After 12 years, ‘Big Bob’ closes his tackle shop

Bob Stickles will close his bait and tackle shop in Gainesville Tuesday, July 31. After that, he said, he plans to be “out on the water two or three days a week.” Times photo / Sue Ann Jones

After 12 years of selling fishing gear in Gainesville, Bob Stickles on Tuesday is closing his store, Big Bob’s Bait & Tackle. His plan is to retire – again.
He opened the store in 2006, a year after moving to Ozark County with his first wife, Maxine. Maryland natives, the two had been high school sweethearts. Bob played football at the University of Maryland, but he got hurt and had to skip a semester. “And then I got a draft notice,” he said.
He went to Officer Candidate School and became an Army officer, serving from 1967 until 1976, including a tour in Vietnam. He and Maxine lived in several places during his service, including North Carolina and Georgia; he then ended his military service as a captain stationed at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska. He and Maxine stayed in Alaska, spending 31 years there.
During his time there, the governor appointed him colonel of the Alaska State Troopers, the state’s top law enforcement officer. He held the political appointment for five years, until a new governor was elected. Then he ran his own sport-fishing guide business out of Talkeetna, Alaska, an operation that included “five big jet boats and several guides,” he said.
When Maxine developed rheumatoid arthritis, doctors told her “the only thing we could do was get to a warmer climate,” Bob said. As they pondered their choices, he said, “Maxine wanted four seasons, and I wanted good hunting and fishing.” They also wanted a “reasonable cost of living,” he said.
They first visited Ozark County in 2002 and came back the next two years. “We came one week at a time, in the fall and summer. The time we visited in the summer, it wasn’t that hot – in the 80s. We thought that was great,” he said, laughing one day last week when the temperature outside his store soared into the mid-90s.
He says now, “If you’re going to be in Missouri, you might as well be in Ozark County.”
And although he enjoyed the plentiful hunting and fishing opportunities in Alaska, he’s happy here, he says, noting there is no bass or walleye in Alaska.
They moved here in 2005, settling into a house on Highway 181 a couple of miles from the Caney Mountain Conservation Area. “We thought we were retired,” Bob said.
But then Bob got bored. “And there was no place here to buy fishing tackle. You had to go to Mountain Home,” he said. “I told [the late] Bob Bryant that Gainesville needed a good fishing tackle store. He said, ‘I don’t think it’ll work, but you might as well try it.’”
Bob opened his first store in 2006 two doors down from his present location on Third Street west of the square. Then he bought and moved into his current building. In his 12 years in business, there have been highs and lows, he said. “The highs are getting to talk about fishing all the time, getting to talk to people and getting a lot of good input. A lot of people don’t even know my last name. They just know me as Big Bob,” he said, adding that the lows have been “the high-water times and the winter months.”
The same year Bob opened the store, Maxine also came out of retirement when she was diagnosed with brain cancer and they needed insurance. She joined the staff at Century Bank of the Ozarks and worked there until she retired again in March 2013, eight months before she died.
Bothered by a bad knee, Bob recently lost 60 pounds and is working to lose 20 more so he can have knee-replacement surgery. He says he skips breakfast and eats “a bowl of soup for lunch and a salad at night.”  
He has run big sales in the last few weeks and says most of the merchandise will be gone by the time he closes the doors of his store on Tuesday.
The building is for sale, and so is the house on Highway 181, where he now lives with his current wife, Ruth. She has family in Mountain Home, and they may decide to move down there, he said.
He’s looking forward to his next retirement. “July 31 is my last day, and then they’ll see me out on the water,” he said. “I plan to be out on the water two or three times a week.”

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