Over the years she has sold a lot of eels and given out a lot of advice about how and where to catch fish.
And last month Ruth Meyer, former longtime owner of Larry’s Tackle Shop and a quiet unsung hero in the fishing community, was inducted into the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby hall of fame.
On a rain-streaked morning last week, Ms. Meyer sat at her home in Edgartown and recounted a few memories. “I didn’t choose to run a fishing tackle shop because sales was my profession. I inherited it,” she said.
Her father, Larry Meyer, was a carpenter. He opened the tackle shop in a small room at the Depot Corner gas station in 1945.
Ms. Meyer recalls going shore fishing with her parents and her brothers, Karl and Larry. All the Meyer children had nicknames: young Larry was Bizzy, Karl was Tiny and sister Ruth was Sissy. “My father had a Model A converted for riding on the beach. We would go down to South Beach and drive to the Norton Point opening to fish,” she recalled, adding: “Oh, and there was a golden-red border collie called Lady.”
She has fond memories of fishing trips to Chappaquiddick, where the road to Wasque seemed much longer than it is today and the beach was bigger than a football field. “When you drove out from under the pine trees, you still couldn’t see the water. It seemed we had to drive so long just to get to there,” she said.
In those days campfires were allowed on the beach, and the fishing Meyer family stayed late at the beach. “We’d light a fire and have supper. We stayed all night,” she recalled.
Larry Meyer died in December of 1961 at the age of 57, and Ruth’s mother took over the store. Ms. Meyer worked with her mother during the summer, and that fall went off to college at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She planned to study social work and make that her career.
Then when her mother died in February of 1969, Ms. Meyer took over the store, intending to do it only for a short time. By then Larry’s Tackle Shop had moved down to the Edgartown waterfront, which in those days was lined with fish shacks.
But running the store for one year became two years and then more. Ms. Meyer had unexpectedly found her spot. “I have a passion for Dock street,” she confessed. “It was a place all its own, separate from the rest.” She remembers taking the short walk up the street to the bank at Four Corners and it felt like she was changing worlds. “It was like going into a city,” she said.
She also recalls fondly the people who helped out in the shop, many of them fishermen who worked to support their fishing habits.
Years later Ms. Meyer became involved with the derby, and was chairman of the organization for years. Among other things she is credited for working behind the scenes to solicit prizes from sponsors, including Boston Whaler.
In 1993 Larry’s Tackle Shop moved away from the waterfront, back to the original spot where it began in 1945. Today the shop is on Upper Main street near Al’s Package Store. It is owned by Steven Purcell, who worked for Ms. Meyer when he first moved to the Island in 1988 at the age of 26. Mr. Purcell took over the store two years ago, after store ownership had changed hands several times.
Now out of the fishing business, Ms. Meyer spends her time at Donaroma’s behind the counter selling flower arrangements, a nice change from selling eels, she says. “I am now meeting the wives of the husbands that bought fishing tackle from me.”
Recently a man she knew came into the store and began the conversation by saying: “Can I buy a dozen eels?”
Ms. Meyer said she was pleased to receive the hall of fame award. “There is a beginning, a middle and an end. There is a kind of closure here, to a family history,” she said. “This has been a great ride.”