A shark-in-a-box has caught the eye of passing¬†motorists on¬†U.S. 13 south¬†in Odessa for 30 years.
But there’s much more than a fish tale behind the easily recognizable object.
The custom shark mount is the well-known¬†landmark of¬†Captain Bones Bait,¬†Tackle & Hunting, an Odessa¬†institution since 1979.¬†
Owner Patricia “Patty” Naughton¬†Foley was a 25-year-old newlywed when her husband Danny decided to open the family¬†business four decades ago.
Patty, who worked for the DuPont Co. in downtown Wilmington, said she¬†knew nothing about hunting,¬†fishing or crabbing before ringing up her first sale.
“No one in my family at that time fished,” she said.¬†
But Danny, a union pipefitter whose nickname was “Captain Bones,”¬†had a lifelong love of the water. Crabbing, trapping muskrat, fishing and hunting waterfowl were among his passions.¬†¬†
At the advice of his mother, ¬†Elizabeth “Lib” Foley, Danny bought a piece of land in Odessa. The¬†bait and tackle shop,¬†built by members of the Coleman family,¬†sits near the¬†Appoquinimink River, which¬†flows¬†to the Delaware Bay.
Danny initially envisioned the shop as a place where his late father¬†G. Lawrence “Pop” Foley could work¬†after retiring¬†as a pipefitter.
But Danny’s¬†father¬†was already busy with his own plans, Patty said, so the couple ran the store¬†themselves.
Captain Bones soon became¬†a gathering place for beginning and seasoned anglers¬†from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey who¬†eat, breathe and live fishing.¬†
They stop in¬†to purchase fishing¬†licenses, swap stories and stock up before trips¬†to Woodland or Augustine beach or¬†Cape Henlopen and the Indian River Inlet.¬†
“Wife says if I go fishin’ one more time, she will leave me,” reads a¬†sign near the register. “God, I will miss her.”
It’s a hobby that appeals to all ages.
“It’s still a nice leisurely thing to do, and it’s not too expensive,” said Patty Foley,¬†adding the¬†recent spring break holiday brought¬†in¬†a slew of newcomers.¬†
“A lot of pop-pops and mom-moms are watching the grandchildren and they want to go fishing.”¬†
At Captain Bones, Abby, a tiny, sweet-tempered¬†10-year-old Yorkiepoo, greets visitors at the front door,¬†wags her tail and begs for belly rubs.
Every corner of the store is crammed with merchandise for salt- and freshwater fishing, crabbing and hunting.
Fishing nets, lures, sunglasses and ball caps¬†fill counters and shelves along with rows of¬†rods, reels and¬†white rubber boots. There are¬†buckets of¬†crab mallets for summertime feasts, solid braided trotlines,¬†crab traps, floats¬†and dozens of packages of snelled hooks.
You’ll find bait like bloodworms, which are good if you want to catch saltwater stripers or rockfish as well as perch and¬†whitefish. Those looking to reel in¬†freshwater largemouth bass should¬†use crappies as bait¬†or minnows, as well as¬†artificial lures or spinners. Catfish tend to go for nightcrawlers.
In a glass case at the counter is a¬†huge selection of duck and goose calls.
The Foley children, Sean Foley and Erin Foley¬†Trzcinski, who were raised in the store, still work there when they’re not at their full-time jobs. Sean is a mortgage consultant and Erin is a teacher.
Longtime customer David Wallace has been shopping at Captain Bones¬†“from day one,” though, he said, “it sure doesn’t seem like 40 years.”
Wallace who lives “two¬†minutes” from the store, came in last week for a fishing license.
“I’ve gotten everything from here over the years. It’s convenient,” he said.
Just don’t ask him the best river or¬†creek¬†where the fish are¬†biting.¬†
“I can’t tell¬†you that,” he said, laughing.¬†Guarding a secret¬†spot¬†is as much a part of fishing¬†as telling tales about the one that got away.
Captain Bones¬†is open daily ‚ÄĒ there are no real set hours, they open early and close late ‚ÄĒ¬†and¬†the doors¬†are only locked for major holidays.¬†
Though sometimes, if Patty needs to run an errand, she’ll close down. Her daughter Erin said if longtime customers and neighbors¬†notice the red neon “Open” sign is dark, they’ll pick up the phone and check in.¬†
“I get calls if it’s closed. They say, ‘What’s going on? How’s Patty? Is everything OK?'” said Erin, works in the¬†Appoquinimink School District.¬†¬†
Little has changed over the years. The store still has the same counters, “the same everything,” Patty said, though in recent years they’ve added new products and more clothing.
But, 18 years ago, the Foleys almost closed the store after Danny, then¬†48, died of¬†a brain aneurysm on¬†May 4, 2001, in Christiana Hospital.
His death, which still brings tears to Patty’s eyes, made her question the future. Her children encouraged her to continue¬†Danny’s vision.
“I could not have kept this going after their father passed away without them,” she said, standing on the front porch of the store.¬†“I thought about closing and they said, ‘No, Mom.¬†This pays the bills. This paid for college.'”¬†
One of the few changes is Patty decided to stop cleaning fish for customers and selling fresh clams, shrimp, scallops,¬†and steamed and softshell crabs.
“When Danny passed that was it. I couldn’t do it anymore.”¬†
Sales at Captain Bones depend on the weather. If it’s too windy and too rainy, few want to be outside.¬†
When he first opened, Danny knew he needed a roadside attraction to bring in customers. He¬†used to park his former crab boat outside the business to represent the store.
But in 1989, he had an even better idea. He erected a¬†replica of an 840-pound toothy mako shark that was hauled from a charter boat called the Shamrock by his nephew Richard H. Reed, who then managed the store.
A faded yellow newspaper story about Reed’s catch, which set a Delaware record, is pinned on a wall near the cash register. Reed and his fellow fishermen left from Indian River Inlet in Sussex County to catch the shark.
Danny told The News Journal in 1996 that Reed used a 12-pound bluefish as bait. The state record now for shortfin mako shark is 975 pounds. Reed’s record was broken¬†by Thomas Barnes in 2000.¬†
The mount at Captain Bones was made in Florida with the shark’s exact measurements. (The Delaware anglers¬†ate the meat ‚ÄĒ shark steaks are good eating ‚ÄĒand kept some of the teeth.) A neighbor built the wooden box. Patty said Danny¬†would never¬†tell her how much he spent on the shark mount.¬†
But, a landmark was born and it has stayed in place ever since. And, as Danny envisioned,¬†it’s brought in plenty of curious customers.
“My husband just knew. It wasn’t even a question,” Patty said.
One Christmas, the Foleys added a Santa Claus hat and never removed it.
Now, people say “We’ll meet at the shark,” Patty said. Customers and motorists¬†take photos.
“They pull over and get out. Children have written letters,” she said.
They like that the shark wears the¬†fading Santa Claus hat year-round.¬†It’s going to stay in place.
Just like the shark.
The state Division of Fish & Wildlife conserves and manages Delaware‚Äôs fish and wildlife and their habitats, and provides fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing and boating access on nearly 65,000 acres of public land.
A Delaware fishing license, which must be purchased annually by recreational anglers ages 16 to 64,¬†covers both fresh and tidal waters.¬†The cost of a license at Captain Bones is $11, which includes the¬†$2.50 agent fee.
“Why is this here?” is an occasional News Journal/Delaware Online feature that looks at the history behind curious objects found throughout Delaware.¬†¬†
MORE ‘WHY IS THIS HERE?’
The fun of ‘The Pole Family’ might be its mystery
A red-brick tower is all that remains of former prison in Greenbank Park
Why does a duPont mansion have a stone wall topped with jagged glass shards?
Contact Patricia Talorico at (302) 324-2861 or email@example.com and on Twitter @pattytalorico