In visiting the various bait shops throughout the River Hills country I have come to the conclusion that these independent small business owners seem to fall into two categories.

The first group are individuals who have retired from their careers and are looking for something that they can do to keep them active but is fun, interesting, and offers the opportunity to meet people.

The second group is much younger and are still working full-time but are looking for something to build for their retirement plan that also has the same requirements which are fun, interesting, and the opportunity to meet people.

Sam Sykes and his wife, Betsy, and their business partner, Drew Crow, fall into the second category.

The Sykes and Crow own and operate Betsy Boy’s Bait Shop located at 1773 Landon Road, Bourbon, Mo., 65441 (573-241-5173).

After they completed all of the necessary requirements and paperwork from the State of Missouri and from the Missouri Department of Conservation, they opened the doors to their bait shop in March 2017. The name Betsy Boy came from a nickname that Sam gave his wife.

Bill Wakefield

The reason to open a bait shop was out of necessity. Sam and Drew are avid and serious catfishermen who use primarily live bait. The bait shop where they had purchased bait closed and this made it difficult for them to find and purchase bait for their catfishing expeditions.

Sam is a problem solver (you will see this when you visit the bait shop) and to solve the problem of getting adequate and quality bait for himself and for the many other fishermen in the area, he and Drew opened a bait shop.

The newer building in which the bait shop is located has plenty of room in order to expand its inventory of baits and supplies as the business grows.  

You will find two large minnow holding tanks, a cricket storage box, refrigerator, freezer and display racks holding various terminal tackle. The holding tanks contain various sizes of goldfish, chub minnows and sometimes perch.

Sonny’s is the prepared catfish bait sitting on the shelf.In the freezer you will find skipjack, shad, threadfin shad, and shrimp. The refrigerator is designated for either nightcrawlers or red wiggler worms.

Fishing supplies and tackle include minnow buckets, containers for crickets, and fishing lines. There is an assortment of fishing hooks in various sizes and types. Most of the fishing weights on display are weights that Sam made. You will find the supplies necessary to make equipment for jug fishing, trout lines, and bank and limb fishing.

The baits and supplies are catered more for the cat and crappie fisherman, but the supplies they carry will work for all fishermen.

As previously mentioned, Sam and Drew are serious catfishermen and the bait shop reflects that passion. The main species they target are flathead catfish, which requires live baits. That is why they take great care in the quality of the live bait they sell and the holding tanks that they require.  

Sam has a great imagination and mechanical skills, and he is using all of these talents in the bait shop. He has made his own aerators and filter systems for the minnow tanks, which keeps the bait healthy and lively.

He has built the shelves and display racks in the shop. He also makes bank poles, weights and other catfishing equipment for his customers.

Some of the other ideas they are exploring is raising their own nightcrawlers and goldfish. Sam has already started the experiment of raising goldfish in the pond that he has on his property.

They are always looking for ways to save on the overhead of the bait shop and pass these savings on to their customers. Sam said he has the lowest prices on minnows in the area.

Unlike many other bait shop owners, Sam and Drew fish regularly for flathead catfish and sometimes channel catfish. Because of this the bait shop operation is a family operation.

Betsy and their son, Luke, meet and help the customers when Sam is not there. Sam’s daughter, Emi, even does the commercial on Facebook. The Sykes family would prefer if their customers would call or use Facebook to contact them with their order request before stopping in.

That way, they can make sure that they have what the customer needs and it is ready to go when they stop in. The family goes out of their way to help all of their customers with their bait requirements.

Sam works full-time in St. Louis and has taken minnows to work with him when someone from work needs some.  Betsy mentioned to me that they are open all the time, you just need to call first.

Everyone at the bait shop enjoys talking to the customers and listening to their stories. Sam will talk for hours when it comes to discussing catfishing. This is how he gains new knowledge and facts that he can share with his customers and friends.

Facebook is the primary source of advertising, along with word of mouth. One of the goals Sam has besides raising some of his own bait and expanding merchandise in the shop. is to host a catfish tournament.

There are all sorts of bass and crappie tournaments but not so many catfish tournaments. After the weigh-in and prizes are presented, he then would like to have a fish fry with the tournament’s catch.

If you fish the Missouri, Mississippi, Bourbeuse, Meramec or Gasconade rivers, local farm ponds or heading to the Lake of the Ozarks, stop in and say hello to the Sykes family and buy some bait and share some stories.

Preparing yourself with quality bait and proper tackle will assure that you and your family or friends will have a fun and successful time fishing.

(Bill Wakefield runs the Traveler’s St. Louis office and can be reached at w3@charter.net.)