NEBRASKA CITY -- There's no telling if more fish or fishers have come through the door of Paap's Sport Shop over the years.

Allen Paap Jr. hasn't kept count, but judging by the blue wire basket stuffed with photographs of customers showing off stringers of bass and catfish, the fish might have a slight edge.

Paap weighed the fish and snapped many of the photos.

This weekend, he'll celebrate his 60th year of being in business for himself with an open house from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Friends, fishing buddies and customers are invited to stop in at the shop at 1315 S. 11th St. for refreshments and prize drawings.

Over the years, Paap has owned a gas station, bait and tackle shop and animal fur-buying business.

He's 86 now and no longer has the gas station, but he still owns and operates the bait and tackle shop and buys furs during the winter.

He opened Paap's Mobil Service across the street from where the bait and tackle shop is now on July 7, 1954. Eventually, he got out of the gas station business, bought a house across the street and tore it down and then built the bait and tackle shop there, opening it June 1, 1977.

"When I was big enough to hold a bamboo pole, I went fishing," said Paap, who remembered his dad taking him fishing when he was 5.

His first fish was a bullhead.

"I ate a lot of bullheads in my life," Paap said.

The family has deep roots in the small German town of Otoe north and west of here. Paap was born there, his father ran the gas station, his grandfather ran the drug store, one uncle ran a creamery and another ran the grain elevator.

"There are about 426 farm ponds in Otoe County," Paap said matter-of-factly, and he's dipped his line in about 103 of them.

"I got more hours in a float tube than any man alive," he said.

One of those small bodies of water is simply known as the Pond, its location a well-kept secret because that's where Paap caught the trophy black crappie that weighed in at 4 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 19 inches long. Crappies typically weigh about half a pound.

The monster he hooked on Father's Day 2003 earned him a state record and three world records and hangs on the wall behind the counter of the bait shop with three other big fish Paap caught over the years.

The Pond is also where he hooked a 55-pound flathead catfish on Sept. 23, 2002.

Visitors to the bait shop might see an animal skin or two off to the side and a row of turkey feather mounts on the back wall. Between November and January, Paap buys raccoon, mink, muskrat, beaver, fox, coyote and badger carcasses from trappers to supplement his income. He also sells hunting supplies.

Paap and his father started Southeast Fur Buyers when they used to service cars and trucks and he kept it going after he built the bait and tackle shop.

"I'm still buying. We don't skin anymore because we can't get rid of the by-product," Paap said.

He and his wife, Phyllis, have been married for 65 years and have seven children -- five girls and two boys.

Phyllis Paap, 83, knows a lot about fishing the local waters, including the nearby Missouri River, because she worked in the bait shop for years while raising her family. She still does the bookkeeping, but her husband is the real expert.

He'll ask customers what they want to catch and give them his take on what type of tackle and bait to use, when they're biting. He'll also tip them off to the best places to go.

Sam Stitt, an oil field worker who travels a lot, said he stops in whenever he is in the area and has time to fish. He said he likes the competitive prices and Paap's knowledge of fishing and recently bought about $100 of tackle including a new rod and reel.

"You can't make a living selling bait unless you sell something with it. That's the idea," Paap said.

He doesn't know how long he'll continue to run the bait and tackle shop. His wife thinks he'll do it until he can't.

"He can't stand to do nothing. He takes care of me and he's off to the store," she said.

Except Sunday, Monday and Wednesday afternoons, when he closes early and goes fishing.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7243 or


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