I was at the bait shop talking with a gentleman about fishing for black drum. The guy was getting excited about the prospect as we discussed baits and how to rig. Then he looked at the rod he’d brought in and asked if I thought it would be up to the task.
“It’s just a cheap junk rod, not like those fancy Reapers I know you fish with,” he said.
Now, hold up there, hoss. Yes, I am fortunate enough to have a few of those pricey fishing rods in my stable, and yes, they are very nice indeed. But it wasn’t that long ago that the $30 rod in his hand would have been an upgrade from what I was using.
The first fish I ever caught was on a cane pole with braided line. No, not PowerPro — Dacron. Grandma liked that because it didn’t age as badly as monofilament and didn’t have to be replaced as often. For years, that was the only type of tackle I knew.
The she introduced me to something miraculous: A rod you could use to throw the bait way, way out there to where the bigger fish were. With a Zebco 33 (aka “the pencil sharpener”) and that crazy see-through monofilament line, I thought I was big time.
Later I learned about spinning reels. Grandma didn’t come around to that evolution; she didn’t see a need for open-face gear. After much wheedling and bargaining, Mom finally got me one at Kmart. Hoo-boy, that thing was amazing. The only thing I didn’t like was the funny knob on the back (!) that if you turned it would make the line come off the spool too easy. Well, I fixed that: I just cranked it all the way down with pliers. Why would you ever let a fish take line off your reel?
That brings us up to about 10 years old. For the 20 years after that, I never owned fishing tackle that didn’t come from a store whose name ended in “mart” or a garage sale. By the time I was in my late teens, I was working and could have bought better tackle. But I didn’t see any need for it. My cheap gear caught fish. I could go down to the pier or jetty and do just fine. I laughed when I saw how much people were spending on rods and reels.
Then, after I took over WaterLine, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I splurged and bought a Shimano Teramar rod from Jeff Kincaid at Capt. Ted’s Tackle. (I bought a Shimano reel too, but I don’t remember which one. Nothing super fancy.)
Oh. Wow. The rod was strong and light, and I could actually feel what was happening at the other end of my line. The reel felt like the gears were made of silk. I finally learned what the drag was for, now that I had a reel with a drag that was actually functional. I realized why people spent more money on tackle.
In the intervening years, I have gotten pickier about my rods and reels. I want tackle that is both lightweight and tough, and that has a high sensitivity factor. And I do love my Reapers, though it’s just as much because the owner of the company (Tim Johnson) is a great guy and builds his product locally as it is the rods themselves.
But, if you took that all away, and I had to go back to the cheap Shakespeare and Eagle Claw combos of my youth — or even the old cane poles — I would still fish, and I would still love it. I wouldn’t be able to use some of the techniques I do today, but I’d work around it.
The gear doesn’t make the fisherman. Good tackle is great to have, but it won’t catch fish for you. I know anglers who have the best of the best, and they still can’t catch a cold. I’ve also seen amazing fishermen who could pull a 10-pounder from a mud puddle with a rod rescued from a dumpster.
Am I a gear snob? No. I like what I like, but I would never look down on someone for fishing with cheap tackle. Been there, done that, and had a lot of fun. Never be ashamed of your bargain gear, because it’s not the rod that matters — what matters is how well you use it.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.