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A sucker for seafood

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 5, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Bill Trappman is good at a lot of things, but lying isn't one of them.

"Fishing? I don't know nothing about fishing," the bait shop owner said with a wink. "You need to go talk to somebody else."

Son Eric, the man behind Trappman's fish box, also is tighted-lipped when it comes to sharing angling information.

"That's my father's department," the younger Trappman said. "You are going to have to talk to him."

But the Trappmans have one weakness: seafood. They love to catch it, clean it, sell it and eat it. And if you are willing to sample one of their specialties ... a fresh octopus, for example ... then the tongues start wagging.

"Isn't that the best thing you have ever tasted?" Eric said after a reporter slurped down a hastily microwaved octopod. "I could just eat that all day long."

Then, with loyalties firmly established, the Trappmans were willing to share some of the insider knowledge that has made their Crab Trapp & Shrimp Shack on Gandy Boulevard a St. Petersburg institution for more than 20 years.

"You want to catch fish?" the elder Trappman said. "It is this simple. Fish an hour and a half before high water and an hour and a half after high water. That's it. You will catch all the fish you want."

Trappman knows the waters of Tampa Bay about as well as anyone. He started off emptying the commercial net boats in Salt Creek when he was 11. He made his living on the water until Uncle Sam sent him to Korea. But fortunately for Trappman, the shooting had stopped.

"All we did was hunt and fish around this little village out in the middle of nowhere," Trappman said. "It was like one big hunting and fishing club."

When he returned from Korea, he resumed fishing for a living.

"Back then, we had days when we couldn't strike the mullet because the redfish were so thick," he said. "And there were so many mullet, you would stop the boat alongside a school and you could hear them roar as they moved along the shore."

But it didn't take long for the developer's dredge to wreak havoc with his precious bay.

"If you had seen it then, there was nothing but mangroves and oyster bars," he said. "They always said that they were going to stop, but you know how money talks. So they kept going until they cut the heart out of Tampa Bay."

Over the years, Trappman has watched as state officials tried to regulate saltwater fisheries.

"It used to be where I could just take my four sons, hop in the boat and go fishing," Trappman said. "Today, there are so many regulations. Sometimes, I just don't think it is worth the effort to go out and catch one fish."

So Trappman spends most of his time talking to children who come into his shop in search of bait.

"It is my policy that kids get free bait," he said. "I'll do anything to get a kid hooked on fishing. My daddy didn't care what I did as long as I still went fishing because he knew if a kid's fishing, he doesn't have time to get in trouble."

Anglers, especially those at the nearby Gandy Bridge, come into Trappman's place morning, noon and night to buy bait and find out what's biting. Trappman has one rule: tell the truth.

"Fishermen aren't stupid," he said. "I know what I know, and if I can't help them, I'll tell them where to go."

And where's that?

"Mastry's Bait & Tackle, down on Fourth Street South," he said. "I am a bait man, but when it comes to tackle, Dale and Larry know all there is to know."

Trappman sells his share of hooks, sinkers and lures, but the bulk of his business is bait.

"I know that may sound crazy, sending customers to somebody who you could say is my competition," Trappman said.

"But I am just being honest. It has always worked for me."

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