How much gear is too much?
Michael Parker 'Smudge'
December 19, 2019
The ins and outs of tackle procurement and how to manage the war office. How much fishing gear do you really need?
It’s a difficult question for a whole lot of reasons. For instance, what if this information gets into the wrong hands and our partners find out the truth? We’ll have to sell all the best stuff to fund a new sofa!
When we first start fishing, the rods and reels are the most exciting and emotionally rewarding items that we buy. As the addiction takes hold, the need to relive that early euphoria gets stronger and you have to keep buying new stuff to get a fix.
As of today, I have twenty or so functioning sets as well as a decent collection of no longer loved rods and reels. At a pinch I could probably knock up another five complete sets from those has-beens.
Why so many? Well, not all of the gear is mine; some belongs to my family whom I fish with often. And I do take a lot of people out who don’t have their own gear so with this in mind I like to have enough snapper gear to provide a good outfit for at least four people.
First time buyer advice
My fishing is mostly boat-based and I often target table fish such as snapper, gurnard and kahawai, with a rare but welcome blue cod occasionally in the mix. Much less frequently I’ll target tuna, marlin, kingfish and hapuku. Sometimes I’ll fish for tarakihi, maybe John dory or if the urge strikes me a trout or two, and I still get a buzz from catching bait fish such as mackerel and piper.
So, can you get by with just one set? Well of course, if you wish to be limited to just one or two styles of fishing for two or three species of fish.
Recently, while chatting to a mate, we got onto the subject of directing new fishos who have asked for advice about what gear to buy for a first fishing set. I discovered Steve’s experiences were much the same as mine.
We start by asking the enquirer a bunch of questions about where and how they want to fish and what they hope to catch. A standard reply is along the lines of, I want to fish wherever I can and catch whatever takes my bait but I don’t want to spend much money.
As the conversation usually revolves around the Manukau Harbour often we’ll suggest one of the ready-to-go combos from a major brand, which will do a fine job of catching snapper.
Invariably, when we next encounter that person they will proudly inform us that they saved twenty bucks by buying a minor brand from a street vendor at the local market. Strangely, a month or so later they will probably be asking us to take a look at their reel because it doesn’t wind smoothly anymore. They don’t usually mention the guides that have fallen off the rod as well.
Why one is not enough
So, if you are only going to fish for snapper, why do you need more than one rod? You will still be able to winch in the occasional kahawai, trevally or if you’re lucky, even a kingfish. Eventually though, you will want to try a different style of fishing.
John doesn’t get out in a boat very often but when he does I have some good gear for him to use.
You may even find yourself fishing somewhere different, where the water is shallow and the fish are big, and your drag can’t cope with such line-shredding speed. Worse still you may find yourself fishing somewhere very deep where the fish are even bigger and the seabed below is made of nasty, sharp rocks and long, line tangling kelp forests.
Here you will need powerful gear to maximise your chances of success.
In the beginning
For many years I fished with only four sets. A Penn 850SS Spinfisher on a Kilwell Jelly Tip Jigspin rod, a Penn 505HS Jigmaster reel on a Penn Powerstick rod, a little Shimano Spin Set and a Daiwa 14’ surf rod and reel.
Overtime I discovered the highly rated Jelly Tip rod and big Spinfisher reel wasn’t ideal for trevally. Lacking the forgiveness of something softer, it took a lot of effort to prevent the hooks pulling from their mouths.
The little spin set was even worse. Although it wasn’t prone to pulling hooks, it just couldn’t control a hard charging trevally - the fish usually winning the battle by wrapping around the anchor warp, the berley pot, a rock or any other obstruction the fish could take advantage of.
It’s a true no-win situation. The answer is to use gear that best matches the task at hand. And that is where the problem starts!
You buy more gear but that draws unwanted attention and awkward questions, such as “You’ve already got two fishing rods, why do you need another?” Of course, the honest reply should be “Oh, that belongs to Harry and I’m keeping it here so his wife doesn’t find out”. She thinks you are a good bloke then, although it can back fire when she catches up with Harry’s wife.
If I could only have one fishing rod and reel, it would be a softbait setup and I would use this terminal tackle.
The essential three
For most regular boat fisherman it won’t belong before they recognise the need for the three following styles rod and reel. While there is plenty of reasons to expand ones arsenal this essential three will do an epic job in 95 out 100 trips.
Basic snapper fishing
If you’re a snapper fisherman and happy to fish with bait in water no deeper than sixty metres, then all you really need is what I refer to as a snapper winch. A budget less than $150 should suffice. Brands like Daiwa, Shimano and Penn do plenty of these relatively simple but reliable sets.
Lure and softbait
If you want a bit more fun, do yourself a favour and get a good quality softbait set. You can get a very suitable set for under $300 and you will be able to efficiently fish softbaits and small jigs.
Once you’ve mastered the art you may well turn your back on bait fishing forever. Why? Less mess for starters. Lure fishing is often a cheaper than bait, you will catch fewer undersized fish and you won’t be removing dozens of baitfish from the food chain.
So why not fish those softbaits and jigs using the same gear you use for bait fishing? In short, your success will be limited. While jig fishing pioneers like Eric Morman used old-school gear, modern fishing tackle has improved in a number of ways.
There are times when you need to keep it simple, Glen Cox regularly fishes the West Coast and Manukau harbour aboard his PWC.
Much of the progression has been driven by the development of modern superlines. You will know them as braid, gel-spun braid, fused or polyethylene lines. What superlines have to offer is thin diameters, very high strength and virtually zero stretch. The effect is that it is much easier to feel what the lure is doing, especially when a fish bites.
These products are also much less affected by current flow.
The characteristics of braid and the rods developed to fish them become critical when it comes to fishing lightly weighted lures and jigs. When I started jig fishing in the early 1990s, the technique required a full lift, then drop of the rod through about a 90-degree arc. It was fun, the fish hit hard but it was very tiring.
These days the technique is much more relaxed, using subtle movements of the rod tip to produce almost identical movements in even the lightest lures in deep water.
Mechanical jigging for kingfish
Nothing highlights the difference between bait fishing and lure fishing more than mechanical jigging for kingfish.
Expensive but lightweight rods capable of hauling huge weights from the depths coupled with lightweight reels offering enormous cranking power and drag capacity prove brutal a combination against hard fighting kingfish.
Arron and friend smile for the camera. You don’t need flash gear to catch kahawai but good gear is always best.
While technique is important and can take some time to master. No matter how you do it, you’re going to feel the burn from a big fish. It is an experience you’ll never forget and you simply cannot replicate this form of fishing with conventional gear.
From a brand perspective there is a wide variety of top quality gear to choose at this end of the market.
Shimano, Penn and Daiwa are well known but it is worth looking at some the highly speced purest rod and reel houses like Accurate and Jig Star. This is serious gear and demands a higher price tag but you will appreciate it in the heat of battle.
Some other things worth purchasing
Of course fishing gear is not all about flash looking rods and shiny reels; you need stuff to tie on the end and something to store it all in.
I have a lure bag for inchiku jigs and softbaits, a tackle box for my bait fishing stuff, two bags for game fishing paraphernalia and my wife is missing a Tupperware container for trace material.
There’s a pile of essential safety gear, lifejackets, a handheld VHF and an EPIRB; a couple of gaffs and landing nets too. All of it absolutely necessary of course!
The barest of essentials
So, what if I had to choose only one rod and reel with a minimum of gear?
Obviously it wouldn’t be a lot of fun fishing for gurnard and snapper on my game fishing set so I guess I would be left with my favourite little softbait/inchiku jig set - a Daiwa rod, paired with a very nice little Shimano Stradic Ci4 4000 spin reel loaded up with 6lb braid.
I’d also choose my tackle bag and it would have inchiku jigs and if the rules allowed, a pile of small bean sinkers, worm hooks and softbaits.
My Hutchwilco manually inflatable fishing jacket would stay, as would a large tangle-free landing net.
I could give my wife her Tupperware container back as I’d only need a spool of 15 or 20lb fluorocarbon trace. I’d tell her my brother in law left it on my boat when he went out fishing with me. I would need my 90 litre chilly bin too, after all anything that wouldn’t fit in there is unlikely to be caught on the light gear.
With this selection I’d be able to catch snapper, gurnard, kahawai, John dory, trevally, tarakihi, blue cod, and if the urge strikes me, a trout or two. I would also be safe from drowning in a minor incident, be organised from a tackle point of view, be able to boat a decent fish and able to get it home in top condition with my ice-filled chilly bin.