering the purple plastic worm on a Texas rig.
They do offer you a credit card, however.
I go to Broadway Bait Rod & Gun on Broadway in Sacramento. No credit card, lawyers or bankers.
Just the smell of fish and the gear that catches them.