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Bait shop up and running with snacks, gear and friendly faces

Forest Preserve employee David Piotrowski sells a carton of water in the bait shop.
Forest Preserve employee David Piotrowski sells a carton of water to Naperville resident Angela Karellas. (Photo by Cindy Cain)

David Piotrowski’s smiling face is once again beaming from the window of the Tackle Box bait shop at Hidden Lakes Trout Farm in Bolingbrook.

The Forest Preserve District employee is back in his happy spot, selling supplies and snacks, chatting with customers and offering fishing tips and a friendly ear as they prepare to fish the Forest Preserve District’s Hidden Lakes ponds.

“It’s going well and we’re getting more and more customers,” he said.

When the Forest Preserve District acquired Hidden Oaks Preserve from the Bolingbrook Park District in February 2022, the old bait shop was torn down and a new one was constructed in its place a year or so later.

“We opened with bait and tackle in May for our Adult Fishing Derby and slowly we’ve expanded to offer all of our menu items,” said Angie Trobaugh, the Forest Preserve’s facility supervisor for Hidden Lakes and the adjacent Hidden Oaks Nature Center. “People enjoy the convenience of obtaining their fishing licenses at the bait shop as well as information on the Forest Preserve District. And many just come up to the window to ask questions or shoot the breeze.”

Tackle Box bait shop hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through August. In September and October, bait shop hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Snacks and tips

The bait shop sells large minnows, medium shiner minnows, a variety of worms, catfish magic bait, trout paste and catfish stink bait. Fishing tackle also is for sale ranging from fishing baskets and buckets to nets and bobbers.

Fishing poles with closed face, spincast reels are available for use for the day for free, thanks to an Illinois Department of Natural Resources program.

Food items for sale are hot dogs, cheeseburgers, deli sandwiches, soda, water, chips, candy, crackers, Gatorade, hot chocolate, coffee, tea and ice cream. Ice cream and Gatorade are the most popular items so far, Piotrowski said. And the number one question, as always, is, “What’s biting?”

Piotrowski, who started fishing when he was 8, usually knows.

“Sometimes I’ll suggest certain spots and if they catch one, they come back and almost want to kiss me,” he joked.

Piotrowski loves watching the days unfold with happy anglers coming to a beautiful spot, something he’s done for around 14 years after retiring from a career in the printing business. He worked for the Bolingbrook Park District when it owned the Hidden Lakes site and was hired by the Forest Preserve to staff the new bait shop.

The 2023 version of the Tackle Box is an improvement because it has running water and a bathroom with a flush toilet, Piotrowski said. The bathroom is open during bait shop hours.

It’s beautiful

On a recent sunny July day, Tackle Box customers had only positive reviews. Christy Rustemeyer and Angela Karellas of Naperville stopped by for water on their walk from Whalon Lake to Hidden Lakes Trout Farm.

“I love that it’s environmentally friendly,” Karellas said of the water, which is sold in recyclable paper cartons.

Kimberly Hamblet of Bolingbrook visited the shop to get a fishing license.

“It’s beautiful,” she said of the new bait shop. “I love the way it looks. It’s really nice, and I like the bathroom. It’s a major improvement and it’s more inviting.”

Daniel Epifanio of Bolingbrook, who purchased two dozen medium shiners from the Tackle Box for a day of fishing, said he likes the new design.

“And I like all the stuff that they sell here,” he said. “It’s pretty fun to come over here. And the employees are nice and friendly.”

Eric Lisitza of Bolingbrook and his nephew Wyatt Partynski also stopped by the bait shop for some fishing supplies.

“I like that you can rent a pole for free; all you have to do is leave your ID,” Lisitza said.

One-stop shop

Jose Delatorre of Bolingbrook, a bait shop seasonal employee who works with Piotrowski, said working at the bait shop is a dream come true and he loves interacting with customers.

“We have awards for first-time catches,” he said. “I gave one out the other day to a kid and it was amazing to see his smile. He caught a 23-inch catfish that weighed 4 pounds.”

Trobaugh said the Tackle Box is a “bustling convergence” for all kinds of activities since it is near Whalon Lake preserve, the DuPage River Trail and the DuPage River.

“We get bikers, hikers, runners, anglers, paddlers, families out to picnic, and more,” she said. “The Tackle Box is a one-stop shop for all of them.

“Whether you need an ice cream treat, general information, a map, minnows or a sandwich, our dedicated staff will take care of you,” she added. "People are happy to see David staffing and running the bait shop again. The seasonals we hired are dedicated and passionate. And we really have a great team out there, and I only expect greater things.”