Bait Shop Sexism

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I’ve been meaning to vent about something. A few months ago, I was determined to resume fishing as a Spring/Summer ‘hobby.’ Mind you, my father took me all the time when I was growing up. “Gender-specific activities” were not imposed upon my child self. It was the same to everyone if I wanted to squat in puddles and make mud meatballs, canter invisible horses around the yard, clamber up wild apple trees, amass rocks from the woods and catalog them, get dirt in my hair crawling into cobwebby places to find the best insects to study, play with my paper dolls or go fishing. Note: I don’t call this “being a tomboy.” I was just being curious, just being a well-rounded (albeit introverted, quiet, serious adventure-seeking) human child.

It’s a relaxing activity. I don’t use barbed hooks, I catch and release. I clean up when I’m through and leave with pictures, not fish. The sound of the water, the solitude, the birds, smells and peace make fishing therapeutic for me. I’ve spent thousands of hours relaxed on sandbanks, sitting crosslegged on boulders, hiking the woods, getting stinky-filthy.

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This is me, below, circa 1980s (thus the very bad hair?) fishing in a favorite place, where I often caught flatfish, stripers, eels, etc. and studied jellyfish that would float by, and in low tide, starfish that adhered themselves to the underside of a nearby pier.

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So when I walked into this Bait Shop, I was immediately out of sorts. I’d never been in this particular one before and I hadn’t been fishing in a few years (getting up at 4 a.m. for Opening Day of fishing season ended when my late spouse became ill and succumbed to ALS in 2005. It was something we did maybe a dozen hours a week for 25 years together). So I was standing in this bait and tackle shop (with a male friend 5 years my senior) trying to orient myself to the displays, where everything was located and deciding what tackle I needed. After the fishing license investment (it’s pricey) I decided I was going to do more than just fishing once; I was going to make it a pasttime again. I was enjoying the shopping experience for the most part. I love acquiring things! I needed sinkers, hooks, steel leaders, the whole shebang. I wanted a good net too.

See, just a few years ago my grandson and I had come upon a school of herring and alewife along the shores of the Housatonic River below the big dam. How nice it would’ve been to scoop up some quick silvery fish and allow him to study them. But I didn’t have a net that day…

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Here I am, below, actually catching one; but it slipped out of my fingers.

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I went to the bait refrigerator and pulled out a box of sandworms. We’d packed plenty of food to be at the river for a good part of the day. It was 6:15 a.m. on a Saturday.

I hear this: “Do you need a box that big?”

Uh, what? The manly man was the only person working the store. I turned toward the sound of his voice. I saw him retrieve a smaller box of worms for me which he plopped onto the counter. He started a conversation with my male friend about ‘where’ we were going fishing, and the guy decided that yeah, this smaller box would be all I’d need. I didn’t like his smirk.

We were planning on fishing a spot I especially liked, one I’d been to maybe a hundred times- (yes I used to fish that often) a big brackish part of the Housatonic (with a saltwater/freshwater mix) accessed from behind a school, affected by tides of course. I couldn’t understand why the location I was fishing determined how many sandworms I needed…but whatever. The two men were in accordance. So I brought my armful of tackle purchases to the snarky looking guy behind the counter and plopped them down. I’m pretty certain he was the owner of this place. He had a swagger, a cap bearing the logo of the bait shop, and a know-it-all face.

That’s when I remembered I needed the net. I wasn’t going to the dam today, mind you, but I wanted to own a good sturdy net because I knew my grandson and I would get a lot of use out of it in the future. So while I was there and had the money, I asked to see a net he had displayed on a wall behind the counter.

He laughed.

I felt a surge of something rise in me, like mercury. I think it was anger.

“What kinda fish you fishin’ for?” he asked with that half-smile I found so revolting.

Just give me the damned net, I thought.

“The stripers are running right now, aren’t they? We’re fishing for those… or whatever we get,” I replied with a shrug.

He laughed again. Well, it was more like a chuckle-snort. Is that where the word chortle comes from? I might have to look that up.

He adjusted his toothpick (which was between his lips) and said in a long drawn out fashion, “If you’re fishing where you say you are, for stripers… behind the school, you don’t need no net.”

He looked at my male friend, as if he needed testosterone back-up but my friend was looking around the store at lures and so forth, oblivious. Now the guy was outright grinning. He started ringing out my purchases on an old register. What? He really was not going to hand me the net I’d asked to see? I couldn’t reach over and grab one of the half dozen or so displayed on the wall behind him. I couldn’t reach them from my side of the counter.

“You’re the owner here? And you’re actually discouraging me from making a purchase? Well, that’s a first. But if you wanna lose a sale, fine, I won’t take the net. Strange way to do business, though.” I laughed.

I didn’t say that. I didn’t say any of that. I’m not proud that I didn’t say any of that. Afterwards, at the river, an hour later, that’s when I thought up the retort I just wrote here.

I didn’t say anything at the tackle shop. I (?passively?) allowed him to tally up my purchases and I left there seething with an anger my friend didn’t understand when I “went off” in the car about how I felt. How I wished I’d said those things.

Now I ask you, is this sexism?

I say it felt like it.

Every night, I say my version of prayers, which goes something like: “Allow me to get the words out!”

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I yam what I yam. Literally. That kitschy saying is especially true for me. I eat a LOT of sweet potatoes.

 

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