Sittin' In at the Bedford Sportsman
›› “We call our inner circle of guys the whack-pack,” says Todd Cronin. “Now that summer’s over, a lot of these fishermen say they don’t get to spend enough time out on the water, so they stop by after work with a bottle in hand and b.s. about fishing with us instead.” Cronin, the self-described “low key” business partner, owns Cross River’s Bedford Sportsman with his childhood pal, Charles George. “In the old Bedford Hills location we referred to ourselves as the Bedford Men’s Shelter,” says George, who seems to be in constant motion even though he has been pulling the 6 a.m. shift all week. “He’s always like this,” notes Cronin.
“This time of year it’s pot luck on weekends,” adds George. “You never know who is gonna walk in the door.” George holds court with the patrons as though he was a gregarious morning show host, but it’s his father, known as “Senior,” or “The Fish Whisperer” who the early-morning customers have come to expect. “Senior” fills the customers’ bait buckets before the crack of dawn.
Cronin and George first met while students at John Jay High School. They bonded over a love of the outdoors and salt water fishing on vacations. “Those were the days when we fished all the streams and reservoirs, played hockey on ponds, and stayed outside until dinner,” Cronin recalls wistfully. Today both men are married with kids of their own.
All day long, inside the store’s cozy lodge-like atmosphere, fish are verbally reeled in among old friends and anglers who trickle in and tell their stories. “Sometimes,” George says, “the 4 a.m. line to buy bait on a summer weekend can stretch out to as many as 80 customers. It’s wild.” But don’t expect to catch the action by strolling in at 7. “It’s all done by 6:30 in the morning.”
Since the Bedford Sportsman is the only source for live bait in Westchester, customers travel long distances to stock up. “We have tons of Eastern Europeans, Asians, and Russians coming up from the city. They’re smart fishermen,” George says. “They have boats on every reservoir and are fishing to feed families or some are stocking their restaurants. Go to Astoria Queens and see fresh fish in a restaurant tank and where do you think they got them?”
Once school starts, weekends are lost to family obligations for many fishermen, and George and Cronin look forward to the next big rush, which happens during ice fishing season. “Everyone can ice fish because you don’t need a boat,” says George.
The Bedford Sportsman relocated to Cross River three years ago after almost four decades spent in the same storefront in Bedford Hills. In the early years, it catered primarily to a fly fishing crowd, but “today’s customer might be a kid or a mom or a whole family in for a lesson on surf casting or ice, deep sea, or lake fishing,” explains Cronin.
The store casts a wide net with an active Facebook membership of eighteen hundred friends. “I keep the pics fresh,” says George. It’s a place where anglers’ photos and comments splash across the page. Freshwater and saltwater fishermen of all ages display bonefish, bass, and rainbow trout. All these fish stories are the beating heart of the Bedford Sportsman’s business.
“If you can learn to fish in our area, then you can do it anywhere. It can be challenging, but I’ll give you a tip: the West Branch outlet is on fire right now,” says George, in reference to a catch and release stream in Croton Falls. “The water there is really cold. It’s blue-ribbon trout fishing,” he continues with a tinge of envy, as though considering the possibility of putting a sign on the shop door that says “Gone fishing.”