February 2nd, 2004

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Stoddard's Blues

By John Strucker

Last week I stopped by Stoddard's on a bitter 5° morning. The familiar gold and black hanging sign was squeaking loudly in the wind. Stoddard's is America's oldest continuously operated fishing tackle store. Since 1800, the year Jefferson was elected President, Stoddard's has occupied the same location on Temple Place, a narrow, block-long, 18th century street across from the Boston Common. And now, after 204 years, Stoddard's on Temple Place is closing its doors.

I was glad to see that Phil Klug, charter captain, master angler, expert fly tier, and part-time blues musician was still there, helping to sell off the stock. Although they're looking for another downtown location, their new store, like their stores in the suburban malls, will sell only fancy cutlery, binoculars, and amateur telescopes - but no fishing tackle.

The once jammed fishing shelves in the back room were nearly empty. Looking to find things to buy for old time's sake, I grabbed some midge hooks, a coil of mylar piping, some goo-goo eyes, and a pack of rubber legs. For souvenirs, I selected two ball caps embroidered with a "striper rampant" and the legend, "Stoddard's of Boston - Since 1800."

Phil and I wondered what the store had been like in its glory days. During the Gilded Age, Stoddard's reportedly sold some of Hiram Leonard's first greenheart rods and later his historic split cane creations. And, from the 1920s to the 1950s Stoddard's sold its own line of private-label Montagues and Sewell Duntons. Boston Brahmins, upwardly-mobile Irish pols, and ribbon clerks alike were forced to rub shoulders in its cramped back room if they wanted to purchase elegant salmon flies, gut leaders, King Eider silk lines, and hobnailed wading brogues. Well into the1980s, Stoddard's was the only fly fishing store in the downtown area, a place where you might run into the chain-smoking Jack Gartside, the original cab-driving Trout Bum, and designer of elegant flies.

A few years back, I asked to use the toilet and was directed to the steep wooden stairs leading down to the basement. It was like descending in time - a dirt floor and cobwebbed beams and an old platformed water closet with a pull-chain flush. Back in the gloom, you could just make out the shapes of dusty roll-top desks and wooden file cabinets that looked like they once belonged to Bartleby the Scrivener.

I always got sound advice from the legendary professorial Ed Hawley, who retired a few years back, and Phil on places to fish, tackle, and techniques: like how to hook trout on midges by drawing the rod sideways and tightening gently, or how to tie a Gartside soft-hackle streamer or a full-dress Lefty's Deceiver. When I was getting started in saltwater fly fishing, Phil sold me an inexpensive outfit and told me where to find my first schoolie stripers on the sandbar at Plum Island.

Often in those years, when my three daughters were little, I had to squeeze my five-dollar bills pretty tight. But Ed and Phil treated me with as much respect and possibly more affection than the downtown high-rollers. Like Harry and Elsie Darbee in Livingston Manor, NY, and "Uncle" Teddy Snyder's in my hometown of Trenton, NJ, - Ed and Phil weren't just selling tackle - they were sharing their love of the sport and its ethos of brotherhood and equality.

Before I left, Phil and I exchanged emails. Maybe we'll hook up if I can afford to charter his boat for some Boston Haba' stripers and blues. I sure hope we'll be able to stay in touch. And, maybe by doing so, I'll also stay in touch with the young father who used to drop into Stoddard's to show off his three little girls who'd tagged along to buy their ballet shoes across the street.

As I turned to leave, Phil snuck another ball cap into my bag. In addition to being among the last of the old-time fishing stores, Stoddard's might also be last store in Boston not equipped with surveillance cams. ~ John Strucker


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