Mates Buddy and Janie Poindexter run a colorful live bait shop a mile north of the Cumberland River in Gallatin. Poindexter’s Bait Shop was begun in 1965 by Buddy’s grandfather, Jim.
KEN BECK / The Wilson PostFamily business deals in minnows, worms, crickets, fish tales and friendships
By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post
GALLATIN -- Buddy and Janie Poindexter have got worms but in the best of ways.
They operate Poindexter’s Bait Shop in Gallatin and sell night crawlers by the thousands to fishermen and other bait stores. They also peddle minnows and crickets by the zillions. Live bait has been the foundation of this business that Buddy’s grandfather, Jim, initiated 44 years ago. They’ve served three generations of fishing families during the decades.
“It started right there on the wood floor in 1965,” said Buddy, 49, as he points to a front section of the shop where the surface turns from concrete to wood. “We all grew up here (Buddy and his brothers Allen and Charlie). I started working for my granddad in 1971. When my dad got it, I worked for him.
“I went to school at the University of Tennessee and earned a degree in finance. I got out and thought I wanted to wear a tie and work in an office. I found out right quick it was far better to run around in a T-shirt doing something I liked. And that’s what I did.”
Poindexter’s Bait Shop Where: 1380 S. Water Street (Highway 109), GallatinPhone: 615-452-7550Hours: 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 5:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday The bait shop sits on the west side of Highway 109 about one mile north of the Cumberland River bridge that connects traffic between Sumner and Wilson counties. There’s nothing distinctive about the store front, but once inside the door, the world of fishing and hunting comes to life in vivid color via the variety of supplies for anglers and those who handle gun and bow.
And if you hit the place early enough in the morning, tales from the back of the store will perk up your ears and make you yearn to be prowling through the great outdoors. The true stories, yarns and exaggerated anecdotes often come from the lips of Bill Wooten, Doug Neely, Ken Hesson and Clay Rittenberry, all familiar faces at what has become their hang-out. Buddy’s father, Floyd, is also generally in on the storytelling, as he and his wife Betty ran the business from 1975 to 2000.
“Dad had a few sinkers and floats and hooks and stuff. He sold shrubs, rocking chairs and that kind of thing, along with the bait, when he started,” Floyd said. “I came here in 1974, after 20 years in the printing business. He hinted around that he needed some help. The business had outgrown him. He had gotten into the wholesale bait business as well as retail. He sold bait to bait shops at boat docks and to people who sold bait from their homes. They would come buy from him from several counties away. They talked him into rigging up a truck and running a route and supplying them.”
Today, the Poindexter Bait Company supplies live bait to approximately 75 bait shops across 10 Tennessee counties. That includes Lebanon Hunting and Fishing where Rhonda Bonner serves as manager.
“They bring live bait in here twice a week during the summer, everything from minnows, crickets, worms, goldfish and shiners to cut shad and chicken livers,” said Bonner, who has been purchasing bait from the Poindexters for 12 years.
“Floyd is great with people and outgoing, and Buddy is the same way. He’s always been good to me and tries to help me.”
Floyd Poindexter, nicknamed “Bait Man,” smiles from behind a box of 500 night crawlers. He delivered tons of worms, minnows and crickets over three decades to numerous small bait shops in Middle Tennessee and made hundreds of friends along the way.
Father and son Floyd and Buddy Poindexter take a peak at their cavernous cage full of crickets. Poke your head too close and your nose will get a case of the stinky wrinkle.
Buddy Poindexter scoops up his bread and butter from an aquarium, live minnows that have his customers dreaming of catching the big one.On a hot Friday in late June, Jimmy Hartfield of Franklin drops into the shop to ask for directions. He plans to do some cut fishing by the Gallatin Steam Plant in a week or so, and he spreads out a map so that Buddy can show him the spot he is looking for.
“It’s easygoing here. We want to do everybody a good job,” Buddy said. “We probably saved a lot of kids from flipping burgers. They’ve boxed worms for us over the years. Everyone generally comes in here happy because they’re going fishing or hunting or just got back from hunting and fishing and did well.”
Parents Floyd and Betty sold the store to sons Allen and Buddy in 1999, and Allen bowed out a few years back to spend more time with his son, Justin, 15, who now works part-time at the store boxing worms and performing other chores, making him the fourth-generation Poindexter to work here.
Chris Brock and Aaron Hickson also help clerk, while Larry Moore drives the bait truck, and Janie serves as bookkeeper.A small aluminum tray that looks almost like an ashtray lies on the counter. Buddy calls it his “bait checker,” as he can easily dump a dozen worms from a box of goop and display his live goodies.
“I show ’em what worms they’re getting. I always believed you could sell more bait by showing rather than by hiding it,” he said from his stool behind the counter. He wears work boots, blue jeans, a T-shirt, suspenders, glasses and short-cropped hair.
Four aquariums parked beside the front window swarm with minnows swimming in aqua-blue waters. They sell by size: small run $1.25 a dozen; medium, $1.50; large, $2; and shiners, $5.
On the opposite side of the store, crickets chirp and emit a stinky odor from their crowded home inside a wooden box with a glass observation window. They are scooped up and measured by the tube full. Close the door and the odor and chirps cease.
An old yellow fridge a few feet from the front counter holds, not Buddy’s lunch, but meal worms, night crawlers, red worms, chicken and turkey livers, shad, cut shad, shad guts and skip jack. These are beloved by fishermen for they are the means by which they daydream of snaring the big ones.
While the best sellers are minnows, worms and crickets, in that order, the Poindexter Bait Shop offers rods, reels, cane poles, nets, sinkers, hooks, swivels, stringers, cricket boxes, minnow buckets and bobbers by the hundreds in red, white and yellow. Shelves brim with gobs of artificial lures bearing such brand names as Rebel, Heddon, Rapala, Bomber and Strike King, and rubber worms come in a rainbow of colors.
Since the Poindexters serve hunters as well as fishermen, there is ammunition, hunting and archery supplies, camouflage clothing and other paraphernalia for the outdoorsman as well as snacks, soft drinks, candy and gum.
Posted on the bulletin board in a corner are photos of fisherman with their catches, information about fishing tournaments and a notice of a squirrel dog pup for sale at $75.
A batch of mounted whoppers reside along the top of one wall. They were caught by various fishermen. One is a 56-pound rockfish tugged out of nearby Old Hickory Lake, a state record catch at the time.
Floyd is most proud of two 5-pound smallmouth bass that Betty caught in back-to-back casts at Center Hill Lake years back.
A couple of deer head are mounted near the back corner where a wood-burning stove heats the store in wintertime. “The board meetings are held back here,” Floyd joked.
While Buddy trolls the front counter, Floyd gives a short guided tour of the operation. Plunging from plus-90-degree temperature into a 42-degree walk-in cooler behind the shop, he shows the temporary home for about a quarter of a million worms. The slimy, wiggly creatures are packed 500 to a box.
Another building possesses 12 concrete tanks running about 8 to 20 feet long. They’re brimming with about 100 pounds of minnows called tuffies or fatheads and shiners. Fatheads, or tuffies, as they are sometimes called, are their best sellers. One more building holds boxes of crickets, at 1,000 per box.
A truck delivers the fish, insects and annelids two to three days a week to smaller bait stores. “It’s just like buying produce,” Floyd said of live bait. “You can’t buy it and hold it. The crickets, 6 to 7 weeks old, come by mail, and you’ve got two days to sell them.”
Across three decades, Floyd toted tons of minnows, worms and crickets to customers as he drove the bait truck. “There were a lot of bait shops 25 years ago, lots of people who sold bait from their basements and garages, but they’ve mostly gone away,” he says with a gleam of fondness for the old days.
Tougher tax laws, government restrictions and death took away many of his long-time clients, the friends who called him such nicknames as “Bait Man,” “Wormy,” “Cricket” and “Minnow” through the years. Floyd’s recollections led him to self-publish a book, “Bait Man Down the Road,” about the colorful characters he met along life’s highway.
The Poindexter Bait Shop has remained a successful family business for many reasons. They know their bait, but they’ve created a place with personality where customers get personal service, friendly handshakes, genuine smiles and free fishing tips.
“This is like a home place for a lot of people,” said Janie, who has been married to Buddy for 15 years.
“I was a hairdresser in Nashville for 13 years. The ladies liked to freak out when I told them, ‘I’m gonna go play with the minnows, worms and crickets,’ ” Janie said, abetted by the fact that her daddy was a fisherman.
For 30 years the Poindexters put on a big feast the opening day of gun season and would feed about 300 of their customers. The tradition stopped two years back.
“Buddy’s Mama started it as an appreciation for the people who come in here,” Janie said. “I’d cook three deer roasts, and she’d cook three. We‘d make barbecue, potato salad, pork and beans, turnip greens, cornbread and banana pudding.”
Um-umh! Man, you just don’t find many bait shops with spreads like that.
For Buddy, their bait business is in a groove that he finds perfectly to his liking, even though time rarely presents enough of itself for long vacations.
“I used to go fishing every Monday, but now it’s hard for me to go more than once or twice a month,” said the farm-pond angler.
“Daddy told me it could always be worse. I asked him, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘We could be milking cows.’
“This has been a good place to grow up,” said Buddy, who must have as many friends as there are minnows swishing through the aquariums. And he knows where he can fetch fresh live bait for free, a bonus not to be taken for granted by any man who loves to fish.
Contact writer Ken Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.