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Why bait shops are better than the Internet

In today’s hyper-connected world, it is comforting to know the Internet will never be as reliable as the local bait shop.

Sure, the Internet is a great place to find out where the fish are biting, in a general sense. But you are not going to get the kind of specific, practical advice bait shops dispense on a daily basis.I used to spend a lot of time surfing online fishing reports to figure out where I should be drowning minnows on the weekends. At most, I would find generalizations like, “Walleyes are fair to good on Lake Thompson,” or “They’re really heating up on Dry Lake.”

These types of reports are helpful to a point, but helpful is not necessarily useful—and that is the difference between the Internet and a good bait shop.

A few weeks ago, I stopped into Dakota Angler in Sioux Falls on my way to Lake Poinsett. I usually have an idea of what I need for the day—a scoop of minnows, a box of crawlers, a bag of jerky and a two bottles of water. I could have purchased these items at almost any convenience store along the way, but I prefer bait shops, like Dakota Angler, that include free advice with every purchase.

“If you want to catch walleyes, I’d recommend Lake Sinai right now,” said the young man working the cash register.

I could tell he was speaking from experience.

“Me and a buddy fished it last night,” he said. “We caught our limit in two hours.”

“Really?” I asked, hoping he would offer more details.

The young man replied, “Yeah, just head southwest from the dock and fish the inlet.”

From that point, the conversation quickly progressed to what color spinners the fish were biting on (chartreuse) and how deep they were sitting (15 to 20 feet). By the time I left the bait shop, I had rung up nearly $30 worth of bait, ice, snacks and new walleye rigs.

My son and I fished Lake Sinai, just as the young man advised, and we caught 5 walleyes without much effort.

Bait shops, unlike the Internet, are more trustworthy. Fishing reports from some online sources are less than reliable, if only because they don’t have a good reason to divulge a lot of details. Most fishermen have a tendency to guard their favorite hot spot like it was buried treasure.

Bait shops want me to catch fish, so I will come back again.

And I will come back. I have to, because everything has changed.

The recommendations I received a few days ago were no longer applicable. The weather patterns were different. The water temperature was warmer. The fish arbitrarily preferred a different color. I had to stop by the bait shop and get the scoop (pun intended).

This time, there was older gentleman working behind the counter. His skin was baked brown, except where his sunglasses left a distinctive outline around his face. Obviously, he spent a lot time on the water.

“So, what are they biting on today,” I asked?

The man looked up from his cash register and answered, “Well, that all depends on where you are going.”

And so, the conversation began to flow back and forth. In the days before Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, this is how people communicated with each other. Talking. Listening. Learning.

Eventually, he directed me to a wall of crank baits in every size, shape and color.

“Here, try one of these,” he recommended. “I’ve been having a lot of luck with the Rapala Flat Raps.”

This is another advantage bait shops have over the Internet. I can hold that crank bait in my hand and imagine how enticing it will look to an unsuspecting walleye. I didn’t need much convincing, so I went from product recommendation to purchase in less than 2 minutes.

When I walked out of the bait shop, I had a fresh box of fat crawlers, a small sack of neon-colored Rapalas and new spool of 8-pound test fishing line. More importantly, I had advice I could trust.

The same experience can be found at Northview Bait & Tackle in Sioux Falls, Carl’s Bait Shop in Fort Pierre, The Bait Box in Lake Preston and the Proud Angler in Watertown. There are other bait shops in South Dakota with equally great reputations, but I can only speak to the ones that I have visited.

I always make a point to visit one of these shops before hitting the water. With the right questions and a willingness to buy an extra box of bait – or at the very least, a few bottom bouncers— I always get more than I paid for. I also catch more fish, which is the whole point.

With the Internet, I usually get exactly what I paid for.

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