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Bait and tackle shop reels them in

With its knowledgeable staff and well-stocked shelves, Bonnie's has area anglers hooked.

Published February 16, 2004

LARGO - For 32 years, Bonnie's Bait & Tackle has been a favorite place for local anglers to learn what fish are biting and the best places to catch them, as well as a place to just pick up enough worms to last an afternoon of fishing.

The shop offers everything from kingfish prism lures to rods and reels, crab traps and live and frozen bait for shore and off-shore fishing.

Kayaks, sailboats, pedal boats and water bikes are new to the store's inventory. And in the next few months, a smokehouse is going up on the property and customers will be able to buy smoked mullet and other smoked fish products.

Owner Jon Golly, 46, said the business still has more growing to do this year.

The kayak division will be expanded, he said. Backwater trips and boat rentals will be added to the list of guided fishing trips.

He's also thinking about creating a larger area to display a retail item that has nothing to do with fish: the orchids, bromeliads, perennials and other plants grown by his father, Ron, a horticulturist and a fisherman.

Bonnie's most avid customers are local anglers, but a number of commercial fishermen hang out to talk about what's going on in the business, said Golly, a Pinellas County native.

The store first opened on Fort Harrison Avenue in 1972 and Golly bought the business in 1987. "I didn't change the name because it was a well-established business," Golly said. Bonnie was a girlfriend of the original owner, he said.

Before buying the business, Golly had worked in the fishing tackle department at Bill Jackson's sporting goods store and had been a commercial fisherman for about 10 years. A fishing enthusiast since his youth, "I know the local waters pretty well," he said.

The business thrived in downtown Clearwater, until several years ago when Publix wanted to build a shopping center on property where Bonnie's was located. Golly found himself searching for new quarters.

He found what he was looking for a couple of miles down the road in Largo.

With 4,000 square feet, the building at 1754 Clearwater-Largo Road is four times the size of the previous store, and sits on an acre and a half of land. Golly expanded his inventory and invested about $75,000 to open in the new building.

Golly's parents have worked with him in the business since he bought it, he said. Janet Golly works in sales and does the bookkeeping, he said. His father also helps with sales.

The store welcomes beginners; the Gollys and two part-time employees can show how to rig the rods and reels for different types of fishing and advise on what baits to use.

Jim Spaugy of Largo moved here 30 years ago from his native Birmingham, Ala., and has been a Bonnie's customer for about 10 years. Depending on the weather, he goes fishing about three times a week, he said.

"I just like being around here," he said of the shop. "It's a good information place."

When not fishing, he's a sales representative for Schaeffer Lubrication Co. of St. Louis, selling oils and lubricants for the marine industry.

Clearwater native Bob Turnburkehas been a regular customer since 1986.

A tile setter and Belleair resident, Turnburke said he has been fishing since he was about 4 years old. He goes salt-water fishing several times a week, he said, and stops by Bonnie's to get live bait and hooks. "Mostly I just catch and release - snook and red fish," he said.

For rods and reels, Golly's prices "are pretty good," he said. "He can't compete with Wal-Mart, but the people working there don't know anything about the equipment and they can't tell you what's biting."

At Bonnie's, everyone is "always helpful," he said. "They know what baits to use and what's biting. It's a nice place to deal with people in the sport."

Bonnie's Bait & Tackle

1754 Clearwater- Largo Road, Largo

A family-owned, full-service retail store with salt- and fresh-water live and frozen bait, fishing tackle for shore and off-shore fishing, kayaks, sailboats, pedal boats and water bikes, boat and RV storage, as well as a guide service for fishing trips locally and around the country.

"They know what baits to use, what's biting and where." Bob Turnburke, a longtime customer and lifelong fisherman.

[Last modified February 16, 2004, 01:31:39]

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