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Gear buying tips for the casual angler

Gear buying tips for the casual angler

The right rod-and-reel combo can offer flexibility and dependability without breaking the budget

Many newcomers to the sport of fishing are intimidated on their first trip to a well-stocked tackle shop, wondering where amid all the rods and reels is something that will fit their budget and do the type of fishing they’re looking for. This can be someone with a family cruiser they use for day-tripping, and taking family and friends out for whatever fishing is hot at the moment.

For this column, let’s start with the idea of getting two outfits that can be used for bottom fishing: catching porgies, sea bass in the summer or blackfish in the fall. The rod-and-reel combos will also serve drifting for fluke, dropping a diamond jig for bluefish or anchoring up off a rocky point and fishing a chunk on the bottom, hoping to catch a sizeable striped bass. The combos in question can also be used to baitfish for cod off the Massachusetts coast if such a trip comes your way. Unfortunately, we don’t have much in the way of codfish off the southern New England shore any more — a shame but that’s the current state of things.

Please keep in mind these rods will not be the optimum for each of the above, but they are serviceable, and will take abuse from newcomers and last a reasonable amount of time with a certain amount of TLC. They may not provide the most sport — that may come later in the form of lighter tackle — but for now they can catch supper and make for an enjoyable day on the water.

Gearing up

I heartily recommend a conventional rod between 6 and 7 feet long, and rated for a 20- to 30-pound line with a reel in the 3/0 size. Stick with fiberglass rods to start and leave the graphite for more demanding anglers. Fiberglass will take the dings and whacks that kids and newcomers dish out, and are modestly priced. Both Diawa and Penn make inexpensive reels that will last the life of the rod with a little care and maintenance. The Diawa 50H might be worth a look, as well as the Penn Jigmaster. Both have been around a while and both passed the test of time in my book.

Stick with a good quality monofilament line, such as Ande or Trilene. Do not buy cheap line; it will only cause heartache after shelling out some modest money for the above rods and reels. And, one of the secrets to successful saltwater fishing is to change line often, certainly season to season. Nothing is worse than the look on a kid’s face after seeing, say, a 12-pound blackfish at boat side only to have weak line pop right in front of him or her, their prize quickly disappearing.

With such rods and reels, you can buy pre-made rigs for each type of fishing you want to pursue. Shops have ready-made rigs for fluke, porgies, blackfish or chunking for stripers — all methods covered in previous columns. All you have to do is tie the line to the rig, attach a sinker and lower away. Please note these rods have enough backbone to support heavier sinkers when the fluke drift is a bit faster, but still have enough flex to produce grunts or yells of joy when granddad or grandson hooks a 5-pound sea bass.

After fishing, you can rinse the rods down and give the reels a spritz of WD-40, wipe dry then store them up in a cuddy cabin or the back of the SUV for the ride home. These rods will also take the occasional “oops” when the neighbor’s kid steps on one, or your brother-in-law tries to insert it into the side of your vehicle rather than the back of it.

Expanding your options

You’ve got a lot of the bases for northeast fishing covered in those two rods, but we might suggest a couple more options. In the fall, boaters always find schools of migrating bluefish on top chasing bait, fattening up on their way south. That situation calls for a couple of light spinning rods aboard to let guests take part in the melee unfolding off the bow. Fiberglass rods in the same 6- to 7-foot range for lures from 1/2 to 1-ounce are fine, coupled with a smaller spinning reel rated for 12- to 15-pound mono line. These, too, will take the abuse or wear and tear novice anglers will give them, but deliver reasonable longevity from the investment.

Besides casting to fish on top, such rods are fine for casting to schoolie stripers some evening along a rocky shoreline, maybe treating the kids to a summer trip after supper. You’ll need a few popping plugs, or a pack or two of the plastic shads popular of late. Neither will break the bank nor cause consternation with your first love if she reviews the fishing budget.

The lighter rods can also be double-dutied for bottom fishing for very small anglers on board. A light spinning rod, two-hook bottom rig, small sinker and strips of squid are ideal for spending an afternoon watching the little ones catch porgies. They may weigh less than 2 pounds, but pull they will, determined to regain their position along the bottom. The struggle between the two opposing forces is often the stuff of great pictures so you’ll want to have a camera ready.

If the drift isn’t fast or the water too deep, the spin rod is also fine for fluke on a hot August afternoon when the cold drinks taste oh so fine. Later on, that 4-pounder will shine on the table.

With the four rods, you can also anchor up some evening off a rocky point and put the two conventional rods over with a large chunk of frozen bait, hoping for a big bass. In the meantime, let the kids pass the time using the spinners to cast into the shoreline rocks for schoolies. Just watch their exuberance as they swing the lure around for another toss, making sure they don’t clip somebody’s hat — or worse.

These rods and reels are not picture- perfect for all types of Northeast ocean angling, but they fill the bill for the Average Joe or Jane who wants to enjoy all facets of boating — a day of cruising out on the water made all the better by catching something for the trip back to the docks.

And, with a little success, be ready for somebody back at the marina to ask what kind of rod that is you have on board.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine's New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.