CHARTER FISHING BOAT captain Bryant Van Aernum (right) discussed the fine points of a new reel with Bait Box owner Jim Champeau. The Port shop has been dealing fishing tackle and more for nearly a decade from its inconspicuous location at 215 E. Washington St. Photos by Mark Jaeger
Tiny Port shop caters to anglers seeking big catches
As far as a physical presence goes, calling Port Washington’s Bait Box unassuming is an overstatement.
The fishing tackle shop at 215 E. Washington St., which can only be accessed from an alleyway, could even be affectionately described as a hole in the wall.
“We have been here for nine years and we still have people coming in from right here in Port Washington and ask, ‘When did you move here?’” said owner Jim Champeau.
From a business perspective, Champeau said he is comfortable with the relative anonymity.
“We are very much a seasonal business. I think the shops on Franklin Street are better served by year-round businesses,” he said.
“Besides, just about everyone on the way to the marina ends up driving right past our store.”
The 550-square-foot shop is bursting with every kind of fishing gear imaginable — lures, rods, reels, nets, live bait and even licenses.
Champeau said 90% of the shop’s business is geared toward Great Lakes fishing, which makes the store’s location one block west of Lake Michigan ideal.
The fishing season on the lake runs year-round, but the cooperative nature of those trout and salmon varies greatly.
“We are open regularly until October or so, but try to be open at least on weekends for the guys who are trying to catch brown trout from shore,” Champeau said.
Elsewhere in Wisconsin, those who fish inland lakes have Saturday, May 7, circled on their calendars — the start of fishing season.
“We are starting to carry a little more stock for inland fishing,” Champeau said.
“I really enjoy the sales aspect of this job. Talking to people about what they want to catch, giving them advice and then hearing from them when they return with their catch … or for more advice.”
He said there is a surprising amount of change in the tackle business.
“Every year the manufacturers come out with the latest colors of lures and other innovations they say will put more fish in your boat. We have to keep up with all of that,” Champeau said.
That need to keep current will soon be even more necessary, as the shop begins on-line sales later this month.
“Competing with Internet sales has been a challenge so we decided we should go with the traffic,” Champeau said.
“We will be able to capture some of the out-of-state trade. When you look at the price of gas today, paying a five dollar shipping charge doesn’t seem so bad anymore.”
Champeau unveiled another innovation just last month — a daily fishing report.
“I get the information on where the fish are and what they are biting on from the charter captains. When I get information, we’ll post it,” he said.
Champeau said the marina’s fleet of charter fishing boats keep him pretty busy, but he is careful not to steer customers to any particular boat.
“What I tell people is they should talk to the captains. The best time is usually around noon or when they come in for the evening around 6 p.m.,” he said.
“Each captain has a different personality. You need to know how well you are going to get along, because this is someone you are going to be on a boat with for five or six hours.”
The daily fishing reports can be accessed at www.bait-box.biz.