Fiddler’s Bait Shop passes the torch to Wiggler’s Live Bait and Tackle

Fiddler’s Bait Shop sat empty for the first time in over 30 years last week, as the shop was bought out by Carl Hexom, who opened Wiggler’s Live Bait and Tackle in the back of his bar, Crazy Carl’s Silver Dollar Saloon. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

While the jigs, line, poles and other fishing accessories were added last week and made available for purchase, Hexom was still getting the water tank installed. He said it should be up and running by Wednesday, Jan. 22. (Photo by Audrey Posten)


By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor


For over 30 years, Fiddler’s Bait Shop—located at the corner of Ann Street and Seventh Street in McGregor—has been the go-to bait stop for locals and visitors alike heading out on the river. However, last week, Fiddler’s sat empty, its mementos boxed up, its inventory gone and moved to Crazy Carl’s Silver Dollar Saloon on Main Street, where bar owner Carl Hexom will carry on the Fiddler’s tradition through Wiggler’s Live Bait and Tackle.


“It’s been quite an experience,” Paul Fiddler said of the bait shop’s run. “I’ve made a lot of friends from pretty much all over the world. There were people from Germany and Japan up here.”


Fiddler said he had tried to convince Hexom to buy out the bait shop for at least the last two years. Initially, Hexom said he wasn’t big on the idea.


“I said, ‘Why do I want it? How long has it been since you went fishing? If I buy it, I’ll never get to go fishing,’” Hexom recalled.


While owning the bait shop allowed Fiddler to meet a lot of people and hear a lot of stories, he said the major drawback was that he didn’t get to enjoy the hobby he helped facilitate.


“It’s pretty confining,” Fiddler said of the hours, which were from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. “You’re here every day—holidays and everything.”


It was Fiddler’s talk about “beer-to-go” that finally got Hexom’s attention.


“The final straw was that he said I could sell as much beer-to-go as live bait,” Hexom said. “Then I was like, ‘hmm.’ That was the deciding factor.”


Hexom said the name Wiggler’s Bait and Tackle pays homage to both Fiddler’s and the Wiggle Inn, which was once located near the bar. Moving forward, Hexom said keeping those traditions alive will be a big part of his business.


“Some local people were in shock and were like ‘now what?’ They like the small-town atmosphere and bait shop. They knew right where to go,” Hexom said. “I want to change as little as possible. We’ll keep the same supplies and stock and just add a few things.”


Staying small is especially important to Hexom.


“It’ll stay small so that you can get in and out and get to fishing,” he said. “Most people have busy lives. Some only get to fish now and again. This will be a place to stop and get everything all in one stop.”


That one stop not only includes bait and fishing supplies, but also beer and pop-to-go, coffee and a place to relax and share stories or to wait for a fishing buddy. Wiggler’s will keep the same hours as Fiddler’s, opening at 6 a.m. each day and closing at 6 p.m.


However, the new location won’t come without a few changes, most notably a bit of a price increase. While Hexom said the fact that he is running Wiggler’s out of his bar cuts down on overhead, he now has to take into account additional electric and water fees. The bait shop is located in the back of the Silver Dollar, in what was once the kitchen. (The Silver Dollar will still serve some food, just on a smaller scale.) While the jigs, line, poles and other accessories have already been hung in that area and are available for purchase, Hexom had to install a water tank. Unlike at Fiddler’s, where the water went straight from a well into the tank, at Wiggler’s, city water will be used, so a filter and chilling system had to be installed. The tank was not yet up and running last week, but Hexom said it would be ready to go by Wednesday, Jan. 22, by the time his bait arrived.


Hexom also has plans to offer more services at his bait shop, including, at some point, guided ice fishing tours. A fish cleaning station will be available for travelers who might not be able to take care of their fish at their hotel or bed and breakfast. Hexom would also like to become more involved in the Sny Magill Ice Fisheree, and maybe put together or sponsor a few tournaments, or even a kids derby day.


“Maybe mom has two kids, but she doesn’t fish,” Hexom explained. “I could show them the spots and the safe way to fish. That’s the best part.”


While he knows the new location will take some getting used to for some people, Hexom said he’s received a lot of support and is looking forward to the new venture.


“The fishing stories are always good,” Hexom said, referring to one of the things he is most excited about. “I hope to see an increase in business for the Silver Dollar and the bait shop and meet some new customers who will come in now. It’s been well-received and I think people are happy to have a bait shop in town.”


As for Fiddler, he said he will keep track of Wiggler’s.


“I’d like to see what he does,” Fiddler said of Hexom. “I hope he makes a go of it.”

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