Fishing on a Budget-The Cost of a Passion

10 years of my life were spent as a mechanic for Dodge. Being a mechanic is similar to being a fisherman. You need to have the tools to do the job right, and tools cost what? Money. A huge tool box, air tools, sockets, wrenches, electrical tools, compression testers, specialty tools; the list goes on and on to the tune of about 30k. Snap On and equivalent tools aren’t cheap. Now that I’m not in that line of work anymore, the past few years have been spent spending spare money (if there is such a thing nowadays) on fishing equipment. More tools to do the job right. It’s a perfect analogy. Of course, I haven’t spent as much money on fishing gear as on my tool set, but money was being made with those tools. Fishing is hard work too, so we can call it a job right? Just like a mechanic has to put time in, learn the cars intricacies, and have the right tools to be successful, the same goes for fishing. You need time on the water and the right tools to do well. Tackle, rods, reels, storage, livewell and bilge pumps, navigation and anchor lights, a trolling motor, bimini top reupholster, and parts for routine maintenance are only some of the things I have spent money on over the years. For my preferred methods of fishing all these “tools” are needed. Hopefully most of you can relate to what I am saying. Fishing is an expensive sport; we will not call it a hobby because if you are like me, it is way more than that. It’s a passion.

My arsenal of equipment was pretty small, wishing I had what others did. Over the years my gear has been built into a nice collection. This took time, just like building a great toolset. Of course bills come first, with all the other day to day expenses; my daughter’s sports and all her up to date clothes and gadgets, the wife’s shopping for the house, you get the idea. With spare money that I won’t feel guilty about spending, deals and new items are sought after. These don’t have to be the latest and greatest products on the market, but good quality equipment is still purchased.

How can the average weekend warrior gear up without breaking the bank, and still keep the better half happy? Maybe yours isn’t, but my boat is uncomfortable to sleep in, and when I screw up the dogs have it better than me. Well, on a budget, it’s tough to acquire a lot of gear. That’s all I have for you. Wise words huh? Everyone’s situation is different, but at least you can learn what was done to maximize my dollar and not deplete my bank account. It would be tough to go into exact detail on all the tackle, rods, reels, line, leader and accessories bought and used, so we will be discussing how most are acquired and the basics of what is in use.

First of all, patience is the key. I couldn’t just go out and buy all this gear at once. That’s a no brainer. Like which was stated before, it has already taken a few years, and of course, it won’t stop here. Gear wears out. Tackle such as hooks, leader, line and lures rust or get lost to break offs and the mangroves. As a start, my tactic was to slowly accumulate new rod and reel setups; for me this was most important. In between, making sure to buy small amounts of all the necessary tackle will allow you to fish with ease, not wishing you had this or that when out on the water.

What are you fishing for and where? When considering what to purchase I think about what is being fished for. The species and areas fished should be a primary consideration. Will the target be inshore fish like snook, reds and trout? How about shallow water grouper, snapper and reef fish? Tarpon?  Dock fishing and bridges? Offshore fishing? Are you a wade fisherman, pier fisherman, on a kayak, or do you fish primarily out of a boat? Knowing this helps narrow down options and a list can be made of the most important supplies you will need. Usually for me, my fishing is inshore only, but targeting all the above species, requires a diverse arsenal.

How much money is in your budget for fishing? Any time out around town, deals will be sought. Quick trips to all of the local sporting goods stores are the first stops. Dicks, Sports Authority, Wal-Mart, and so on. Normally I am only searching for good deals on lures, leader, line and assorted tackle at these retailers. Every once in a while a good deal can be found on a decent rod and reel combo, but they can be few and far between. Wally World seems to be the best for my tackle needs, or at least everything besides lures. Hooks, leader, swivels, weights, floats, nets, fillet knives-all the small stuff that’s necessary. Rarely seen are arties on sale at the mega giant retailer, but at least they are competitive in pricing. I’m sure that not only I feel this way, as the shelves are not always stocked.

For various braided and monofilament lines, as well as quality lures, good deals can be found at the above mentioned chain stores as well. Looking at the weekly ads for Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority every week, there is usually some kind of sale, and the same products revolve around every couple of months. Soft plastics like Gulp!, D.O.A, and hard baits like Mirrodines are sometimes buy one get one free; we’ve all seen it. Every once in a while Power Pro is on sale for twenty five percent off. Every bit of savings helps. Once in a blue moon a quality rod and reel combo is on sale but not enough to make me jump for joy.

Don’t get me wrong; I like to frequent the local tackle shops as well. Supporting small local businesses is a priority. It’s not easy being a small business owner. Looking around at numerous local stores, some are smaller and more inexpensive than others. There are tackle shops I won’t even set foot in; it seems the overhead must be high as prices are too. After a good bit of searching my area I found a small tackle shop that fits my needs. It’s not too far from the house and the deals are great. Fisherman’s Headquarters in Bradenton is a great place to buy supplies and tackle. There are many “off brand” products like de-hookers, gloves, knives and other gear that are cheap and don’t need to be name brand. I won’t sit here and talk about everything in the store but if when looking for reasonably priced specialty gear or a quality rod and reel I’m heading there. The pricing is very good depending on what is being sought. A local, reasonable tackle shop can be easily found.

When looking for mid grade products, the main rods preferred are Andes models, Okuma Guide Selects, Calico Jack, Redbone and even the old favorite, the Ugly Stick. These all are fairly sensitive, have many different lengths, ratings, and some have IM8 graphite blanks with Fuji guides. At times there are even offers to receive a free tackle bag by mail after purchase. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! As for reels, Okuma, Shimano and Penn are reliable and inexpensive. My favorite reels are the Okuma Epixor series, but also used are Shimano Sahara and Sedona’s, and Penn products. A Daiwa Capricorn reel on a St.Croix rod is a favorite set up of mine as well. It is easy to put together a great combo under one hundred and fifty dollars, spooled with braided line.  Recently put together was an Okuma Epixor and Calico Jack combo for sixty five dollars, just by looking for bargains! Practice casting and handling the setup before you buy it. You’ll find something nice that will do the job. It’s not necessary to go broke. Buying very high dollar rods and reels is not something that’s necessary. Quality is not overlooked, I just cant see paying for a three hundred dollar set up that will eventually be dropped, dunked, and snapped in half when driving the boat into the garage (hey, I’m only human, coming home late as usual).

Used gear. I don’t buy used lures or tackle, and will assume most of you don’t either. Many have found great deals on more expensive fishing supplies, rods and reels on internet sites, and classifieds in local papers. Craigslist is good for a bunch of stuff. I recently got a great deal on a brand new custom made tarpon combo and one for grouper as well. Both were freshly spooled and were not stolen, knowing that for a fact. The gentleman that sold them to me had his name made into the rods; both were custom built at a local rod builder. Granted, he didn’t tell me about the name before I saw the setups, but it’s almost unnoticeable. Always try your best to make sure you scope out the sellers product to make sure what your buying is not stolen. I won’t buy things that others have worked hard to obtain just like me. Sometimes it can be a pain to deal on Craigslist; just be careful. Local papers often have garage sales listed with gear mentioned in the ad, or there may be equipment in the classified section. It doesn’t take much time to scan the papers. You would be surprised at what is out there that people don’t use. Usually one has to weed through different sales; it can be worth it though, and if you have company like the family, they will stay entertained looking at other peoples junk. When frequenting Ebay and buying used, you need to see the product. I don’t use the site anymore after a few bad deals. Some good bargains have been found on waders and new products, but those deals were few and far between. Flea markets can also be good for a nice buy. We have a few good ones in the Tampa bay area, so it can’t hurt to look. Finally, a fishing forum is usually an old standby. If you pay attention, a great deal can be snatched up, or a good trade can be made. Don’t hesitate to give all these options a try.

For boating equipment I really don’t know what to tell you. We have all heard the saying, “a boat is a hole in the water you throw money into” and so forth. That’s pretty much true. Don’t try to skimp on boat parts. You get what you paid for. I don’t want to be stranded in the bay with a bum water pump or out at night with a bad anchor light. It has been found that most minor parts seem to be fairly evenly priced at most local vendors anyways, unless a great sale can be found at a West Marine or similar chain store. Usually when a part is needed it’s not on sale anyways. The parts bought, like bilge and livewell pumps, lighting, gear oil, water pumps and thermostats are necessary, so what do you do? If anyone knows of some better sources for boat accessories and parts let me know.

This wasn’t an article that was intended to go over all types of gear used, the reasoning of use, or specifications of the products. That is another article all together, and I am no expert. This was merely an article written from experience. With the economy in shambles, it’s more important now more than ever to maximize the dollar without skimping on quality. Hopefully this will help all of the anglers that are just starting out fishing Florida’s waters. After years of hard work and searching for deals, leaving the store when I really wanted something but knew I could find it cheaper, and working on cars to come up with side money, I finally have a collection I am satisfied with. A collection that will handle tarpon, grouper, inshore reef fish, all species on the flats, pier fishing and dock light fishing. You bet I have the tackle to go with it too!  Of course more is sought after, but with the exception of the basics, this year is taken care of……..unless a sweat deal is found!