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Bob’s Bait Shop

Bob’s Bait Shop

Bob’s Bait Shop

Sacramento’s Delta region is an elemental place. The rhythms of the river are reflected in the rhythms of its inhabitants; every six hours, when the tide shifts, and the river creatures change direction, so do the people who live in the Delta.

And, just as all great places to fish have a handful of spots—deep, prolific fishing holes where fish congregate in scores—there are places in the Delta where you can always find a small crowd of people. Of course, because it’s the Delta, one of those places is a bait shop.

This particular shop is not just any bait shop, mind you. When I asked around, I found out that fishermen here are pretty much in general agreement; Bob’s Bait Shop, on the main street of Isleton, is one of the world’s great bait shops. I considered this reputation a considerable feat; bait shops are about as plentiful in this region as highway-side gas stations just before the Mojave. So, I went there to find out what made it so special.

Actually, when you first walk in to the place, you might think you were in a pet store—one that specializes in sea animals—and not a bait shop. Half the shop is dominated by huge aquariums filled with squirmy, slippery, live creatures, which the fish in the Sacramento River love to eat. Scores more tanks are hidden in the back, too. Because there are so many kinds of fish in this river—usually nine species—a fisherman might want to use a variety of bait. That’s one thing that makes Bob’s shop special: It carries nine kinds of live bait, and 16 different kinds in all, compared with the average bait store, which might carry only more seasonal bait. In order to keep up this immense stock, owner and 30-year commercial fisherman Omar Whipple (the original owner, Bob Kaiser, died a while back) has fresh supplies flown in from all over the country three times a week. That’s an investment most bait shops can’t really shoulder.

The second thing that makes Bob’s a great bait store is something that I wouldn’t have thought of—integrity.

All bait shops claim they sell some live bait, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Some unscrupulous types will try to pass off some frozen bait as fresh or live. The folks at Bob’s know better than to do that. “And the fish know better, too!” laughs Whipple.

Then there’s the matter of the size of a fisherman’s catch. We’ve all heard the tall tales. Well, apparently, large fish are caught all the time in real life. The peer prestige from catching a big fish, the serious money one can make as a career competitive fisherman, and the relative ease with which one can fake it, by bringing in a pre-caught fish, all make an honest, fish-weighing, bait shop a very valuable thing.

And Whipple’s reputation is spotless. In fact, he was one of the main people behind the drive to require a polygraph test at the Delta’s huge Annual Bass Festival. They used it for the first time last year, and, sure enough, the man who claimed to have caught the biggest bass was caught lying three times. Apparently no whoppers are allowed at Bob’s.

Highway 160, Isleton, (916) 777-6806.