Bait, tackle shop reels in success at new location

NILES — One familiar store located in downtown Niles has moved about three blocks away in order to grow.

As the pandemic closed many retail operations down for months, Rusty Hooks Bait and Tackle reeled in success as people flocked to the outdoors for recreation.

Today, the shop once located on Main Street has moved to 510 N. Second St. Richard and Mary Smith became owners to the business in 2015 and felt the store could thrive with more room to grow.

No longer in a row of buildings on a main thoroughfare, the new location is larger and contains more windows for fishermen to watch their gear while they are inside purchasing supplies for their day on the river and lake.

The business’ new location features a large, fenced in parking lot. This feature attracted the owners to the location because customers with boats in tow will be able to pull into the parking lot easier than they could at the previous location, its owners said

Customers will also be able to pull out through the back gate when they have completed their purchases, eliminating any need for a tricky turn around.

At its new location, fishing guide and product buyer Rusty Hooks Don Wilkie hopes the store will become a fisherman’s destination.

“We want to teach them how to catch more fish,” Wilkie said. “If they do that, they will keep coming back. They will know how to catch [fish]. They will know what bait to use at what time. They will know what lakes are good at the right time.”

He gestured toward a display of colorful, hand tied fishing flies on one of the shop’s pillars. The display shows which flies have been successful catching fish for local fishermen, Wilkie said.

Another worker in the shop, Jim Akey, said there is room to grow outside of the shop as well.

“We are constantly getting in new products for fly fishing,” Akey said. “We have fly tying classes for beginners, which will be coming in the future. We will have an addition on the side of this [shop] as a dedicated fly shop.”

Wilkie emphasized the shop’s dedication to the local fishing experts. He pointed out special anchors in the shop designed by a local maker in the county. The anchors are made with the St. Joseph River’s swift currents in mind.

With the store set up to give fishermen success in their day on the river or lake, Wilkie looks to build trust with their customers, especially as bigger fish are on their way to the area.

Wilkie said fishermen have been seeing a lot of bluegill lately, but there are exciting fish coming. Steelhead trout and salmon should be making their appearance and be ready to be fished any day now, Wilkie knows the shop’s busy season is upon them.

“We are gearing up, then it’ll be lights out,” he said. “You won’t get into the parking lot here. We’ve been getting calls for a week now. They want to know if the salmon are running yet. [Fishers] come from everywhere.”

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