Compost worms for Florida.
North Tampa- The night light shines like a beacon on the bait shop’s buzzer, beckoning to early morning and nocturnal fishermen.
At A-24 Hour Bait the workday doesn’t end. The rustic store sits off
the Fletcher Avenue ramp to Interstate 75 South. A windowless blue
mobile home and worm bed are it’s companions on a one-acre slice of
The buildings are a sharp contrast to their new neighbors, Hidden
River Corporate Park rising out of the woods on the north and growing
Tampa Telecom Park on the west.
Owners Joe and Kim Brown work about 20 hours a day, occasionally
resting in “the cave”, the mobile home they live in behind the store.
The couple’s shop is well stocked with shiners and worms.
“What we try to do here is carry the best of baits,” Joe Brown said.
He’s got night crawlers from Canada, salamanders from North Dakota
and wigglers from his own worm bed behind the store. A refrigerated
tank is home to cured shiners and minnows sedated by the cold.
“Wild shiners in a non-refrigerated tank would be going crazy,”
Brown said as he peered into a tank of fish separated by size. “They’d
be jumping around trying to commit suicide. With the cold water they’re
pretty sedate, but you let the water (temperature) rise, a shiner would
be like a race horse.”
Larger shiners are selling for $24 a dozen a dozen today because the
fish are dispersed and spawning, so they’re are difficult to catch.
Normally, large shiners cost around a $1.50 each, Brown said.
Good bait, proximity to the Hillsborough River and convenient hours lure in fishermen.
“It’s all the time,” Brown said. Catfish lovers are out early to
snag popular fishing spots, and during snook season there’s a real run
for shiners, he said.
It’s not uncommon for someone to ring the bell at 3 a.m.
“I stick my head out of the door real fast and tell them I’ll be
there. It takes a lot for someone to ring a bell that time of the day,”
The Browns opened their shop about two years ago with a top notch
but small stock of bait and tackle. Born anglers, they knew it was hard
to get bait late at night or early in the morning, so they decided to
stay open 24 hours.
Now they think their hard work is paying off. The shop has gradually
grown to include all kinds of lures and bobbers, rods and reels.
Hillsborough River fishermen know they’re there. And others find out
every day, Brown said.
“I’ve seen this place a bunch of times, off the interstate, but this
is the first time I’ve been here,” customer Michael Walker said one
afternoon. “We got a pretty good (fishing) hole near here, so this will
suit us just fine.”
Walker said he’s been to a few saltwater bait shops that were open till midnight.
“But I don’t know any that stay open past midnight,” he said.
Although sometimes blurry-eyed when he waits on customers, Brown is never too tired to swap fish stories and other tips.
Normally when he’s fishing with a shiner, Brown hooks the bait
behind the rear dorsal fin with a Khale hook. A bass usually grabs a
smaller fish head first, so the gills and fins smooth back as the
larger fish swallows its victim, Brown said.
But during spawning season, like now, he uses a straight hook and
punctures the crease at the bottom of the shiner’s mouth, hooking
upward through a hole in the snout.
“Now bass are eating and striking so hard they take him and swallow him,” Brown said.
The shop has given Brown more than a chance to make a living and
tell stories. A former designer of conveyor systems, he gave up two
houses, boats and other luxuries to move to the woods 10 years ago.
“I had what you’re supposed to want,” Brown said. “I just wasn’t happy.”
But he loved the river, and he lived for years on the Hidden River
property north of his shop. Today he said he thinks the land
surrounding his home will become Tampa’s version of Central Park.
“I had the foresight to have bait and tackle because there’s 25,000
acres of Southwest Florida Water Management district property adjoining
the river that will always be public,” Brown said.
Lettuce Lake Park, Trout Creek, Wilderness Park, Hillsborough River
State Park and other natural settings also are permanent parts of the
landscape, he said.
As the area grows, the Browns hope their business will follow suit.
They feel lucky that they’re in the middle of a developing area minutes
from the pristine quiet of the undeveloped Hillsborough River.
Soon Joe Brown plans to have canoes for rent.
“We’re going to grow slow, we don’t believe in carrying debt,” he
said. “It takes a lot to start a business.” We’ve had to sacrifice, but
we wouldn’t trade it.”
Compost worms for Florida
Chris Futrell, Florida Focus
TAMPA, Fla. – Have you ever seen the building on the corner of
Fletcher and I-75 with a bunch of buoys strung everywhere? This small
business that many think is an old bait n’ tackle shop is actually Hong
Derek Brown, 26, and his family own and operate Hong Kong Willie.
The little shop specializes in preservation art. The artists don’t take
preservation too lightly either.
“99 percent of everything that has gone into a piece of art has been recycled and reused,” Brown said.
Just as unique as the art is, so is the company’s name. Brown says
the name was created by his father, Joe Brown, in the 1950s.
“My father being in an art class, being affected by a teacher, they
were melting Gerber baby food bottles,” Brown said. “The teacher
interjected that Hong Kong had a great reuse and recycling program even
Brown’s father then took that concept and later added the
Americanized name Willie to the end. And that’s how Hong Kong Willie
was born as a location that offers recycling in a different and
Hong Kong Willie artists are what are known as freegans. Freegans
are less concerned with materialistic things and more concerned about
reducing consumption to lessen the footprint humans leave on this
“I’m sure everyone has their own perception of a freegan, possibly
jumping into a dumpster or picking up something on the side of the
road,” Brown said. “There [are] people who will have excess. There
[are] also things that can be trash to one man, but art or a prize to
Brown and his family carry this practice through to their art. It’s
his family’s way of life, turning trash, which would otherwise fill up
landfills, into an art form.
The Brown family gets a lot of their inspiration for their art from
the Florida Keys. In fact, this is where the deluge of buoys wrapping
around the ‘Buoys Tree’ came from, the fishermen of Key West.
“It is Styrofoam, we understand that it does not degrade, but to
blame the fishermen for their livelihood wouldn’t be correct, instead
we find a usage for those,” Brown said.
Brown said there’s a usage for everything, even the hooks to hold
the painted driftwood, which are also salvaged, to the wall are old
bent forks. Everything’s reused here. Purses made out of old coffee
bean sacks to “kitschy,” as Brown described it, jewelry made from old
“Hong Kong Willie truly believes that a piece, whether it’s a bag or a painted artwork, it’s meant for one person.”