A stroll into The Tackle Box takes you from West Shore Road to the sea faster than a side road to Conimicut Point. Coming from whitewashed walls and fluorescent lights, the shop’s door is a …
A stroll into The Tackle Box takes you from West Shore Road to the sea faster than a side road to Conimicut Point. Coming from whitewashed walls and fluorescent lights, the shop’s door is a portal into a world where all the land is a dock, cars are only taxis to the marina, fridges are for keeping bait, every meal is a fish or a crab, and a brain is but a tool for angling.
The display window lets some sunlight into the hull-sized interior, where two walls and a line of shelves through the middle hold up all your practical fishing wants. Rods for sale and rent, braids, clam knives, crab throw line, crab traps, bait aerators, fillet boards and even a collection of mosquito-killing machines fill the shelves. A table filled with free fishing magazines stands next to a school desk-sized weighing scale labeled “Official RISAA Tournament Weigh Station.”
A 40-year-old taxidermy bass gapes at the entrance from its high wooden plank in which its last day is carved. To the right of it, a slideshow plays on a television monitor, advertising $7 freshwater and saltwater fishing licenses, and a variety of bait including squid, green crabs and sea worms. The bulletin board by the door holds newspaper clippings, photos of customers with fish and a flyer for a $12,000 used Hydra-Sports boat.
At the helm, Tom Giddings is captain and guide. He bought The Tackle Box 8 years ago, 11 years after its founding in 2004. Before that, he was a longtime customer practicing finished carpentry (he has been licensed in RI for 30 years). On most days, he has worked alone from sunrise to sunset, but since April, his son TJ has been switching out with him in the afternoon.
“He’s really good with the customers,” said Tom. “A bit sporadic, but he loves to fish.” When asked about the future, Tom said, “I’m not thinking about retiring, TJ’s only 16. I’m just glad he’s coming in and wants to be a part of it.”
When alone in the shop, Tom hustles around checking on live bait, updating the catalog and taking calls, but the electronic ring of the door opening calls him swiftly back to the counter. If the fish in the back room could hear the conversation, they would soon know enough to avoid any well-informed angler.
“I’m always getting reports from customers,” Tom says. “They’ll call up, and say, we’ve got 2 keepers at Rocky Point, or at Watchaug.” After one customer and his daughter came in for one of their first fishing trips and were fitted with gear, a lesson on Palomar knots and a fly-fishing rod extension to borrow, Tom saw them off with a box of sea worms (“you only get these ones in Maine”) instead of the squid they initially asked for while saying “we don’t know if the scup are in yet, but the stripers are in right now all around Goddard Park!”
Even if Tom can’t join his customers on the boat in between ten-hour daily shifts, he breathes in the salty smell of the sea all day. The shop, like a marina, is filled with the presence of fishing partners, whether it’s busy or empty.
“Klondike lures… he lives in NK,” Tom says as he punches price tags onto the bags. “Daddy McLures is down in Mass. Regal Marine, that’s a family-owned business in New York. Harry and Melissa, they’re lovely people. And Bryan Mayo makes Mayo’s Hand-Poured Baits. They’re my favorite… he lives right down the road.” He continued to list most of the products lining his walls, all from small businesses in New England or nearby.
“Even our signs,” he says, “Matt Carpenter and Frank his dad, who own RI Sign Shop, they make all our signs.”
Many faces fill the shop, too, in frames and on the bulletin board. Most of them are children with their catches. Tom pointed out one shot from many years ago, in which his son TJ holds a trout at the pond behind Vets Middle School. Jerry, a friend of Tom’s who stops by every so often, said “I’ve seen him since he was a little boy, sitting in that chair there, and now he’s this high!” He stretched his hand up somewhere over his head.
“It’s about generation to generation, passing it down to the kids,” Tom said. “The seven to eight years I’ve been donating [fishing supplies] for Elks Lodge, and the years I’ve owned this place, it all comes down to the slogan: ‘Quit wishin’ and take your kid fishin’. I want the little ones to say, I want to get the bait, Tom!’ and get excited before they even get here.”
Tom’s most recent hire fits perfectly into this agenda. TJ Giddings, Tom’s son, is a sophomore at Pilgrim High School. He has ample experience with one type of tackle box, as a football player for the Pilgrim Patriots; and several customers assure that he knows enough to handle them at the store, too.
TJ has been covering afternoon shifts alone since the beginning of April. While this is his first job, it isn’t all so unfamiliar.
“I’ve been opening with him for six to seven years, so I knew how to do a lot of the things,” TJ says. “Then I stopped coming for a while, but now I’m back and I love it. Everyone who comes here are fantastic people. Even a bad day at school or something, you come in here, it’s a whole new world.”
When speaking about what attracts him to the store, he echoes his father. “You can’t have a bad time fishing, unless you’re afraid of worms, maybe. Because it’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s about the conversation- being able to have the conversation between totally different people, in a fishing way.”