The Crappie Shed

June 5, 2024 NEBRASKAland Magazine

A Sterling bait shop supports its community


Dave Armstrong in his crappie shed.

Photo by Jeff Kurrus, Nebraskaland Magazine

By Tim McNeil

Dave Armstrong can be excused for his boyish enthusiasm for fishing. After all, he was only 10 when he caught a 22-pound carp out of Rotary Island-Optimist Lake, the pond-size lake on the north end of Auburn.

Onlookers watched him drag the beast by a chain stringer through town, and after the 11-block trek back to his house, he was exhausted.

“I cleaned and ate the fish when I got home,” Armstrong remembers.

Armstrong owns the Crappie Shed in Sterling, Nebraska. He opened his first bait shop in Auburn in November 2020 on a whim, when Armstrong and two of his buddies sat in his unattached garage eating fried fish, swapping fish tales and watching a Nebraska Cornhuskers game.

One of his friends said, “You should open a bait shop.”

A week later, Armstrong was selling bait from his garage.

“People were coming and going from my garage every night that fall,” Armstrong said.

He moved the Crappie Shed to Sterling two years later. The master closet-size store has nearly 1,000 plastic lures on its walls.

Armstrong paints, powder coats and bakes the jigheads he sells. The process ensures the longevity of the paint. He offers 38 colors, compared to larger retailers, who might provide 10-15 colors.

His plastics come from small suppliers, and he sells his homemade jigheads exclusively to mom-and-pop bait shops, but only after he tries every one of his creations.

“I’ll stand and field-test for hours from the Duck Creek Recreation Area dock [in Nemaha County],” Armstrong said. “I don’t sell until I test. I’m not interested in selling a lure to make a buck. I want everyone who goes fishing to have a favorable experience.”

Armstrong said he can paint 200 to 300 jigheads in a night. Some have one eye. Others have a metallic-like finish that mimics scales falling from a shad. The effect attracts fish to the bait.

He’s known for his jelly-skirt jig. His gold-painted Crown Royal jig is also popular with crappie fishermen. And he’s putting the finishing touch on his latest creations — a gravedigger jig and a double-bladed road runner.

Armstrong’s time spent painting jigheads doesn’t mean he’s no longer on the water. He has fished in 20 states and travels the country to compete in crappie tournaments. Last November, he was invited to represent Nebraska in the prestigious Dale Hollow Shootout, a $50,000 crappie tournament in Celine, Tennessee.

“I’m not a great fisherman, but I learned from great fishermen,” Armstrong said.

Now he wants to pass his knowledge and passion on to kids. Adopted by an Auburn couple when he was 2 months old, he knows how important the outdoors are to kids.

“I couldn’t ask for better parents,” he said. “I’m so grateful for what they did for me. They gave me a home. Because of my parents, I have a special calling to give back to kids.”

He donates bait, tackle boxes, fishing poles and reels to a pair of youth tournaments — the Nebraska State Youth Kayak Championship and Old Man River Days. The Crappie Shed and bait shop Anglers Allie in Prague, Nebraska, are co-sponsoring a tournament next May at Czechland Lake.

To support church fundraisers and families with cancer and other life-changing challenges, Armstrong has donated guided fishing trips.

On weekends, he takes open-water and ice-fishing clients to one of five southeastern Nebraska lakes — Czechland, Branched Oak in Lincoln, Iron Horse in DuBois, Burchard Lake in Burchard and Duck Creek in Peru. He likes when clients bring their children.

What motivates him the most is the opportunity to bring joy to someone in need. Recently, a client with spina bifida climbed from his wheelchair and into Armstrong’s boat. The determined angler’s face lit up when he caught his first fish.

“It’s all about the smile,” Armstrong said with boyish enthusiasm and a sparkle in his eyes.

The post The Crappie Shed appeared first on Nebraskaland Magazine.

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