Paul’s Bait and Tackle — San Pedro’s Local Shop

The call came in at about a quarter to ten in the PM. Ken, bad news, this never happens but we’re having trouble getting in the ghost shrimp in from up north. They’ll be here but they’re running late. Call me anytime. We’ll be going up to the airport to get the shrimp early in the morning and then we’ve got to size them and pack them. Hopefully we’ll have them ready for you by the time you need them but I wanted to let you know in case they’re late.

So you say you always wanted to run your own little bait and tackle shop—right?

That’s the kind of dedication people have come to expect from Bill Stegmaier, the owner of Paul’s Bait and Tackle in San Pedro. The store opened in 1955 and was long a landmark, advertising the fact that it was visible from the Harbor Freeway (110). It was not only the site for the locals but an easy stop off point for anglers heading to the ocean from the inland basin areas. Bill, a loyal Paul’s customer for many years, bought the store in 2004, just before its fiftieth birthday celebration and just before the site where it was located saw the adjacent hill begin to slide down its bank. It’s not a good feeling when the business you just bought has to be moved, especially from such a well-known site. But he had no choice and luckily found a spot not too far away at 803 S. Pacific in San Pedro.

Running any business can be a headache, but running one that is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, can truly be tiring. The hours can be long as he normally is open at 6AM on weekdays and 5AM on weekends. And it can be risky, especially when you’re sometimes buying more than a thousand dollars worth of assorted live baits each week. You certainly hope the baits are sold before they go belly up. You had better know how to order but you never know when the local fish are going to go off their bite resulting in a drop in demand for bait. It’s risky but so far Bill has been able to figure out the needs pretty accurately. Of course he’s also at the whim of the suppliers as mentioned at the beginning, Bad weather up north can mean missing ghost shrimp; bad weather in China can mean missing lug worms; either case can mean an entire change in plans. But again, there’s that old song about promises and rose gardens—and when you run your own business there’s challenges as well as the inevitable ups and downs.

Luckily not all of the business is based on bait even though the store’s selection of baits—live ghost shrimp, live blood worms, live lug worms, live razor clams, live mussels, live red and meal worms, together with all the standard frozen baits—anchovies, squid, etc., yield nearly 50% of the sales.

The other 50% comes from the tackle unless, that is, during the winter months when tackle sales go up and bait sales go down. Wintertime is the time to get all your tackle in tip top shape for the next season and luckily he has a couple of top notch people—Matt and Josh— who can fix rods and reels as well as wrapping new or old rods. In fact, Bill says customers will often stop in after breaking a guide and typically they can have it ready to go in under twenty minutes. You can’t ask for better service than that. Of course it also depends on how busy the store is at the time.

My most unusual visit occurred during a week when I was down in town for the Fred Hall Show that was taking place in nearby Long Beach. When I showed up at the store there were cameramen blocking the aisles, actors practicing their lines, and a slew of people that had some unknown (to me) title. Turned out that Epoch Films was making a film that eventually will be shown on PBS. The film shows a father and his daughter getting bait (live sardines) before heading down to a local pier—Cabrillo Pier in this case. At the pier the film takes a twist when the girl talks her dad into letting the bait go free. I’m not clear on the overall message of the film but Bill says it actually turned out pretty good. Whatever the story, the aisles in the store were crowded and I had to maneuver around the cameras to get my bait, lively little ghost shrimp. Ghost shrimp I might add that did their job nicely just a few hours later in attracting some sargo and bass at the finger piers in Long Beach.

As mentioned, Bill has bait AND tackle and for a small shop he carries a nice selection of rods, reels and terminal tackle. A big plus in my book is the inshore tackle that not every shop seems to carry anymore. In addition, if Bill doesn’t have it he can usually get it. And that fact, the extra service, is one of the things that sets his store apart from the big chain discounters (as is true at many independent bait and tackle shops).

If you have an event, Bill will work with you to have the right bait at the right time and for a fair price. He doesn’t mind the extra work because he knows that the good service means a group of loyal customers who come to his shop even if they’re planning to fish many miles away. Customers are on a first name basis and probably a little spoiled with all the attention. But where else can you get such service in this day and age?

Bill admits his biggest problem might be the one that confronts so many of the owners of bait and tackle shops, time for he himself

to go fishing. Bill loves to fish inshore all around the San Pedro and Long Beach waterfronts and, of course, has some secret spots that he has been able to find over the years. But he also admits to liking a little boat ride out to the breakwater to fish for calicos. Or, a trip around the corner past Pt. Fermin and the Palos Verdes Peninsula to partake of bass and various rock loving species, especially sheephead. He says the sheepies love ghost shrimp. He even manages to fish the piers as seen in the accompanying photos when he and his son Kyle met me down at the Cabrillo Pier. He showed during his visit to the pier that he not only understands the ins and outs of bait and tackle but also how to use them to catch fish. What more could you ask?

Fish Taco Chronicles

4 Responses to Paul’s Bait and Tackle — San Pedro’s Local Shop

  1. Fast Eddie says:

    Paul’s bait and tackle are very friendly and helpful been going there for 20 years for ghost shrimp and they’re still same price great job!!!

  2. Mark Harmon says:

    Paul is my father. I grew up in that store. Sometimes the Ghost shrimp we got from my uncle in Morro bay didn’t arrive. Then I would sneak into the Los Alamitos navy base on a paddle board. I could get ghost shrimp and Jack Knife (razor) clams. Mussels came from the Seal Beach pier pilings and bay mussels from behind terminal island. And so on. We originally opened up at 3 am. That slowly changed to 5 am. I worked all holidays from a young age. After work I would often go down to a fishing spot and show our customers how to rig up and where to fish. It was my life. Then one day I said I am never going in cold water again and moved to Florida.

  3. steve says:

    According to Yelp postings from January & July 2014, this business is now closed. A call to their listed number shows it as disconnected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>