Wylie’s — A Malibu Tradition

There was a time when anglers were presented a number of bait and tackle shops along the scenic stretch of coast Highway 1 that runs from Santa Monica to Oxnard. There was a small shop run by Lee and Mary who operated out of a trailer. There was a shop at Coral Beach. Another at the Paradise Cove Pier and still one more at the Malibu Pier. Several others came and went over the years. Today there is one shop devoted to bait and tackle, Wylie’s, and it is one of the oldest, having been established back in1946 by Willis B. (WB) Wylie and Ruth Wylie.

The shop today is run by Ginny Wylie, the vivacious granddaughter of Willis who grew up sorting hooks and sinkers, rods and reels, sand crabs and mussels. She learned at an early age how to tell the difference between good bait and bad. She grew up in her granddaddy’s shop, and though there has been a prolonged negotiation with the state over a new lease, there is hope that a deal to continue the shop may some day be completed. In fact, the state says it would like to keep the shop the way it is—a historical nod to the simpler times when the shop first went into operation. That’s good news for the legion of anglers who stop by the tiny, eclectic store day-after-day seeking the best in bait and convivial service from an always-pleasant Ginny. She’s sharp as a tack and not afraid to voice her opinions whether it be to a movie star, a movie star governor (guess who), or the average-Joe anglers who love the store, but she always does so with a laugh.

And if you’re seeking out advice on what is biting, where they’re hitting, and on what they’re hitting, there’s no one with better sources of information than Ginny. In fact it help’s explain why she is the source for fishing reports for several fishing reports including Western Outdoor News, Fish Rap, and Pier Fishing in California.

But the shop is a bait and tackle shop. Quality bait is the key and she carries live lugworms as well as frozen mussels, anchovies and squid. Salted anchovies are also available. Asked why she doesn’t have more varieties of live bait she replies with a chuckle, that “she’d love to but the state has put so many restrictions on the bait that it isn’t feasible.” No matter, if you’re seeking out good, quality bait in the area, her shop is the place to go.

As for tackle, she carries quite a bit although not the number of rods and reels that the big stores carry. However, she offers an old-fashioned selection of individual hooks, swivels, sinkers, etc. Plus she carries all the hottest artificial lures and knows which ones are producing. Perhaps her strongest strength is the individual attention she can provide. Ask her about a grub and she pulls out a selection box of various colors and quickly points out those that have been producing. The day I was there she pointed out the Channel Island Anchovy by Worm King. Said it’s the hottest lure used by kayakers in the area—“almost can’t keep them in stock.” She said in murky water use the lighter colors; in clear water use the darker colors.

She, of course, has seen the change in tackle over the years. At one time the bigger and longer rod was considered the way to go and bait was almost always used. Today many surf casters are using light tackle, 4-6 pound test line and grubs.

Need a license? She’s got them. Need a sand crab trap—she’s got them. Need a net and she’s got them. Need a pier gaff—she’s got them too. Of course she also has her famous T-shirts: “Got my crabs at Wylies,” and hats. Heck, she’s even got Pier Fishing in California by some author named Ken Jones. If you’re a surf angler or someone headed down to the Malibu Pier she’s got the bait and tackle.

And didn’t I say eclectic shop? Witness the state record 4 pound 2 ounce barred surf perch mounted on the wall behind the register. Witness the coconut heads and oddball fish hanging from the ceiling. Only thing she’s missing though is the famous Wylie’s sign out front. The sign was blown down by strong winds last winter and she admits she needs a new sign.

Ginny has the shop open Tuesday-Friday 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday 5:30 to 2 p.m. (closed Monday). Her hours are long and when combined with a marginal profit it begs the question of why she, unlike the rest of the local bait and tackle stores, is still in business? I asked her why she still does it, what motivates her to stay in business? In part it’s because it’s her family’s store with the family name, and it has been so for nearly sixty years. Secondly it’s the customers, a diverse group that ranges from the super-wealthy Malibu stars to the near indigent. From knowledgeable long-time regulars to novices hoping to catch their first fish. She loves them all and only regrets the decrease in manners and dress over the years. When evicted from her long-time home by the state in February (they are turning the property into parkland—and a parking lot), people actually came and stole the outside fixtures from her home. She constantly has to watch for theft but she’s been doing that for a number of years.

Contrary to the state’s wishes you can’t turn the clock back to those earlier times, at least when it comes to some customers’ behavior. You can though watch a local icon at work helping out anglers just as it was done fifty years ago. Stop by, say hi to Ginny, and pick up a few tips.

The small shop is located at 18757 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu but drive slow because it’s easy to miss.

Fish Taco Chronicles

One Response to Wylie’s — A Malibu Tradition

  1. Grant Ring says:

    I came across this article and it brought many memories. In the early 60′s, Bob and Ginny were like family to me. I spent many hours sitting in the director’s chair by the little gizmo they had to put line on reels. Bob was crotchety and Ginny a sweetheart just like she is today. But both of them knew I needed some warmth and both always provided it to me. By the way, there is probably still a big many tentacled starfish over the door to the rear workroom. Bob put that there for me. It was a “Jewish” starfish because it had more than 5 points. Bob was a character and definitely one of a kind. Ginny was one of my first crushes. We haven’t talked in a couple years but if she has an email, I wish you would forward this to her with my email address.

    Thanks very much for this.


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