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Reel dedication: Bait shop owner still enjoying work after 42 years
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Pete McNeal, owner of Pete's Bait and Tackle, stands with his dog Cocoa inside of his shop in East Moline. 'They run the whole show,' Mr. McNeal said about Cocoa and his other dog, Lucy. Mr. McNeal has been in business for 42 years. 'I had to make a living doing something,' he said about starting his business.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Photographs of fishers' big catches hang inside of Pete's Bait and Tackle in East Moline.
EAST MOLINE -- Pete McNeal, who owns Pete's Bait and Tackle, hasn't picked up a fishing pole for fun in about 30 years.

Fishing is a luxury the 86-year-old man gave up decades ago. Now if he wanted to fish, Mr. McNeal said there would be no one to man the shop he's run for about 42 years at 210 19th St.

"You have to put the hours in; you can't mess around," he said.

Several wooden signs with the shop's name point customers into the store, which is cozy with a wood-burning furnace, dozens of Polaroid photos of customers and tons of bright-colored fishing accessories hanging from the ceiling.

When it comes to what is in the shop, Mr. McNeal said it would take him a month to survey the items. Pete's Bait and Tackle is a one-stop shop for people wanting to fish -- he offers everything from the pole to the bait.

Behind the counter are Mr. McNeal's canine companions, Susie the schnauzer and Cocoa the brindle miniature pit bull, who isn't much bigger than Susie.Cocoa is usually on the chair next to Mr. McNeal's, either sleeping or keeping a watchful eye on the door. She greets customers with a few barks and a wagging tail.

A large portion of the front room is occupied by a pool table, which Mr. McNeal said is really popular with his customers. One wall has a bunch of fishing poles and a large hanging of dogs playing poker. A dart board is on the wall with pool cues.

"When it's raining and they want to get off the river for a while, they'll play pool," he said of his customers.

Because of times like those, Mr. McNeal sells pop and snacks. A fridge is devoted to pop, and a variety of chips are hung among the fishing accessories. Once the rain stops, he said, the customers go back to the river to try their luck again.

Mr. McNeal lives less than a block from the store and works long hours.During his busiest time of the year -- the summer months -- he starts work at 6 a.m. and stays there until 11 p.m. In winter, he works from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Cold weather usually meansbusiness slows down for him, unless people are ice fishing.

"A lot of bait shops close down, but we don't," he said.

Mr. McNeal said the long hours and staying open during the winter pays off because people know they can come there after other bait shops have closed.

When he starts each work day, he unlocks the doors, gets the date book dated and then waits for customers. At night, he cleans the shop.

While working, he likes turning the TV to channels withcourtroom shows because it gives him some company in between interactions with customers. "Judge Joe Brown" was on for the background noise on a late November afternoon.

"Judge Judy, she's tough," Mr. McNeal said."She'll put them in their place."

Tucked behind the counter is a tankfilled with minnows. The shop also has plenty of little containers that serve as temporary homes for worms and dirt.

The bait is ordered as it sells and arrives by truck. The amount he goes through varies by the season. Sometimes he'll sell more than 20 pounds a week in the summer.

"If stuff's going good, you order more," Mr. McNeal said.

There's a wide variety of bait at the shop, includingred worms, night crawlers, chicken liver, leeches and stink bait.

"All kinds of stuff," Mr. McNeal said.

He said the effectiveness of bait depends on the season. In winter months, he said red worms don't work nearly as well as they do in the summer.

"In the winter time, they bite on these pretty good," he said while gesturing to a tin with several silvery minnows in it.

Another shop offering is lead weights that Mr. McNeal crafts himself. Hehas a mold and uses a machine to create them.

Mr. McNeal is known for remembering his customers. When a lanky teenager walked into the shop, Mr. McNeal immediately greeted him with a smile.

"Man, you're getting tall," he said.

The teen,Joshua Embrey, 17, of East Moline, said he comes into the shop every so often, and that his family enjoys fishing. He said Mr. McNeal is "kind of like an uncle" and described the shop as a nice place to buy cheap tackle.

Even though Mr. McNeal doesn't fish now, he remembers it fondly, including the times he and his dad went fishing together when he was a kid. He said he has many siblings, but he was the only one who liked fishing, so his dad always took him.

"I used to fish years ago," he said wistfully.

He has the photographs to prove it. In a picture frame that doubles as a clock, he's holding up a walleye that's longer than his torso. This and other pictures of him are scattered among photographs of his family and his many customers, with and without catches.

While he enjoys visiting with customers, he said he doesn't have a favorite part of owning a bait shop."Just love the money -- have to make a living," he said.Mr. McNeal said he also doesn't believe there are any drawbacks to the job."If I did, I wouldn't be here," he said.








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