There was a time when locally owned bait shops dotted Kokomo's business landscape. Places like Mal's, Martin's, Jack's, Bryant's, Hamler's, Alley Tackle, Mark's, S&S, Dave's and Jim's come to mind.
“We miss them as much as anybody,” said Liz Bryant, co-owner with her husband, Billy, of Kokomo's only remaining tackle shop.
The Bryants have been in business nearly 30 years and even when other competitors were in town, they were all friends.
“We would always help each other out,” she explained. “If someone ran out of a particular item, you could always get extra from another shop.”
These places represented much more than a source of minnows, worms and a variety of Hostess snacks. This is a fact fishermen are learning the hard way as mom-and-pop businesses are going the same way as locally owned lumber yards, drive-in theaters and K-Mart subs.
The Kokomo Reservoir, the place I grew up fishing, was created to supply adequate water to our growing city. The establishment of the lake a little over five decades ago was responsible for my dad taking us fishing. It is also responsible for guiding me to what I love to this day.
Since the construction of the concrete structure, holding back the waters of Wildcat Creek, there has always been a bait shop located near the reservoir. That too is history. But Kokomo is not unique. This unfortunate phenomenon is taking place across the nation.
Bait and tackle shops are being forced out of their long existence due to competition from internet dealers, mail-order catalogs and superstores that sell everything from lures to ladies lingerie. Now, most convenience store also offer commercially raised live bait. Gone also are the days when, after a good rain, kids could be seen running around barefoot picking up worms which they would sell to the bait shop down the block.
Let's face it. Live bait such as minnows and worms were never profit-makers for these family-owned businesses. They survived on the fishing tackle their loyal customers purchased when anglers came in to buy their dozen night crawlers or tube of crickets.
When rod and reel sales dried up due to cut-rate prices offered by the mega stores, which could afford to buy tackle by the trainload, it didn't take long for small, locally owned businesses to begin disappearing. I have always believed our nation's strength and might is displayed in our huge corporations and industries, but the heart and soul of a country is depicted in shops owned by area residents.
Local fishermen always believed they would have a place close by to pick up their soft craws or leeches, which they would use with their discounted, internet-purchased tackle. It wasn't until the bait tanks were drained and the cricket cages emptied and set outside as garbage that many realized it was more than bait that was quickly disappearing.
Also gone is first-hand, knowledgeable information. Things like what bait to use to catch the fish that swim in the lake in those home waters just down the road. Now, the only source of advice comes from people, many who have never held a rod and reel and who split their time between fishing tackle and housewares.
Also gone are all the old guys you could see hanging out. Every store seemed to have a place where people would gather to visit. They had a following of kids and young adults who would sit close by hoping to gather morsels of fishing knowledge. Sometimes bystanders would hit pay dirt when they would get invited to go fishing with one of the old geezers. This was a coveted chance to gather years' worth of knowledge in one short trip.
Although online stores and mega marts may provide fishing tackle at cheaper prices, they don't provide the camaraderie that evolves at places that sell hooks, bobbers and sinkers individually, below rows of pegboard shelves and the sound of chirping crickets.
Back in the day, these types of businesses were hallowed ground to upcoming outdoor enthusiasts. Like much of today's society, it has become sterile shopping behind a computer screen without that underlying odor of anise, cigar smoke and a hint of mildew. Even between the constant chatter of bragging from those who come and go, the place never goes completely silent as you could always hear the faint gurgling of a minnow tank bubbling behind the counter.
If you are like me, you appreciate the traditional old-time tackle shop where you can expect to find everything from mousies to mealworms and someone still willing to put new line on your reel for you.
So the next time you need a few minnows, do yourself and others a favor. Before the screen door slams you in the butt on your way out, spend a few extra dollars on some tackle to go along with the bucket of fatheads and those Hostess cupcakes. It will be worth it down the road when you need more than just a little bait to get you by.
• For the 11th year, Adams Auto Group hosted an open team bass tournament held on the Kokomo Reservoir. The annual event raises funds for children who will take part in the two-week long Jim “Moose Carden Kids Fishing Clinic taking place in July.
“I am not sure what kind of turnout we'll have,” said tournament director Bart Alexander the day before the event. Several inches of rain and unseasonably cold weather had turned our local impoundment into what looked like a flowing mass of chocolate milk.
It was surprising to see a long line of boats waiting to launch as the first wisps of daylight began to brighten the eastern sky as the turnout was much better than anyone expected.
In spite of the less-than-favorable conditions and periods of rain, the team of Frank Brown and Doug Pence swept the event with a tournament imposed limit of eight fish, sporting a combined weight of 13.83 pounds. A largemouth bass tipping the digital scales at 2.76 pounds also gave them the tourney's “big bass” award. Ken Waisner and Brad Parsons took second place with five fish dropping the scales at 7.70 pounds. The father-and-son team of Dave and Joel Edwards slipped into third place with five fish totalling 7.68 pounds.
“We want to thank Adams Auto Group for again sponsoring this tournament,” Alexander said after the weigh-in. “It is people like Brian Adams who believe in doing their part in helping children of this community."
• Lake Tippecanoe was the latest stop made by a large group of anglers participating in this year's Bullseye Team Tournament Trail. It was the husband-and-wife team of Darla and Steve Kelly who came away winners with five largemouth bass totaling 9.41 pounds. Josh Weidner and Bob Hyatt grabbed second place with five fish weighing 8.89 pounds. Third place went to Dave and Joel Edwards with 8.67 pounds. The biggest fish of the tourney, a 3.67 pound largemouth, was taken by the team of Brad parsons and Ken Waisner.
• The Kokomo Bass Anglers held a tournament on Lake Chapman. Seasoned club veteran Dave Pross won the event with four largemouth bass totaling 7 pounds, 7 ounces. He also had the biggest fish with a bass topping out at 2 pounds, 7 ounces.
• Steve and Darla Kelly won last Monday evening's Kokomo Reservoir open team bass tourney sponsored by Cardwell Built Construction. The husband and wife collected five bass weighing 8.22 pounds. Matt Cottrell took second with four fish topping out at 6.85 pounds. The weekly event's biggest fish at 3.88 pounds was taken by the team of B.J. Butcher and Chad Babcock.
• Keith Milburn and Ed Lyke won last week's Delphi/Delco team bass tourney with three bass weighing 6 pounds, 8 ounces. They also had the best bass with their largest weighing 2 pounds, 13 ounces. Second was Larrell Norris with two fish tipping the scales at 3 pounds, 10 ounces.
John Martino is the Tribune's outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.