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Vol 5 No. 27- March 23, 2005

The Best Little Tackle Shop in Florida

By Rusty Chinnis

Bill and Jennifer Lowman loved the waters of Manatee County from the moment they saw them in 1980. They were also avid anglers, but didn’t know anything about the area and places to fish. Sensing the need to inform anglers of the area’s opportunities, and using their businesses, Lowman Publishing and Manatee Graphics, they published fishing maps of Man-atee County, Lake Manatee and other local destinations.

The response was so great that they created a magazine called Fishing Manatee Monthly that was eventually expanded to include Sarasota. The Lowmans were responsible for the whole production from selling ads to distribution.

It was about this time in the late 80s that they realized that Anna Maria Island didn’t have a full service tackle shop. Soon after, they opened Island Discount Tackle at the Anna Maria Island Center.

PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS

Above: John Huber holds a native rainbow trout
that took a dry fly on the Big Wood River near
Ketchum, Idaho. Left: a fresh coat of snow
covers one of the many ranges
in the Sawtooth Range.

The business has always been a family business. Jennifer still works there every day doing all the paper work, keeping the books and even occasionally counting out shrimp. Their second son, Greg, was born the year they opened the shop in 1988 and, according to Lowman’s customers, they still remember oldest son, Aaron, when he ran the cash register but could hardly see over the counter.

"I always kept an eye on him", says Lowman.

"Customers couldn’t believe he could actually make correct change, but he was right nine times out of 10."

Aaron, a sophomore in college, still works at the shop about 20 hours a week. Greg, a junior at Manatee High School, creates all the flies, jigs and lures that bear the Island Discount Tackle label.

The Lowmans also managed to keep their hands in publishing while running the shop and raising their new family. They produced a newspaper (with a circulation of 10,000) called "Fishing the Islands," which covered the angling opportunities on the Island. After five years, the paper gave way to a series of tournaments that took the "Fishing the Islands" name.

From the beginning, the tournament benefited the Anna Maria Island Community Center.

According to Lowman, "The Center had a small tournament that was fun, but was never successful at raising money. We took them under our wing with the understanding that the funds raised would go to kids’ sports programs. In nine years we raised in the neighborhood of $100,000."

The tournament included some innovations that weren’t seen in other events, including an inshore and offshore category, live release for inshore fish, and big prize money for the different divisions.

While the tournament was a terrific success, after a few years it seemed the prize money and winning became the focus of the event, instead of having fun.

"We decided to take a hiatus," says Lowman. "We wanted to rethink the tournament and see if we couldn’t bring it back to the concept we originally had, a fun tournament that raised money."

In 2000, after 12 years at the Anna Maria Island Center, the Lowmans had the opportunity to purchase a building at 23rd Street and Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach. Just two years after relocating the business to the new address, they were approached by the Milt May family, who had recently purchased Captain’s Marina in Anna Maria. Soon after, they opened their second store at the newly named Catcher’s Marina.

"It was a terrific opportunity," says Lowman, "but it put a big strain on the family running two businesses while raising a family. We were so impressed with the way the Mays turned the marina around that, when we had an offer to sell our Bradenton Beach property and consolidate our efforts on Anna Maria, we jumped at the chance."

When I asked Lowman about rumors of a new Anna Maria fishing tournament, he responded with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. "The "Fishing the Islands" Tournament is a part of Island history, but we’re lending our support and expertise to the Anna Maria Island Community Center Fishing Tournament this year. The tournament will be held on Father’s Day weekend, and it will have a whole new focus."

The Lowmans aren’t sure if their sons will want to take over the business one day, but right now that’s down the road, according to Lowman.

"It’s too early to tell," he says "but we’re happy here and have a long-term lease. We don’t plan on going anywhere for a long time. We think we have the best little tackle shop in Florida."

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