WINTHROP — Dave and June Bubier aren’t counting on Social Security to help them in their old age. Seven years ago they opened a bait shop.
One of the best-known bait shops in this part of Kennebec County during ice fishing season, Baker’s Dozen Bait Shop has grown since it opened seven years ago. The small shop in the Bubiers’ backyard is now a year-round business.
June, 66, crafts her multicolored, specialty-order lures. Dave, 59, grows the bait, everything from mealworms to dillies.
The Bubiers are quick to tell you they’re not getting rich. But there’s a lot of homegrown pride in this mom-and-pop shop. If for no other reason than that it’s just that.
How did the Baker’s Dozen Bait Shop start?
DAVE: This was her idea. She wanted something to do in retirement. She makes the lures, like this purple-action rainbow smelt. If you and I go fish Androscoggin Lake and troll, this will outfish your lure 10 to 1. Don’t tell me color doesn’t matter.
So is June a really good fisherman?
DAVE: She has caught bass over 6 pounds.
And you both run the shop, or she does?
DAVE: I grow bait. We grow rabbits just to provide manure to grow crawlers. That’s the only reason. We grow several different kinds of worms: meal worms, wax worms, red worms, dillies, which are half-grown night crawlers, and night crawlers. There’s a lot of fishing in this lakes region.
I’m retired from construction. This is what I do. June retired from the government three years ago.
So you’re the brains behind this operation, June?
JUNE: We’re a team. I wanted to open a bait shop. He does all the plumbing (of the bait tanks). He has all the contacts. It seemed like it would be a good thing after retirement to work at something. I didn’t work for the state for 25 years, so I can’t collect Social Security and my Maine state retirement. In Maine you can’t double dip. If we lived in New Hampshire I could collect both my full Social Security and my full state worker retirement.
You have to do something to supplement your income. He’s disabled. We needed something. We both enjoy people. And we love having the kids in the shop. We hold a free ice fishing derby for kids in the winter.
How do these self-service bait shops that you see around the state work?
DAVE: There is a (locked metal) can outside to put money in. And a coffee can with change, for customers to make change. People help themselves from the tanks. And there are infra-red video cameras. Ninety-nine percent of the people are great.
Have you caught anyone stealing?
DAVE: Yes, one local guy I caught him twice on video stealing without paying. I called him in and showed him the video and said there are two things we can do. I can turn you in or you can never come back. He didn’t. I see him at the grocery store and he says hello and it’s fine. Like I said, 99 percent of the people are great.
Where do you grow the mealworms?
DAVE: (Carrying out a fish tank full of worms that look like maggots) In this tank, they lay their eggs, and the larva (from the mealworm beetle) hatches. People feed them to snakes and use them to fish. I like seeing how they go from one stage to the next. It is something that lasts forever and you have nothing invested.
You call this the lakes region, but Maine has many lakes regions: Sebago, Rangeley, Grand Lake Stream, Belgrade and around the big lakes in The County. What makes this one special?
DAVE: It’s like you have pockets of deer around the state, there are pockets of great fishing. In this lakes region we have Marancook Lake with togue and brook trout fishing; Cobbossee with pike; Androscoggin Lake with brook trout and pickerel. Cobbosee is one of the best bass lakes in New England. And it’s surrounded by good waters: Lovejoy, Cochnewagan, Wilson, Dexter.
JUNE: There are a lot.
So what makes this region special?
DAVE: Sebago is a lake region. We’re a lakes region. (Laughs).
Do you make much money?
DAVE: I don’t think we make minimum wage. But I think if you put 90 hours a week into something, you’ll make some money. We make enough to buy groceries. You don’t get much out of something if you don’t put much into it. We are giving back to our community for supporting us. Rather than spend money on advertisement, we spend it (in derby prizes), and giving away bait. But this puts food on the table. We’re not Cabela’s.
We are the thing that is dying in Maine: the mom-and-pop store, pushed out by the big-box stores.
JUNE: There was a guy who came in here this summer while vacationing. And he said this brought him back to when he was a kid and he used to vacation in Maine and go to the bait shop with his parents.
DAVE: My uncle used to sell bait, two houses down from here, for 32 years. He sold frogs and minnows. People still remember that he’d give them an extra one. You don’t get an extra one at the big-box stores. Plus you get local information here about what’s biting, where the latest stocking was.