Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

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Friday, November 09, 2018
One trip on the Prowler
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
My Lottery Lake

Tackle Shopping Torture
The holidays are a special time for tackle shop employees.

Regular customers are replaced by girlfriends with lists, wives who think they’ll figure out what to get because they know what hubby fishes for and moms adopting either approach all visit with increasing frequency right up through Christmas Eve.

And yes ladies, I know you fish, too, especially these days. I just have no recollection of your men coming in with Christmas lists FOR YOU, which I’m sure was a pride thing on their part.

Of course, my 5-year tackle shop career (Shout out to all the Bob’s Bait and Tackle graduates out there, from both sides of the counter!) took place in the mid ‘90s, so the memories are getting hazy.

The Christmas-specific gift items that would arrive this time of year were awesome in a horrible way. Coozies that looked like fish swallowing your can (available in five species!), everything from coffee cups to wall clocks emblazoned with Guy Harvey art, and we couldn’t keep those obnoxious singing bass mounts in stock for more than half-a-day.

“Take me to the river! Drop me in the water!”

Wind-up/solar powered radios, cases of MREs, pens that looked like jerkbaits, I could go on forever and almost guarantee I name something that found its way under your tree or into your stocking.

“Mmm. Thanks for the dehydrated beef stew and the radio I can hand-crank to life, Aunt Beatrice.”

And this was two decades ago before the “end of the world as we know it” and zombie apocalypse was as trendy and realistic a possibility as it apparently is now.

The worst thing that would come in for the holiday rush was the “Spineless Wunder Boner” (Google it if you don’t believe me) which looked like a medieval torture device in miniature and allowed (allegedly) an angler to rip out the majority of a dead trout’s central nervous system in one fell swoop.

As for the wish lists, they came in three distinct categories: detailed bullet points ensuring success without surprise, basic ideas with a disclaimer to letting one of us do the shopping (those were fun, and I felt like I always nailed it because the dudes would always come back in January and give me a high five), and then, there was a third, and I never understood why someone would think this was a good idea other than for providing us annual entertainment.

The list itself was legit, most of it anyway. Each item would be read to me, and I would run around the store finding them and throwing them into a basket. The last item on these particular lists would be where the magic happened.

It was always a product that didn’t exist, but to the list holder, it was always something that sounded like it could be real, so they’d ask for it with a straight face. Often times, the fictional product sounded so legitimate, it would get us thinking about it for a minute or two.

Most were obvious, for example, camouflage versions of various personal products one might pick up at a pharmacy and not want to mention to anyone, ever.

But you haven’t experienced unintended deadpan humor until you’ve heard a young lady ask for “clam decoys.”

“Excuse me?”

“Clam decoys. The last thing on my boyfriend’s Christmas list are clam decoys. Do you carry them?”

At this point, I knew I had another victim, but I had to know.

“Hmmm. I don’t think we carry those, what are they exactly?”

“Before you put out your “clam trap” (he must have already had one of those), you throw out a bunch of clam decoys, and they attract real clams that will get caught in the trap.”

At that point, the charade is over and I had to put an end to the misery. That’s where it always confused me that guys would pull this stunt. Your lady is out BUYING YOU ALL THE FISHING TACKLE YOU ASKED FOR, and you can’t help yourself and add an element of humiliation to the equation. I’m shocked that I never had one of those ladies dump out the basket on the counter and walk out.

I wish I remembered more of these fictional items. I seem to remember “live squid” coming up a few times, with the ever-present background whirr of the shiner-tank pump adding an air of confidence to the request. Another was “bass bacon” which turned out to be – after a long discussion – a real request for the pork trailers that used to be added to jigs (jig-and-pig anyone?), but that would have been just too merciful to make it that easy.

But clam decoys, I’ll never forget the clam decoys.

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