America's Best Tackle Shops

They'll fix your reel, tell you their secrets, and tack up your hero shot by the counter. These 10 stores are the antidote to mega-mart nation -- and when it comes to fishing, they mean business.

Field & Stream Online Editors

I grew up a tackle shop rat. Wherever my family lived from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to Racine, Wisconsin, I'd always be at the local store, hanging out and spending my allowance money. Call me nostalgic, but I've always felt that the best tackle shops are much more than just places to find fishing stuff. A great one is the angler's ultimate resource-part classroom, part museum, and part safe house for the angling-afflicted. Some tackle stores have evolved into regional icons. Others are unofficial research laboratories where new methods and ideas are improvised, gossiped about, and tweaked long before anyone reads about them in a magazine. But all great shops recognize their roles in linking fishermen to their home waters-and these 10 are well worth a visit.

[BRACKET "MARTHA'S VINEYARD, MASSACHUSETTS"]
Coop's Bait & Tackle
If home is where the heart is, and fishing is what you love, why not put a tackle shop in your house? That's exactly what Cooper "Coop" Gilkes III did in 1982, when he hung a shingle on his place on West Tisbury Road, just outside of Edgartown. The shop is easy to miss. It shares a driveway with a lumberyard and doesn't have the neon trimmings of most retail outlets. But you'll abandon the "bigger is better" line of thinking the minute you walk in and see the floor-to-ceiling stacks of conventional and flyfishing gear, specifically meant to handle any sportfishing challenge presented by the tricky and volatile waters along this part of the American coastline.

"We started this shop with two rods and a well of live eels," says Coop. "We do a bit more than that now, but it's still a labor of love."

If you're lucky, you might strike up a conversation with Coop, who earned his stripes as a commercial fisherman. When it comes to finding the bite, he can put you on the bluefish, the false albacore, and especially the striped bass. His ability to find stripers in the rips or off the beach is reputed to be uncanny.

**Hot Seller: **Coop's own floating sand eel flies-some of the best striped bass patterns ever made-come in six colors and are tied right in the shop.

**Local Advice: **You can fish your way across Martha's Vineyard and hit the same falling tide conditions at four different prime striper spots. Coop can tell you where to be and when.

**Look Them Up: **147 W. Tisbury Rd., Edgartown, MA; 508-627-3909

[BRACKET "EAGLE RIVER, WISCONSIN"]
Eagle Sports Center
The best place to get the scoop on northern Wisconsin fishing action is a small coffee table in the corner of Eagle Sports Center. It's called the "Guide's Table," and if you buy the coffee and have a seat, you're sure to get in on some local secrets.

Eagle Sports Center is a classic "up north" tackle shop, stocked with a wide range of homespun flies and lures that have no names and cannot be found anywhere else. The region is considered one of the most diverse fishing areas in America, with waters that hold perch, walleyes, trout, and trophy muskies. And owner George Langley says that in the past few years, anglers have seen a smallmouth renaissance.

"The fishery has always been there, yet nobody really paid attention to it," says Langley. "Then a bunch of local guides started focusing on the bass, and when we saw the numbers and size of the fish they were catching, we all slapped our collective foreheads and said, 'Good grief, this might be one of the best bass fisheries in the country.'"

Hot Seller: In August, it's bass plastics, especially flavored ones from Berkley Gulp! and Power Bait.

Local Advice: Get a local lake map. When newcomers ask where to fish, a staffer will show them by taking a marker pen to it.

Look Them Up: 702 Wall St., Eagle River, WI; 715-479-8804; eaglesportscenter.com

[NEXT "Mark's Outdoor Sports"] [ACKET "BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA"]
Mark's Outdoor Sports
The numbers alone say a lot about the bass fishing expertise at Mark's: in operation for over 25 years, nearly 650 cumulative years of outdoor experience among 23 shop employees, and over 13 million plastic worms sold. But the stat that puts Mark's in its own league is this: more than 1.5 million bass fingerlings stocked in regional lakes.

Mark's coordinates the annual Lay Lake Open bass fishing tournament, an April event that attracts nearly 1,000 entrants. In doing so, owner Mark Whitlock has devised a program that involves each competitor's releasing a bag of bass fry on the morning of the competition. The approach has paid dividends, not only in terms of maintaining one of Alabama's best fishing resources but also in positioning Whitlock and his employees as concerned stewards of the environment and promoters of the sport.

"We do more than sell fishing tackle," explains Whitlock. "We promote fishing, and that all starts by giving back to the resource."

**Hot Seller: **Mark's goes through up to 600 bags a week of NetBait's Paca Craw plastic trailer baits in the hot new color, key lime pie.

Local Advice: By "swimming" jigs with trailers just below the surface, particularly in grassy water, you can provoke violent response strikes from big bass.

Look Them Up: 1400-B Montgomery Hwy., Birmingham, AL; 877-979-6275; marksoutdoors.com

** [BRACKET "REDDING, CALIFORNIA"]**
The Fly Shop
The Fly Shop's billboard on California's Interstate 5 is a local landmark, but that's not the reason the store is considered one of America's best. First, it has $1 million worth of flies under one roof; second, its staff coordinates 2,000 annual guided trips on some of the country's most complex trout rivers; and third, it's the preeminent source for adventure angling travel, from Chile to Russia, accounting for another 2,000 days on exotic guided trips worldwide.

To have a say-only-what-you-do name like the Fly Shop, and to send anglers across the planet, you'd better know your stuff. These folks do. If it has anything to do with flyfishing, anywhere, they invented it, carry it, or know a lot about it.

"Great shops are built around great people," says owner Mike Michalak. "Everybody sells pretty much the same stuff, and you can find it all on the Web. The key to our success is finding good talent and keeping it here."

Hot Seller: Fox's Poopah, a caddis pattern created by the Fly Shop's Tim Fox, works on everything from trout to Atlantic salmon.

Local Advice: On high-traffic rivers, drop your fly pattern size down two notches, say from a No. 14 to a No. 18.

**Look Them Up: **4140 Churn Creek Rd., Redding, CA; 800-669-3474; theflyshop.com

[NEXT "Half Hitch Tackle"] [BRACKET "PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA"]
Half Hitch Tackle
The Half Hitch Tackle story began in 1965, when Capt. B.J. "Put" Putnam moved his family from Alabama to Panama City, Florida, so he could start a charter-fishing business. The endeavor evolved to include tackle sales, and today, Put's son Tom heads a veritable tackle empire involving four retail locations.

"Shops that don't have the inventory on hand aren't of much value," says Tom Putnam. "Those days of 'we can order that for you' are gone forever, because most anglers realize 'I can order that myself.'"

Inventory at Half Hitch is not a problem. The staff recently counted over 1,200 different rods on the sales floor of its main store at Panama City Beach alone. And as a warranty service center with four full-time reel repair experts and a sonic cleaner, Half Hitch can return your old gear to its original condition.

Offshore fishing is a specialty here, and you'll want to ask the staff for insights on local options, including one of the country's best speckled trout and mackerel fisheries.

Hot Seller: Marlin Man Panhandlers are high-speed trolling lures built locally to catch tuna, wahoo, and mahimahi.

Local Advice: Always have fresh line. Down here you don't know when you'll get a chance at a once-in-a-lifetime fish.

Look Them Up: 2206 Thomas Dr., Panama City Beach, FL; 850-234-2621; halfhitch.com

[BRACKET "LYNNWOOD, WASHINGTON"]
Ted's Sports Center
Ted's is a key stopping-off point for anglers headed to Alaska or beyond. The western Washington store is as diverse as the waters in the region, with a 4,000-square-foot showroom offering tackle for chasing anything from salmon and steelhead to halibut and sturgeon. Ted's can also set you up for more atypical pursuits like smelt jigging, digging razor clams, or catching "do-it-yourself calamari" when the squid migrate close to shore in Puget Sound.

"You can't be focused on one species in this area because you're cheating yourself if you do," says Mike Chamberlain, who founded the store in 1968. "We have so much, from ocean fishing to mountain trout fishing, you can dedicate a year to fishing and not see it all in 365 days."

The guide staff has an open-book policy regarding where to fish and what to use, so be ready with questions. Chamberlain's personal specialty is open-water salmon fishing. He's fished Alaska since age 8 so has lots of insights on the fickle whims of fish that migrate between fresh- and saltwater.

Hot Seller: Point Wilson darts-lead minnows for salmon fishing-are built by a local manufacturer for Ted's.

Local Advice: The staff's line for steelhead newbies is that you're not entitled to hook one until you've been fishing for them every weekend for two years.

Look Them Up: 15526 Highway 99N, Lynnwood, WA; 425-743-9505; tedssportscenter.com

[NEXT "Florida Keys Outfitters"] [BRACKET "ISLAMORADA, FLORIDA"] **
**Florida Keys Outfitters

There isn't a single trout fly at Florida Keys Outfitters. That's because Sandy Moret's store is one of the world's most specialized shops: It only covers saltwater fishing, and only flyfishing. Moret learned long ago that comparing trout flyfishing with saltwater flyfishing is like comparing golf to hockey.

Florida Keys Outfitters is located between the famous Cheeca Lodge and the Lorelei, and not far from Bud 'n Mary's Marina-landmarks now synonymous with the local lore involving the gritty guide culture in the Keys (most of those stories about fistfights, boat-burning threats, and tarpon turf wars are true).

A fly-by-nighter couldn't make it here. Moret is an eight-time grand champion of Islamorada's Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament and known as a pioneer in the semi-insane realm ons, including one of the country's best speckled trout and mackerel fisheries.

Hot Seller: Marlin Man Panhandlers are high-speed trolling lures built locally to catch tuna, wahoo, and mahimahi.

Local Advice: Always have fresh line. Down here you don't know when you'll get a chance at a once-in-a-lifetime fish.

Look Them Up: 2206 Thomas Dr., Panama City Beach, FL; 850-234-2621; halfhitch.com

[BRACKET "LYNNWOOD, WASHINGTON"]
Ted's Sports Center
Ted's is a key stopping-off point for anglers headed to Alaska or beyond. The western Washington store is as diverse as the waters in the region, with a 4,000-square-foot showroom offering tackle for chasing anything from salmon and steelhead to halibut and sturgeon. Ted's can also set you up for more atypical pursuits like smelt jigging, digging razor clams, or catching "do-it-yourself calamari" when the squid migrate close to shore in Puget Sound.

"You can't be focused on one species in this area because you're cheating yourself if you do," says Mike Chamberlain, who founded the store in 1968. "We have so much, from ocean fishing to mountain trout fishing, you can dedicate a year to fishing and not see it all in 365 days."

The guide staff has an open-book policy regarding where to fish and what to use, so be ready with questions. Chamberlain's personal specialty is open-water salmon fishing. He's fished Alaska since age 8 so has lots of insights on the fickle whims of fish that migrate between fresh- and saltwater.

Hot Seller: Point Wilson darts-lead minnows for salmon fishing-are built by a local manufacturer for Ted's.

Local Advice: The staff's line for steelhead newbies is that you're not entitled to hook one until you've been fishing for them every weekend for two years.

Look Them Up: 15526 Highway 99N, Lynnwood, WA; 425-743-9505; tedssportscenter.com

[NEXT "Florida Keys Outfitters"] [BRACKET "ISLAMORADA, FLORIDA"] **
**Florida Keys Outfitters

There isn't a single trout fly at Florida Keys Outfitters. That's because Sandy Moret's store is one of the world's most specialized shops: It only covers saltwater fishing, and only flyfishing. Moret learned long ago that comparing trout flyfishing with saltwater flyfishing is like comparing golf to hockey.

Florida Keys Outfitters is located between the famous Cheeca Lodge and the Lorelei, and not far from Bud 'n Mary's Marina-landmarks now synonymous with the local lore involving the gritty guide culture in the Keys (most of those stories about fistfights, boat-burning threats, and tarpon turf wars are true).

A fly-by-nighter couldn't make it here. Moret is an eight-time grand champion of Islamorada's Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament and known as a pioneer in the semi-insane realm o