Having a business infested by worms and maggots is typically not the best calling card, but then, Jerry Beppu, owner-operator of Linc's Bait & Tackle on Rainier Avenue, is an atypical merchant.
"I guess maggots would be kind of a strange item to carry, but fishermen use a lot of them," says Beppu, his wife Maria by his side on a 97-degree scorcher of a day. "Trout like maggots."
For Beppu, it's not about what sort of delicacies might lure humans to his counter, but what lures humans might use to reel in various sea species that, once captured, feel right at home in a frying pan. And at Linc's, the pre-eminent candidates for such treatment are squid, elusive creatures which are in abundance at night and in cold weather, with mainly Japanese- and Italian-American anglers seeking them out.
"Most of those guys like calamari," Beppu explains. "Caucasians know what calamari is, but a lot of them don't know how to fix it. It's flash cooking."
Beppu's bait shop has stood, virtually unchanged by time, on the outskirts of Little Saigon for 57 years. It was back then that his father, Lincoln, a Japanese immigrant who ran Togo's Tackle Shop at Third and James downtown before being interned during World War II, first opened the eponymous storefront. But even before then, the elder Beppu is widely credited for being a pioneer in both the Northwest squid fishing and Japanese-American angling communities.
In the '30s, Japanese fishermen were not allowed to compete in derbies favored by whites, so Beppu started his own derby on Elliott Bay, which would eventually morph into the popular 63-year-old Tengu Blackmouth Derby. (Tengu is "the Pinocchio of Japan," says Maria. "As his tales grow taller, so do the fish.") It was there that the reels of derby participants started stumbling across squid.
"My dad actually started the squidding craze," says Jerry Beppu. "When they were fishing the Tengu, they started catching squid on their herring They had no squid jigs whatsoever here, so we called down to California, and before we knew it, we were moving 5,000 [jigs] a year."
Whereas Beppu once employed a staff of six at Linc's, he and his wife are now the store's lone employees. But the squidding niche is still plenty good to the couple, with New York–area fishermen making a point to swing by and purchase a floating jig that is sold at a considerably higher rate back east. Maybe they know how to prep their calamari a little better over there. &mdash Mike Seely — 501 Rainier Ave. S., 324-7600.