Last week I stopped by Stoddard's on a bitter
5° morning. The familiar gold and black
hanging sign was squeaking loudly in the wind.
Stoddard's is America's oldest continuously
operated fishing tackle store. Since 1800,
the year Jefferson was elected President,
Stoddard's has occupied the same location on
Temple Place, a narrow, block-long, 18th century
street across from the Boston Common. And now,
after 204 years, Stoddard's on Temple Place is
closing its doors.
I was glad to see that Phil Klug, charter captain,
master angler, expert fly tier, and part-time blues
musician was still there, helping to sell off the
stock. Although they're looking for another downtown
location, their new store, like their stores in the
suburban malls, will sell only fancy cutlery,
binoculars, and amateur telescopes - but no fishing
The once jammed fishing shelves in the back room
were nearly empty. Looking to find things to buy
for old time's sake, I grabbed some midge hooks, a
coil of mylar piping, some goo-goo eyes, and a pack
of rubber legs. For souvenirs, I selected two ball
caps embroidered with a "striper rampant" and the
legend, "Stoddard's of Boston - Since 1800."
Phil and I wondered what the store had been like
in its glory days. During the Gilded Age, Stoddard's
reportedly sold some of Hiram Leonard's first
greenheart rods and later his historic split
cane creations. And, from the 1920s to the 1950s
Stoddard's sold its own line of private-label
Montagues and Sewell Duntons. Boston Brahmins,
upwardly-mobile Irish pols, and ribbon clerks
alike were forced to rub shoulders in its cramped
back room if they wanted to purchase elegant salmon
flies, gut leaders, King Eider silk lines, and
hobnailed wading brogues. Well into the1980s,
Stoddard's was the only fly fishing store in the
downtown area, a place where you might run into
the chain-smoking Jack Gartside, the original
cab-driving Trout Bum, and designer of elegant
A few years back, I asked to use the toilet and
was directed to the steep wooden stairs leading
down to the basement. It was like descending in
time - a dirt floor and cobwebbed beams and an
old platformed water closet with a pull-chain
flush. Back in the gloom, you could just make
out the shapes of dusty roll-top desks and wooden
file cabinets that looked like they once belonged
to Bartleby the Scrivener.
I always got sound advice from the legendary
professorial Ed Hawley, who retired a few years
back, and Phil on places to fish, tackle, and
techniques: like how to hook trout on midges by
drawing the rod sideways and tightening gently,
or how to tie a Gartside soft-hackle streamer or
a full-dress Lefty's Deceiver. When I was getting
started in saltwater fly fishing, Phil sold me an
inexpensive outfit and told me where to find my
first schoolie stripers on the sandbar at Plum Island.
Often in those years, when my three daughters
were little, I had to squeeze my five-dollar
bills pretty tight. But Ed and Phil treated
me with as much respect and possibly more affection
than the downtown high-rollers. Like Harry and
Elsie Darbee in Livingston Manor, NY, and "Uncle"
Teddy Snyder's in my hometown of Trenton, NJ, - Ed
and Phil weren't just selling tackle - they were
sharing their love of the sport and its ethos of
brotherhood and equality.
Before I left, Phil and I exchanged emails.
Maybe we'll hook up if I can afford to charter
his boat for some Boston Haba' stripers and blues.
I sure hope we'll be able to stay in touch. And,
maybe by doing so, I'll also stay in touch with
the young father who used to drop into Stoddard's
to show off his three little girls who'd tagged
along to buy their ballet shoes across the street.
As I turned to leave, Phil snuck another ball cap
into my bag. In addition to being among the last
of the old-time fishing stores, Stoddard's might
also be last store in Boston not equipped with
surveillance cams. ~ John Strucker