The landscape will tell you that you are in a different place. Bait shops and bait stores, cabins, homes and apartments for rent – during the summer in most fishing cities — but here in Arroyo City, the weather is great for fishing year round. Fishing is the lifeblood of this town.
Seated along the Arroyo Colorado, this similar-named city is all about fishing – and you’re almost a stone’s throw away from a small, locally owned bait shop to service all your needs. While other places in South Texas like Port Isabel and South Padre Island have other attractions to bring in crowds, Arroyo City is all about fishing.
“If anyone comes into the store and asks for something and I don’t have it, I go and get it so the next time someone asks for it, I’ve got it. We have everything the fisherman wants,” said Jerry Cochran, owner of the Bait Shop at 36690 Marshall Hutts Road – the road that runs parallel to the Arroyo. It’s also the road where bait stores pepper the front of their business and surroundings with signs and banners that read things like “Fresh Shrimp” and “Live Bait” with the hopes of attracting each day’s largest share of customers. The stores aren’t large but they are crammed with fishing gear from corks to rods and reels to filet knives, nets, bait … but it all somehow fits snug.
On this perfect fishing day with the temperature about 70 degrees, there’s a sprinkling of customers at each of the competitors’ places. Most of them have some signature that separates them from the other. For Cochran it’s making sure he has whatever the customer wants – that means he needs to keep up with today’s latest trends. And while some of the local shops have a bar attached to it or sell beer and and groceries, Cochran is 100 percent fishing, fishing tools and more fishing.
These stores are not the Bass Pro Shops or the Cabelas. These stores are the mom and pop shops that deliver high-quality service, a friendly face and, more often than not they will have exactly what you need for that fishing trip with the kids or for that time alone on the weekend getaway.
“I’ve been coming to this area since I was 16,” said Andy Noriega, from Weslaco, who took the 35-mile trip to The Bait Stand, not to be confused with The Bait Shop – this one has Dirty Reds Cantina and Grill attached to it, a popular place both among the regular fisherman and those who are just in the area for a vacation getaway weekend. Noriega purchased some live shrimp with hopes of catching mainly speckled trout and redfish with his kids. “I would come here with friends as soon as we were able to drive.”
Noriega and his wife Dulce Martinez and two sons Andy Noriega IV, 5 years old, and Alex Noriega, 3 years old, ended the day with about 10 fish, including a catfish, some mangrove snappers and sheep heads. He said that fishing has become so popular that being able to buy live bait is sometimes extremely difficult. “It’s a different scene today than it was when I was growing up,” he said. “So now we’re bringing the boys and trying to introduce them to the sport and get them to feel the little fight with the fish.”
Noriega purchased a full-size Star Wars fishing rod for his 5 year old just two days earlier. After they were done for the day, the first things they asked was “Dad, can we come again tomorrow?”
The bait shop industry is staggering. A report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association at NOAA.gov states, “According to the study, the first economic survey of its kind, in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, these retailers contribute approximately $2.3 billion across the broader U.S. economy, including $796 million in income. In addition, the industry supports nearly 16,000 jobs across the nation.” What’s even more mind-blowing is that when this study was done, it did not take into consideration the large chain stores – just the independent businesses. That means the study only reflects a portion of what the industry does for not only coastal communities for the overall economic wealth of the nation.
There’s at least one thing that the most successful independent bait shops have in common, working long hours – really long hours. “When I started this business, I had an ’86 Ford half-ton truck,” Cochran said. “Now I have seven diesel pickup trucks and have a lucrative business. But it only comes from working 18 hours a day, every day and working all night long when we have to go buy bait either in Port Lavaca or Corpus. We’ll go 48 to 72 hours without sleep – that’s how I made my business.” Cochran added that when he opened the business, there were six other bait shops to compete with – he said he’s the only one left of that group.
Down the road from Cochran’s Bait Shop, which he opened in 2001, is the Bait Stand, with a more market-style set up. Walking into the store you are greeted with the same things you’ll find at a convenience store – sodas, beer, chips, ice cream and other daily necessities. However, along the walls and scattered through the aisles are rods and reels, fishing nets, corks, hooks and other supplies for the angler. Attached to the Bait Stand on one side is the bar/cantina and on the other side is where they keep their live bait. On this day, they still had some shrimp left for Noriega and his kids.
For more information visit facebook.com/baitshoparroyocit
May 2017 cover story by Henry Miller.