Dana owns a fishing and tackle shop, appropriately called “The Tackle Shop”, situated in an old building on the edge of downtown Portland, within sight of the ocean. Filled with hooks and lures, weights and reels- many of them made by Dana himself- the shop has every possible way to catch your dinner in fresh or salt water. Dana’s life is centered around fishing and around an abiding respect for fish. In fact, he hasn’t killed a single fish he’s caught for over a decade.
TELL ME ABOUT HOW THIS TACKLE SHOP CAME TO BE HERE, AND TO BE YOURS.
I’ve been working in a tackle shop since I was 18 years old. It was a bad luck, good luck sort of thing. A friend of mine passed away and I helped the guy that owned the tackle shop that summer. I was young enough that I didn’t have to work all the time, but I went back every summer and ended up working as a full-time employee. He sold it to another gentlemen on Commercial Street and business wasn’t going well. They wanted to sell it to me, but I knew I could start my own for cheaper, so I started from scratch in 1999 with a partner, and I bought my partner out in 2005.
TELL ME ABOUT THIS SPACE.
I chose this place because it was available and affordable at the time. It had parking, which is important to me. I know it was the one of the only buildings to survive one of the great fires in the 1800’s. It was an old horse stable.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS.
I get all types of customers. In the spring, before striper fishing, I get all freshwater fishing customers. A lot of fly fisherman come in here. The month of May and June, you can go anywhere in the state and catch freshwater or saltwater fish. I get people of all money groups.
WHAT KIND OF FISHING STORIES DO YOU HEAR?
Oh, I hear all types of stories. There’s always the fishing story about the one who got away. There’s the story about, “My line broke.” There’s the stories about the guy who went out West to go fishing and was attacked by a bear. Most of them are stories about the stuff that happens in the surf. One time we told a customer that you can go to any beach and catch fish. I wouldn’t say that he was annoyed, but he didn’t like the less-than-direct directions we gave him. So he figured he would go out and show us that he couldn’t catch a fish at any beach, and then he went out and caught a 40-pound fish. And when I asked him where he caught it, he said, “Any beach!”
DO YOU HAVE A FISHING STORY OF YOUR OWN THAT YOU LIKE TO TELL?
Which one? I’ve been lucky enough to fish in some cool places and catch some cool fish. One of the funnest fishing trips I did was when I was 19 or 20 years old in Massachusetts, and I caught the biggest fish I’ve ever caught on a fly rod. It was a giant striper, a 40 pound fish on a fly rod. And of course the next day, I caught another big one and it broke off. Fish story! The current fishing commissioner at the time was the boatman on that trip. I’ve done three trips to the Bahamas, there’s so many stories from there because I’ve never seen stuff like that before. One time we were fishing at night catching little sharks and groupers. I caught a fish and it was acting weird, and it was because there was a 13-foot hammerhead shark chasing it. We were on a 13-foot boat, so….
WHAT DO YOU THINK FISHING MEANS TO MAINERS?
I think fishing is what Maine’s about. Maine is about the outdoors: hunting, fishing, kayaking. It’s about getting outside. So many of my customers don’t care what they catch, it’s about the experience of being outdoors that matters.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
The thing that is most important to me, is not losing who I am as a person. In the business, especially, because I don’t get to fish much because I am here. This time of year, it takes me time to get out into the outdoors and become myself. Being one with nature is probably the best way to put it. Just getting out and smelling the air, and not losing who I am. It’s easy, when you work ten hours a day, to lose who you are.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THAT IS WHO YOU ARE?
I have known since I was a kid. I’ve always needed to be in the outdoors. My mom said when she needed to shut me up, that she would send me out to the dock with a hot dog at the end of the string. It’s not so much catching fish, I just love being around fish. And in the woods, I just love being around animals.
WHAT’S THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
Anytime somebody comes in and gets good information, they come back and tell me how much fun they’ve had. It makes me feel good. One of the things is the perspective of who you are as a fisherman. Some people come in and say, “I’ve had the best year!” And I ask them how much fish they caught, and they say, “Six!” And I have fisherman who, if they haven’t caught a six fish in a day, it’s a bad day. It’s amazing the difference of perspectives. I get a kick out of that. There’s one kid who comes in here, his name is Fisher, and he is a fishing maniac. He’s just a good kid and catches bass with his dad all the time.
TELL ME A LESSON YOU ARE LEARNING IN YOUR LIFE OR HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY?
One of the struggles I’ve had, and I’m still learning about, is how to take better care of myself. I’ve had some injuries to my back and my neck, I’m still learning to take care of myself and my body. It’s a big one. And for me, I live in six-month seasons. In the summertime, I’m always on the run, on the go. I probably don’t eat right, or drink enough fluids. And then, come Fall, when I do have time, it takes me time to get back into it, to have time. In the winter, I hunt. If I can get one deer for the winter, for my freezer, I’m happy. I mainly deer watch. I don’t really fish for food, I’ve killed one fish in the last 13 years. Other than in the Bahamas! We eat everything we catch there. But up here, I have so much respect for the fish. They have a personality. You catch them, look at them, they look at you. I have a hard time killing them. You catch a striper that’s 40 inches and weighs 30 pounds, the thing is 20-years old! I try to preach to people to use hooks that are good for the fish, don’t drop the fish on the boat or drag them up the beach. The fish deserve our respect. We all love catching them, so we should protect them. It’s one of the biggest battles up and down the coast, because they are commercially fished, but they should be game fish. One striper is worth a lot.
TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF THE STORIES I CAN FIND IN YOUR SHOP.
All those lures hanging in the doorway have a story to tell. Some of them have caught big fish and broken, some of them were in people’s hands. One of them was chewed up by a barracuda. They’ve all caught their fair share of fish. It’s like the wall of fame and shame. But if you want to see shame, this wall over here is it. We have our collage of bad things that have happened. It doesn’t grow much this year, I’m disappointed! The cell phone, we were fishing in an undisclosed spot and were trying to come back across the land, and one of the guys jumped into what he thought was shallow water, but it was over his head. The lure was in someone’s hand. And once, I hit a rock and was literally up the creek without a paddle, so I fashioned one out of a tackle box and stick and paddled back.