COLCHESTER — Just off the highway, The Tackle Box is geared up to give you the best day out on the ice this winter. After that, the store will also be ready to provide you with warmer-weather fishing and hunting equipment.

Scott Blair, a lifelong fishing enthusiast from Burlington, and his wife, Tina, purchased The Tackle Box back in July and have been running the shop by themselves seven days a week since then, offering not only gear but advice for all levels of anglers.

Classified as a non-essential business, the store, which had previously been named The Tackle Box Market & Deli and was in business for over seven years, had to close its doors last March per Gov. Phil Scott’s COVID-19 restriction mandate in response to the pandemic. It didn’t reopen until August after the Blairs took over and rebranded the business.

“I wanted to start a shop a couple times,” said Scott, who had previously been a general contractor. “The opportunity didn't arise until July, and it was kind of a spur of the moment. This is pretty much my retirement; I can work here until I get old and don't have to pound nails anymore.”

Scott says he had no reservations about taking over a business in the middle of a pandemic, instead seeing the great potential in a store that offers so much value to the community.

“With the pandemic, this industry is booming,” he said. “People are out of work and looking for something to do, so they want to get outdoors. License sales are way up, whether it's hunting or fishing. This is definitely an essential business, as far as providing the opportunity for people to get outside and away from people.”

Along with its open hours and attention to the customer, Scott says The Tackle Box really sets itself apart from other fishing gear stores with the quality of its live bait. He gets his minnows from Hog Island Wholesale Bait in Swanton, the only wholesaler that he’s approved to purchase from due to state regulations.

While some stores offer bait that can only be used at a specific body of water, such as Lake Champlain, The Tackle Box has bait that’s good for the whole western half of Vermont — making it a one-stop shop for those who might also head out to Lake Carmi, Colchester Pond, and other spots.

The Tackle Box: Where and when

At 25 Raymond Road in Colchester, the store is conveniently located just off Interstate 89, one mile west of Exit 17 near Niquette Bay State Park.

The Blairs have been adjusting their hours since taking over, most recently moving to earlier start times to accommodate the ice fishing season. The Tackle Box is currently listed as being open from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the weekend, but its Facebook page says closings are not “hard times” and will be flexible to purchase fish if needed.

What it offers

The expansive walls in The Tackle Box are covered with hooks, bobbers, jigs and lures. You can pick up a new pole, a different reel, or fresh line. For the winter, The Tackle Box has augers and replacement blades, ice cleats, and tip-ups. For those colder days while fishing or hunting, the store has camouflage clothing and hand warmers.

Stationed right in the middle are tanks teeming with live bait and The Tackle Box-branded buckets nearby to carry some away.

If you’ve eaten fish at a local restaurant, there’s a chance it passed through The Tackle Box at some point. The store will buy an angler's haul and then bring it to Ray’s Seafood Market for distribution.

And Scott’s wisdom, garnered through many years of being out on the water, comes free of charge.

“Especially right now, there's a lot of new fishermen,” said Scott. “They're trying to target certain species, and they'll come in and ask, ‘What should I use? Where should I go? What presentation?’ And I try to give them my knowledge. Everybody has their own way, own opinion on things. I can provide them with the information that I know firsthand; that's what I try to do.”

The Tackle Box Fishing Tournament

Later in the month, The Tackle Box will be holding an ice fishing tournament with cash prizes available — up to $599 per winner. It’s slated for Jan. 30-31 and allows participants to fish anywhere on Lake Champlain before bringing their catch to the store. The entry fee is $40, and registration must be done at the shop.

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