Jeff Witham, left, poses with his catch from his latest ice-fishing excursion.

Jeff Witham is the owner of Jeff’s Bait and Tackle in Oxford. A few years ago, Witham decided to convert the bottom half of his trailer on Fore Street into a tackle shop. Though this season’s ice hasn’t started coming in, Witham is still excited for another year of fishing and selling bait and ice fishing gear. Witham knows where to look for ice, though: He went ice fishing Tuesday on Hobbs Pond in Paris and said he and a group of friends caught 14 brook trout.

We talk shop.

Has ice fishing always been a part of your life? When did you start going fishing/being outdoors?

I grew up with the outdoors. My grandparents raised me. Every chance my grandfather had, he’d always take me ice fishing, or regular fishing, or hunting.

Do you have any early memories of fishing?

Mostly, when I was a kid, we’d fish after bass, pickerel, perch. I didn’t catch a trout until I was an adult and I went to different spots my grandpa never took me. I was able to fish for trout. We did brook trout fishing in the summer,  but we never went after trout in the winter.


I was going to ask this later, but it makes sense to ask now: What’s your favorite species of fish to catch?

I like going after trout. Rainbow trout are my favorite, but I also like going after brown trout and brookies.

What is it about them that makes you like fishing for them?

They put up a good fight, normally. The colors and the different variety of colors each trout has — they’re a beautiful fish. You’ll catch one rainbow, and then you’ll catch another, and they’re totally different. There’s not one fish that looks alike. I’ve seen rainbows with a red stripe all the way down the side. I’ve seen rainbow trout that are so dark you don’t see any color.

What did you do before you decided to open up the shop, and why did you open up the shop?

Before the shop, I did concert security here and there. Last summer, I did camp security — I did a lot of security. It’s something I enjoy.  At first, I wasn’t thinking of opening. I’m a southern guy at heart. I’m not from the south, but I have a southern appetite. I like eating crawfish. I was like, I’m going to start a crawfish business. I know where to catch a lot of them. And then I’m like, I have a better idea. Let’s turn this into a bait and tackle shop. At first, it was full-blown summer and winter. Now we’re strictly just winter because there’s not much business in the summer.


When you first decided to open up, did you face any challenges?

Figuring out what people wanted, from gear to finding out what they’re favorite brands are — everybody has their preference. The other difficulty was trying to find wholesalers. That’s not always easy. Some wholesalers want you to be brick and mortar, which means you have to have an establishment, you pay rent at that establishment, and it’s right on the main drag somewhere. Those ones won’t deal with me. I go through a company in Vermont and they love that I’m a small shop and I run it from my house. They were a small business when they first started.

Do you have any plans to expand? What’s the future for the shop?

That’s tossed up in the air. It depends on how the winter goes, depends if we make a profit this year or take a loss. We’d like to expand. I’d love to open another location, but that could be a couple of years down the road.

Do you ever feel like you’re living the dream? Like you’re doing something a lot of people would be jealous of? 

I have a lot of people that say, “I want your job.” They don’t realize how much energy that gets put into this. It can either be a very slow business depending on the weather or very face-paced, you’re getting a customer every few minutes. You never know. Our best days are Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If it’s a crummy weekend out, we have no one coming in. It’s a great job, it’s fun, it’s a lot of hard work. If you own a bait shop, you don’t get to go fishing as much you want to. If I could, I’d be fishing every single day. On the average week, I’m hitting the ice one or two times a week.


What’s some of the essential gear that you bring out with you every time you go fishing?

You always need an augur or a chisel. I bring my Jaw Jackers (a battery-powered base for a jig pole that does the work for the anglers) with me. My favorite jig is an Impulse Minnow for brook trout and rainbows. An ice scoop, unless you want to use your hands.

You’ve been fishing for four weeks now, almost a month?

I’m going on five (weeks). I’m a risk-taker. I’ll go out on ice other people won’t go on.

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