The old mom and pop fishing tackle shop is a thing of the past in most communities, but for nearly 25 years Rio Grande Valley fishermen have patronized a cherished holdout. However, the imminent closing of Hook Line and Sinker in Harlingen will soon mark the end of an era.
After a quarter of a century supplying fishing tackle and swapping stories, Rip Masters is calling it quits. "It's time to retire," Masters said, as he leaned back in his comfortably worn swivel chair behind a weathered desk. "I've been working since I was about 12 years old, and I am old enough to retire now," he said with a chuckle.
Captain Chuck Fultz has been a customer of Rips since he opened, and like many loyal patrons he is wondering what to do when Hook Line and Sinker shuts its doors. "I am going to miss it bad," Fultz said. "Where are you going to get a rod fixed? It is a sad day."
Whether you fish Valley resacas, the Laguna Madre or offshore there was something for every angler at Hook Line and Sinker. "I am going to miss it a lot," said Carrie Rowe. "I just like walking in that door and sharing a fishing story."
Rip grew up in Willacy County and fondly recalls fishing with his dad when his father was not working. "My dad was a farmer and a carpenter, so he worked day and night, but he would find time to take me wade fishing at Port Mansfield.
We also used to fish down at the Arroyo and catch sheepshead by the dozens."
Some of his best trips were to South Padre prior to the Island's development. "We used to take a boat across to the Island before there was a causeway and camp out. The surf fishing was fantastic."
He left the Valley for a seven year stint in the Air Force, and it was while he was stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin that he somehow acquired the nickname of Rip. "I really don't know how it came about, but a buddy of mine started calling me Rip, and I guess it just stuck."
After leaving the Air Force, he returned to the Valley and his boyhood fishing grounds. He worked with the Federal Aviation Association at the Harlingen airport and then got on with Union Carbide in Brownsville. When the plant closed he needed something to do and came across a place in Harlingen that was for sale called Hook Line and Sinker.
He was already making custom rods and thought running a tackle shop might be a good idea. Right after he opened up in 1983 there was a killer freeze. "Oh yeah, my timing was perfect," he said with a wry smile. "That freeze killed a lot of fish, and it sure wasn't good for business, but we survived."
"I didn't really have a business background, so it has been a whale of an education. It is really a good thing Becky (his wife) helped me, or we could never have done it. She is still helping me."
"We have enjoyed it," Becky said. "We have enjoyed all the people."
In this day of mega stores and growing internet sales most small business establishments have been squeezed out of the market, but Rip and Becky managed to keep the shop going with an emphasis on personal service. "Every time one of those big stores opens up you have to find something they don't carry or provide a service that they don't have. There is a niche for it, but there are not many left that are involved strictly with fishing tackle. There are actually only four left, one in Houston, one in Beaumont and one in Corpus Christi, and we are soon to make it three."
Rips love of fishing and knowledge about the sport are certainly appreciated by his many loyal customers. "The guy is an institution," said Pete Moore. "I would try to stop by if I was in town, even if I didn't need anything just to talk to Rip about fishing. Of course, I usually ended up buying something too. I would walk in and say, Ok Rip, what am I going to find that I cannot live without today?"
Captain Fultz said just walking in the well stocked store was sensory overload. "He had every size, every color and every wiggle, and if he didn't have something he would find it for you."
"Where are we going to go to get our rods and reels fixed," said Rick Guerrero. "I am really going to miss the place."
Rip is a renowned craftsman and over the years he has handmade one of a kind rods for anglers who want something special. For years, many of us have driven by his shop on business 77 just south of Ed Carey and seen his truck parked out front and the light on inside as he labored over a custom job.
"I had a customer come in and he really wanted to marry this girl, but he was pretty shy. He asked me if I would make a custom rod for his girlfriend. So we picked out all the colors, and then I asked him what name he wanted. He said I have a request, can you write on there will you marry me? I said sure. Well, he picked it up and sometime later we ran into the couple at a restaurant on the Island. After a brief hello, she announced, I got it and the answer was yes!"
If you are lucky enough to own one of Rip's custom rods, hang on to it because he says he is not making any more. "I think I have already done a lifetime supply. We are also pretty much done with rod and reel repairs, and when the sale gets real busy I don't know if we will even have time for line work."
Rip has hired some folks to help him liquidate all his merchandise, and a special sale will take place October 18-24. "We are going to try and be out of here by the middle of December."
"I am looking forward to doing a little more fishing. I am looking forward to seeing what a Wednesday is like. I am going to check my license and see if I can do Wednesdays," he joked.
"So many people in the Valley depend on Rip and Hook Line and Sinker for all the merchandise they need for bay and blue water fishing," said long time friend and customer Luke Oliver. "With him not having to come in every day he will be able to get out on the bay, and then I'll be able to go out and chase him around and see where he is catching all those fish."
"I am going to miss the people, but I am going to see some of them out on the water, but they better be able to fish on Wednesdays!" laughed Rip.
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore