By Doreen Leggett
As Riverview Bait and Tackle in Yarmouth celebrates its 50th anniversary, owner Lee Boisvert says the secret to success has been the ability to evolve.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago there were 25 independent tackle shops on the Cape, now there is under half that,” Boisvert said.
The business started at a spot on the Dennis waterfront that also rented boats, moved to a lease across from Sundancer’s on Route 28, then to a purchased spot also on Route 28 stuffed to the gills with rods, reels, lures, hooks, knives and fishing gear galore.
Boisvert’s business plan evolved to compete with the mushrooming of bigger competitors: “We keep the same prices, there is no big savings at the box stores and you get the service here.”
The shop’s inventory shifted as fishermen caught less striped bass and more black sea bass. With the absence of winter flounder, now it’s quieter this time of year; Boisvert remembers 200 people jamming the Bass River Bridge in years past, each catching a five-gallon bucket of flounder.
The arrival of striped bass later in the spring now marks the beginning of the rush.
“Another evolution,” he said.
Even bait has evolved with far less sand lance. Sea worms from Maine have gone up from $1 a dozen to $12. In 2020 alone they went up 30 percent.
“You don’t argue with them up in Maine. They’ll cut you off,” said Boisvert with a smile.
And the clientele has changed. In the 1970s, Greek Canadians, dressed in sports jackets and dress pants, used to come down for weekends, rent out Amesbury dories and fill them with “Tsipoura” – scup. They’d sell their catch in Montreal. Those days are gone.
What hasn’t evolved is Boisvert’s commitment to fishermen and the Cape tradition.
“If you have to buy rod and reel for commercial fishing that is the place to go,” said Ted Ligenza, who has been fishing for close to 40 years. “He has all the stuff.”
Ligenza readily admits fewer commercial fishermen like him handline or use rods and reels, but Boisvert has never left them in the lurch.
“If you need something he makes sure he gets it for you,” Ligenza said. “It’s not like he says, ‘I have more recreational stuff there so I am not going to have this (commercial) sh$t.’”
“He carries a lot of stuff down there that we couldn’t find anywhere,” agreed Mike Anderson, a fellow fisherman.
Boisvert and his crew go out of their way for anyone, Ligenza said. Everyone gets the same service, a family, someone who has fished a lifetime, someone who just started. They could be selling a fluke or scup hook, or a crab trap. They even fix reels.
“Not every type of shop is like that. It’s a friendly place to go,” Ligenza said.
Boisvert says that helping people is why he has stayed all these years:
“That’s the best part of the business, when you can get them to be successful and they are excited about it.”
The shop is open long hours a fisherman needs a bait and tackle shop to be open early and open late
“He’s one of the hardest working people I know. He used to work seven days a week, a minimum of 12 hours a day. Every week – not forty weeks out of the year – every week,” said Captain Glen Legeyt, a longtime customer.
That schedule means doesn’t have a lot of time for fishing though his wife Tori makes sure they find the time. Fishing and shellfishing have always been a part of his life.
“We as a family had been recreationally fishing for years on the Cape,” he said.
It became a family business in 1972 when the owner of Merry Mill Marina, on the Dennis side of Bass River, walked away from his lease on property owned by a Boisvert in-law.
Lee’s dad Cleo, who worked for New England Telephone with the Cape as part of his territory, was only a few years from retirement so took over.
The Boisverts had lived in Dedham, but bought property on Cape in the late 1950s.
Lee, who graduated from Dennis Yarmouth High School, gravitated toward the business and when his siblings went in different directions became more involved. He worked with his mother, Janet, for 15 years when she took a “well-deserved” retirement.
By then it had moved and was renamed Riverview Bait and Tackle.
“This was my forte, the business side of it,” said Boisvert.
The shop is still open year-round and serves a fair amount of tuna fishermen as well as a growing group of recreational freshwater fishermen.
“There are 365 ponds on the Cape, one for every day of the year,” Boisvert said. “I have a lot more local business than tourism.”
The store showcases numerous pictures of award-winning catches. People will drop off photos and he will put them up.
He remembers a picture of a 63-pound bass caught off Provincetown. He didn’t know who the fishermen was.
“The first day a half a dozen people came in and said that is Neil Cordeiro,” he said.
Boisvert will speak up for the recreational fishermen just as quickly as for commercial.
Close to 20 years ago, he teamed up with the late Molly Benjamin (salty fishing columnist for the Cape Cod Times) when the state tried to prohibit fishing off Bass River Bridge.
Boisvert remembers seeing the “No fishing” signs going up and asked state officials what was going on. When they ignored him, Boisvert started a movement and held demonstrations to get the signs down and even enlisted the Dennis police chief at the time, who was a fisherman.
“He said I would be the first one arrested,” Boisvert said with a chuckle.
Three generations of fishermen forced the state to back down, saying the prohibition was only for the channel.
Recently the state held another meeting soliciting input for improvements to the bridge. Boisvert made sure he was there with a reminder:
“Fishing is an historical, traditional use of the bridge and it should not stop,” Boisvert said.
On August 13 Riverview Bait and Tackle is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a party including a casting pool, a food truck, giveaways and more.