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Eugene will lose one of its treasures when Baxter closes shop.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard

PUT A RED SUIT and white whiskers on Doug Baxter, and you've got Santa Claus.

No need for a pillow - Baxter's already got the jolly physique, as well as the twinkle in the eye.

It's easy to think of Baxter in the role of Santa Claus because he's mastered the art of gift-giving.

Instead of trinkets and stocking-stuffers, however, Baxter has given the gift of knowledge.

For 15 Christmases now - and during all the months scattered among them - Baxter has been giving away knowledge about fishing techniques and gear to anglers and would-be anglers who stop by the Eugene tackle shop he runs with his wife, Ellen.

But this will be the last Christmas for Baxter's Custom Tackle, located in a former gasoline service station at 777 W. Sixth Ave.

Baxter, 67, and Ellen are retiring. Their shop will close for good Dec. 31, when the building lease expires.

"We've been at this for 15 years, six days a week, 10 hours a day," Ellen Baxter said. "That's long enough. We could have stayed another year or two ... but we thought `It's time to do something else while we still can.'

"Doug's got projects, and he wants to fish more, and I've got projects I want to work on. And we've got grandkids we want to spend more time with."

So one of Oregon's few remaining "mom and pop" tackle shops is holding one last sale. Most tackle is "25 percent off." Rods and reels are being sold at cost.

After Baxter's closes, anglers will be able to find other places to buy fishing gear.

But the rest of what Baxter's Custom Tackle has provided to the local angling scene won't be replaced so easily.

Like that knowledge Doug's been giving away.

Talking every week to several fishing guides and dozens of ordinary anglers, Baxter always has a pretty good handle on what's biting where, and which techniques are working best.

He's been sharing that information via fishing reports delivered in a folksy, down-home style on this newspaper's dial-up information service, GuardLine. His reports will end when the shop closes.

Baxter's Custom Tackle also has sponsored the National Weather Service's "river level report" on GuardLine. Between the fishing report and the river level report, "we usually get over 4,000 calls a month," Ellen Baxter said.

Some people, however, can't catch anything even if they know where the fish are biting and if they have everything they need in their tackle box, because they don't know how to use it properly.

"Oh, man, I would estimate that in the last 15 years I've probably had 3,000 people come in here and ask me to show them how to get started," Baxter said. "We've had people drive here from Portland and Medford because we set 'em up correctly.

"I've set up salmon fishermen who've fished every day for a month without catching anything, and they'll start catching fish."

People come to Baxter's shop for the tackle, but also to pick up knowledge that's hard to find from clerks at "big box" retail outlets, or when buying gear over the Internet.

"You can't hire somebody for minimum wage and expect them to know much," Baxter said of the big chain stores.

Much of what Baxter knows about fishing for trout, salmon and steelhead was given to him when he was a youngster by "an 80-year old man who showed me what to do and how to do it."

Doug Baxter's knowledge store also includes just about everything there is to know about the inner workings of a fishing reel.

"He's one of those people who gets something and has to check out how it works," Ellen said.

As a result, Doug's an expert reel repairman.

"I've been helping build reels and rods since clear back in the '50s," Baxter said. He worked with the Berkeley and Shakespeare tackle companies for a while, and most recently has been associated with Zebco/Quantum. Baxter's shop has been one of Zebco's "super centers" for reel repairs.

Baxter also claims responsibility for at least two innovations in rod and reel design - one that helped Berkeley produce stronger two-piece rods and one that led to the use of one-way bearings in fishing reels.

"Every reel in the country has one-way bearings in them now," Baxter said. "Before, they had `anti-reverse' systems that broke all the time."

The closure of Baxter's Custom Tackle will leave Chuck's Rod and Reel Service on Main Street in Springfield as the only Eugene-Springfield tackle shop offering reel repairs.

"We're hanging in there," said co-owner Joy Haynes, whose husband, Chuck, does the repair work. "We intend to be here."

The Baxters, after a little traveling, will be around here, too. Doug's looking forward to sharpening his bass-fishing skills enough to allow him to be competitive in some of the tournaments.

He says he knows where some 12- and 13-pound bass are lurking. That knowledge, however, is not even for sale, much less to give away.

Mike Stahlberg is the Register-Guard's outdoor writer. He can be reached at mstahlberg@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 19, 2002
Words:853
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