It was the smell I always loved the most. That unmistakable mix of sweetened groundbaits, fruity additives and wax-coated jackets, all underpinned by the faint whiff of ammonia, that seemed exclusive to tackle shops and tackle shops only. No matter where you travel, or how many you visit, it’s there. And it always brings back memories.
I was lucky. I was brought up in a town that had a very good one. Western Fuels, or Tackle Up, as it’s known today, was a treasure trove to the young angler, an Aladdin’s Cave full of desirable must-have items, most of which remained tantalisingly out of reach of this schoolboy’s budget. Not that it stopped me being a regular visitor, though.
Barely a weekend would pass without a journey to the top of town, pocket money at the ready. Even if it was just for half a pint of ‘reds’, a packet of hooks, a tub of shot or an unnecessary float to complete a set, if I wasn’t actually fishing, being in the tackle shop, surrounded by both the paraphernalia that made it all possible and like-minded souls, was the next best thing. I must have spent a fortune in there over the 20 years I lived in the area. And I don’t regret a single penny.
That tackle shop was a fulcrum for the angling community, a place to meet, chat, learn and share knowledge. It was somewhere local clubs promoted waters, where manufacturers found an audience for promoting a new product and where generation gaps were bridged by the language of fishing.
In return for that sense of belonging, we ensured its survival by spending our money. It was the perfect relationship.
I haven’t visited the shop for 10 years now, and during that period the angling marketplace has changed beyond all recognition. Mail-order firms, offering tackle so cheap it defies belief, have played their part, as has a general down-turn in the sport as a whole. Like it or not, there are fewer people on the bank than there used to be.
How we fish, too, has had an effect. The one thing that can’t realistically be bought through the post is live bait like maggots, but with so much of today’s tactics - on commercials or otherwise - revolving around pellets the need for a regular visit is rendered unnecessary.
What we’re left with is the slow and painful death of the tackle shop.
Certain cities are already bereft and now the likes of Steve Sanders, a man with far greater experience of angling’s retail business than me, predict that many have the summer to save themselves. Such is the economic climate, and such has been the start to 2010, that many, he says, are on the brink and in desperate need of a successful few months.
Let’s be clear: tackle shops aren’t a luxury, they’re an absolute necessity and the foundation on which the rest of the sport is built.
Without them, we face a very uncertain and bleak future. If that sounds shocking, melodramatic even, it’s meant to. Through the generations they have acted as a glue that has helped keep angling stuck together. If we want that to remain the case - and I’d say it was essential that we do - then we need to start spending a bit more cash in them.
So the next time you want a new rod, reel or pole, help do the sport a favour and buy it from your local tackle shop. In this current climate, it could just make the difference between survival and the abyss.