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Bait & Tackle Shop Angling For A Big Opening Day



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Bait & Tackle Shop Angling For A Big Opening Day

By John Voket

In Ecclesiastes — Chapter 30 to be exact — it is written: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” If granted some poetic license, perhaps Newtown businessman Rich Neuman would rather say, “Next weekend is the opening of fishing season, and if everyone’s purpose was to bring in a big catch, I’d be in heaven!”

As the owner and operator of Newtown Bait & Tackle on South Main Street, Mr Neuamn and his wife Jan, who helps out a bit after her local real estate work is done, next weekend is typically regarded as the busiest of the year for anyone in this line of work — excuse the pun.

For florists and greeting card vendors it’s Valentine’s Day, for chocolatiers it’s Easter, and for long distance phone services it’s Mother’s Day, but when it comes to making or breaking a business involved in the sale of bait and tackle, the most important day of spring is Opening Day. And while many types of fish can be taken from streams, lakes, and local ocean waters virtually 365 days-a-year, for some reason, opening day of trout season seems to be regarded by the masses as an official granting of permission to cast a fly or drop a bobber into the water and pray for luck.

As far as his new business is concerned, Mr Neuman already considers himself lucky. He was able to secure a 1,200-square-foot retail space at a highly visible location that happens to be on one of the most well-traveled roadways for ocean-going anglers heading southward, and for those heading to the lakes of Litchfield and northern Fairfield County as well.

His gradual ramping-up process also allowed him to capitalize on first selling live bait to winter fishermen, while getting to know the needs and whims of his customers, which helped determine the product lines and equipment Mr Neuman eventually decided to stock on his busy shelves.

“I opened right around Christmas, but this coming week will really be my official grand opening because it’s the week before the opening day onslaught,” he told The Bee during a recent interview. “For us, it could very well be the busiest week of the year.”

Mr Neuman’s slow-to-start philosophy also provided him with an opportunity to shop his most potent competition, namely the big box stores and sports marts that have double, triple, or even quadruple the floor space dedicated to anglers and the equipment they require to fully indulge their passion.

“I checked out the big box retailers, and I sought to go head-to-head with them on price with almost everything I have in the place,” he said. “We have fly and salt water stuff they don’t have, and I noticed they carry a lot of cheaply made gear.”

At Newtown Bait & Tackle, the Neumans strive to supply good to high quality equipment, still priced to sell, with the additional bonus of personalized service. They offer live bait for almost any situation, and if Mr Neuman can’t oblige, there are usually a few regular customers hanging around who might reveal a tip on a particular hot spot or tactic that can help a fledgling fisherman land a whopper.

Not that Mr Neuman is at a loss for information. The Newtown native was fishing almost as soon as he could hold a pole, and enjoyed the hobby in local lakes and rivers, as well as in a pond behind his own childhood home.

In his late teens and early 20s, his fine carpentry work brought him down to lower Fairfield County, where he took up with several friends who owned boats, or spent a lot of time fishing the shoreline. For a time, he even worked on a commercial “dragger,” chugging out of Milford Harbor to ply the Sound for winter flounder and other market fish.

“I would love to go out by myself for an hour or two before or after work, or even on my lunch hour,” Mr Neuman said of his lifelong hobby. “I used to enjoy going out on my own, but as I came to know more guys who were into it, I started going out with them.”

He spent some time traveling around the country in a camper, living out the casual fisherman’s fantasy of pulling off the beaten path to cast a line whenever and wherever the mood struck him.

“Season to season, and region to region, it’s amazing how diverse this hobby can be,” Mr Neuman said of his travels.

The local business owner admits that he really started learning about the finer aspects of angling once he started swapping tips and stories with his fishing buddies, however. And the same held true as he began to plan for the opening of his new business.

Besides a full line of basic fresh and salt water accessories, Newtown Bait & Tackle has a modest line of fly fishing equipment. In the coming weeks, Mr Neuman hopes to construct a casting pool for his fly enthusiasts.

There’s also a possibility the shop will ad kayaks to its product line.

“I’m learning a lot about salt water fly fishing, surf casting, and kayak fishing, so I want to have the necessary stock on hand for others who go for that,” he said. “It’s all about filling a need in Newtown, and I’m happy to be getting such a great response from local anglers.”

Mr Neuman explained it simply: if you don’t want to waste a lot of fishing time driving 20 or 30 miles to get your live bait and tackle, you support your local tackle shop if you want to keep it open. He said to date, his clientele has been almost equally divided between local folks heading elsewhere to fish with his bait, and folks coming in from elsewhere to fish right here in Newtown or in one of the other area spots.

“This location is great because I can help them if their going north to south, or south to north,” he said. “And if they’re dragging a boat, I’ve got this easy drive-through parking that can accommodate plenty of vehicles.”

Newtown Bait & Tackle also offers custom rod wrapping and building custom rods on specifications, especially for striper and surf anglers. His product lines include all the major names from three major international distributors and “about 25 to 30 smaller suppliers.”

“I really go out of my way to accommodate any customer’s needs,” Mr Neuman said. “And if they need something right away, my national distributors can usually have it here overnight.”

His live bait consists of salt water staples including mackerel, herring, sandworms, and special order frozen items, while fresh water anglers can choose from several sizes of minnows, alewives, wax worms, mealworms, dillies, and night crawlers.

The store refers fly-related questions to several local enthusiasts who tie their own flies for fresh or salt water, and rod repairs to a local expert as well.

“I’m dealing with a guy from Danbury who makes knives and sheaths, and a local girl who makes flies into jewelry,” Mr Neuman said. “I’ve even got people coming in for meal worms for their pets. I’ve got a customer who has flying squirrels, and another who has snakes and turtles.”

Newtown Bait & Tackle is at 78 South Main on the corner of Elm Drive. Weekend hours are 5:30 am to 6 pm, and 6 am to 6 pm weekdays. A special 24-hour opening is planned for Friday, April 14, through Saturday, April 15, opening day of trout season in Connecticut.

Call the store at 426-6629 or click on www.newtownbaitandtackle.com.

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