The worm truck came from a wholesaler in Ohio that gets the Canadian night crawlers from a guy up in Canada, who everyone knows is a legit Canadian. “Because he said ‘eh’ a lot,” Dwight said.
From 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, seven days a week, Dwight Yingling is selling worms, minnows, grubs and maggots from the North Park Bicycle, Bait, and Tackle shop, at the intersection of Kummer and E. Ingomar.
“This is not an easy business. Bait shops are like bakeries. Everything has to be fresh. Worms don’t go stale. But they do die. And that’s as stale as it gets.”
Dwight has been working at the bait shop for a long time. “My whole life,” he said. His dad bought the place in the 1940s and Dwight bought the place from his dad in 1995. There are rows of bicycles parked outside that you can rent for $7 an hour, $30 a day or $79 for the entire week. He also buys bicycles, sells bicycles, repairs bicycles.
He sells ice, too, but not as much as he used to. “No one really has big parties anymore. At least, not big keg parties that require a lot of ice. Do you know how much a keg of beer is these days? It’s ridiculous.”
And worms. “There’s a guy coming in today to pick up a flat of worms. That’s 500 night crawlers,” he said. “How many do I sell weekly? Oh, let’s see… there’s two, two, two – easily five flats. So, 2,500 night crawlers. And red worms? At least 1,000 a week. You should see this place for the first couple of weeks during trout season. I’ll sell 10 times that many worms. It’s outrageous.”
The worms are kept in a worm cooler that sits underneath a Pepsi sandwich board with chalk messages scrawled across it. “NORTH PARK LAKE OPEN YEAR-ROUND FISHING. Yes, we have butter worms!”
“Butter worms are like big, wax worms. They come from South America. Not Chile, somewhere down in South America. They live in trees, unlike our grubs that live in the ground. To ship them in, you have to nuke them with radiation so that they don’t reproduce. They’re expensive. Like, five bucks for a dozen. Trout love ‘em. And trout fishermen love ‘em because they hold on the hook better, and you can usually catch a trout and use the same worm to catch another trout.”
There are also fishing lures and fishing rods and bamboo fishing nets, rows of bins filled with fluorescent bobbers in pinks and yellows and greens and oranges, oars and life preservers and Styrofoam bait buckets, Captain Dan’s Erie Dearie fishhooks and a container filled with nail clippers. “For cutting fishing line,” he said. “They’re easier than scissors or knives.” There are bags of Funyons and Doritos and Cheetos and Goldfish, Snickers and Starburst and M&M’s and Skittles. There are two oscillating fans blowing, a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” sign hanging, and a 250-gallon minnow tank gurgling.
“I clean it every day,” he said, scooping out the dead minnows with a small net. “I’ll throw them into the creek out back for snapping turtles and snakes.”
Dwight never loved to fish. “I like to fish,” he said. “And I hate fly fishing. What do you mean, it looks majestic? So does holding a spinning reel with a beer in your hand. Fishermen get so mad. They come in here and say, “I didn’t catch anything.’ And I’ll say, ‘It’s not called catching. It’s called fishing.’ Why get all aggravated over something that’s supposed to be relaxing and fun? But yeah, some of them get so mad. They’ll say, ‘There’s no fish out there.’”
What Dwight loves is to live and breathe every day. “Or, do nothing and relax,” he said.
Which he can’t do in the spring or summertime. Not when guys are buying 500 worms. Not when the worm truck is coming twice a week. Not when people are renting bicycles for $7 an hour. “Come hell or high water, I will close at the beginning of November. It really slows down around October. People are back to school. Hunting. Playing football. And there are hardly any ice fishermen around here.”
It’s one o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. There’s a kid with neon orange shorts and bare feet checking out a fishing rod that he wants really, really badly; a man looking to buy a new rim who isn’t sure if he has a seven speed or a nine speed; and one of Dwight’s regulars, who just wants to rent a bike.
“Seven bucks is worth it,” the guy said. “Better than having a cardiac arrest.”
“See,” Dwight said, handing him his change. “I’m better than your doctor.”