Memories of Zebco reels and red wrigglers
By Tom Poland
I drive west, Georgia bound, and pass it yet again, a place that pulls at my heart. My father had a worm farm, and my grandfather’s country store had a minnow tank. Fishing meant everything to me as a boy.
“If I stop and go in there for a moment, I might recapture my lost childhood.” I turn into Lake World, a portal to my past. Approaching the entrance to Ethan McDaniel’s bait shop, I come to a weathered screen door. I know I am in a good place. On the door is a faded sign. “Live Bait Sold Here.”
Opening that old timer of a door I catch a whiff of the Low Country. I close my eyes and I’m at a seafood dock down Edisto way, but I’m not. I’m at the edge of the Dreher Shoals Dam, the largest earthen dam in the world in its heyday. Lake World has its own honey hole, a big one.
In the 1950s, the place was known as Britton’s Bait & Tackle. North Lake Drive was a two-lane dirt road back then. For a couple of years the place sat vacant. Then Richard and Donna Hall opened it in 1984 and now Ethan owns it. He started working there at 15. He was 23 when he bought Lake World from Richard Hall. Ethan greets me with a warm smile. We talk fishing. “I’ve been catching fish since I was in diapers,” said Ethan. “Mom and Dad were fishermen.”
It’s a rich sensory experience walking around Lake World’s busy shelves. I walk amid blinding fluorescent corks and silvered lead weights. Newfangled rods hold the colors of the rainbow and fishing accessories refuse to let the eye ignore them. Old top water lures hang from a window.
That live bait? He gets his minnows from Arkansas, true Arkansas shiners. Crickets come from Augusta, and herring come from Lake Murray, Lake Hartwell … wherever they can be caught. He sells red wigglers, greens, and night crawlers. Dad used to grow red wrigglers in the back yard. (A fond memory.)
You see a range of products from A to Z—from Advil to Zebco. Slim Jims and other foods keep fishermen from getting too hungry. Ethan sells Mathias sandwiches in summer. He sells drinks, chips, and a classic item—Vienna sausages. (Yet another fond memory.)
Over the years some interesting patrons have come in for food. “Pet squirrels used to come to the door and jump onto the counter and eat crackers,” said Ethan. “Ratchet and Prissy would dash in the door and snag a Snickers candy bar, then dash out.”
Aside from candy-loving squirrels, some big names have walked through that old screen door. Bill Dance, Hank Parker, and TV personalities like Mark Davis. “George Rogers comes in once a week in spring and summer,” said Ethan. “He loves to fish for bream in farm ponds.” (And here’s another fond memory.) Ethan pauses. “The good thing about the bait shop is you get to be friends with everybody.”
The business is seasonal. In winter Ethan sells minnows and crappie jigs. In summer he sells striper bait tanks and live herring. He’s open from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. in peak season. He works a minimum of 60 hours a week, 70 to 80 come busy summers, but Ethan loves his work.
Consider him a museum curator. The bait shop, one of the last of its kind, is something he intends to keep as is. He sells old-fashioned print maps of Lake Murray. “You don’t have to download or update them,” he said. “Grandparents bring their grandkids in so they can see how things used to be.” A regular coffee club comes in mornings. And then he says something that drives home the universal appeal of wetting a hook.
“Every religion and nationality you can think of, every social level, every economic level comes in here. Everybody coming in here is happy—they’re going fishing.”
He’s right. I felt happy as I walked through that wonderful screen door. As I hoped, Ethan McDaniel’s Lake World had brought back fond memories of farm ponds, red wrigglers and bream beds, and bass and Zebco reels.