The equipment conundrum

For my birthday, Kevin gave me a new fishing rod. And not just any fishing rod – a seven-foot Shimano Teramar composite rod. If you’re a fishing geek, you probably know that a Shimano Teramar composite rod is an excellent fishing rod. If you’re not a fishing geek, you’ll have to take my word for it.

I’m very excited about my groovy new fishing rod, and I can’t wait for the stripers to arrive so I can try it out. But there is a little voice, deep inside, asking me whether I wouldn’t rather be the kind of fisherman who can catch anything – anything at all – with a willow branch and bakery string.

I am deeply ambivalent about good equipment. On the one hand, I understand the value of clothing, gear, machines, and firearms that are well-designed, of appropriate materials, and built to last. Not only do those kinds of items generally out-perform similar items of inferior quality, they’re often a pleasure to hold, to look at, to use.

On the other hand, I have profound respect for the willow-branch-and-bakery-string guy. One part of the appeal of good equipment is undoubtedly the lure of acquisition, the siren song of stuff.

Two years ago, on the first birthday I spent on Cape Cod, Kevin gave me a clam rake. It’s an A1 quality rake from Ribb Rakes, a small company here on Cape Cod. It has long, sharp, curved tines to dig under clams, and it has a stainless steel basket that won’t rust. It is a much more effective rake than the $10. job I got at a yard sale, and it has undoubtedly paid for itself in clams.

I only knew how much better the Ribb rake was because I’d spent many hours on the clam flats learning to clam with crappy equipment. In that particular case, I felt like I’d earned the right to a good rake with time served. I’d proven myself as a clammer.

But it’s relatively easy to prove yourself as a clammer. Not so with other activities.

Back when I was serious about my golf game, I didn’t want any clubs in my bag that were better than I was. When I consistently shot in the low 90s I splurged on a set of Cleveland fairway woods, but it was always in the back of my mind that Lee Trevino could hit a golf ball 120 yards with a Dr. Pepper bottle.

But to hit that 3-wood on the screws, and watch the ball fly up to a green, that was a beautiful thing.

My fishing skills aren’t what they might be. They’re certainly better than they were, but there’s a lot more I could learn with the equipment I have, which is several steps up from the willow branch. Still, I remember struggling to muscle in a ten-pound bluefish last year because my reel was flexing in my hand.

But, really, a fishing rod is just a bendy stick. Sure, the reel is important, but I already have a replacement for the flexing model: a Penn 550ss. (Which, like the clam rake, I picked up at a yard sale for $10. Unlike the clam rake, it was an amazing bargain; it’s a very good reel.) I could put the reel on the rod I have, which certainly qualifies as a bendy stick.

Was I hearing stuff’s siren song? How can a $200. bendy stick be so very different from a $20. bendy stick? Or even a willow branch?

Well, there’s how it bends, where it bends, and how much it bends. There’s how well it transmits the feel of a bite. There’s how far it casts, and how long it lasts. Will the little hoops the line runs through rust? Will the handle be slippery when wet?

My Shimano isn’t anywhere near the high end of the fishing-rod spectrum. We spent $110, and we could easily have spent twice that, or even three times. But we also could have spent half that, or even less. And, standing in the store, flicking it back and forth, I couldn’t know how the rod would feel once it had a line and a lure on it, let alone a fish.

When we got it home, Kevin rigged it with the Penn reel, and a line and a lure. I put my waders on and walked out into our pond. I took a cast, and watched the little Deadly Dick lure sail out over the water. I can’t tell you how far – it’s tough to judge distance over water – but I can tell you I couldn’t have done it with the old rig.

As much as I appreciate the idea of catching a fish with a willow branch, what I really want is to catch a fish.

12 people are having a conversation about “The equipment conundrum

  1. I used to be one of the people that would buy inexpensive tools, thinking that I use some of them so little, that it was a waste of money buying more “professional” quality tools.

    Then one day I needed a particular sized spanner (wrench?). At some really crappy local markets I bought a $2 spanner in exactly the right size. I got home again, and applied it to the stuck nut. The bottom arm (tooth?) of the spanner just snapped right off … even with that theatrical metallic *tink*. Sure it was just a $2 spanner – what did I expect?! But it started me thinking: how cheap is too cheap? I wasted 1 hour of my precious weekend going to purchase, and then re-purchase a tool. But what if that *tink* had happened on the side of the road, on a cold & rainy sunday. It would be much more than a minor annoyance.

    So now I buy the highest quality tools I can afford. If I can only afford junk, than I don’t buy anything… cheap tools are false economy. You get less than what you pay for. And that goes doubly-so for anything with a motor and/or battery in it.

  2. Happy birthday!!!!

    I predict you will never wish you had a cheaper, crappier rod. You’ll be using and enjoying this one for a long, long time. (As long as you keep it away from car doors.) You’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of it. Don’t look back! Eat cake, cast far, and fry fish for dessert!

  3. I am a firm believer in quality equipment, and don’t mess around with cheap stuff. I’m also a firm believer in not having a lot of stuff, however, somehow I do.

    I think you’re okay. If you sprang for the most expensive rod there was, maybe you’d have a problem but you didn’t. And you didn’t buy a more expensive reel to put on it- you stuck with your bargain Penn. I really think you’re okay. I think you’ll know for sure when you start bringing in fish. I’m still jealous.

    By the way, I talked to a buddy in Florida last week who said she’d do a fly fishing camp with me, so now all I gotta do is find a good one. I’m thinking somewhere between us like Wyoming or Montana, which she would love. I just might get to fish one day.

  4. I know my tennis game improved when I splurged on a new racquet, and I skied better with the new parabolic skis. But there are other things I’ve tried to do where no amount of techonological development could overcome my inherent clumsiness and flailing about.

    Mike’s the fisherman and he was nodding his head as I read your post aloud. He says it’s the bend in the rod that tires the fish and keeps the hook in its mouth. He gives you new a rod a big thumbs up.

    Also – you seem to have the best yard sales ever.

  5. I’m not so much torn between cheap and high-quality equipment, as between old and new. Especially when the old stuff has sentimental value, like the rods I bring to the Cape once a summer, inherited from my fishing mentor who passed away far too soon. I don’t know if they’re “good equipment,” but it sure feels good to use them.

    If I don’t have anything sentimental handy, I use whatever else is handy. If it’s something I’ve purchased it’s usually as good quality as I can get while staying in the mid-range in terms of cost.

    Happy birthday and enjoy that rod this spring, summer, and fall!

  6. “the siren song of stuff” well that about sums it up!

    I suffer from conspicuous minimalism (it’s conspicuous in its absence) and am mocked as a ‘kit tart’ wherever I go. And I have never knowingly passed fishing shop without making an offering to the gods.

    But you know what? Nothing makes for success like having confidence in the equipment, wether you’re plumbing or hunting.

    Our Bass season is about to begin too, good luck

  7. Thanks, all, for the birthday wishes, and for not calling me a fishing sissy for getting a fancy-pants rod. (SBW, I love “kit tart,” and will try and find a way to use it in conversation.)

    The downside of having good equipment is that, when you don’t succeed, you have only yourself to blame.

  8. Kathy Aspden says:

    Hey Tamar! Happy birthday! And just remember: “Give a man a fish and they eat for a day. Give a man a Shimano Teramar composite fishing rod…and they feed the whole freakin’ neighborhood!”

  9. Lee has a love affair with nicely made tools. He figures if he is going to have to spend the money then he wants something that wont break and he wont have to buy again. Happy Bday and happy fishing by the way. 🙂

  10. I just recently found your blog, and have been going through the old comments. In the last year, I have been worki to bring more to our table. Here on Long Island the easiest way is fishing. This has lead to an expansion of my rod collection. If you want to keep up the feeling of fishing with a branch, try tenkara or kieryu. Tenkara is Japanese fly fishing without a reel. It is easy to learn, fun to do, and both easy and challenging at once. There are tons of cheap to expensive rods out there, but you won’t really need to break the bank. The new American company rods are extremely good in general, and will do for life. Keiryu is a similar technology that uses bait (garden hackle) instead of flies. I am sure that someone in your area must fish I, but if you have any questions, drop an email, and I can give you some suggestions.

  11. The line capacity on these is greeater and is serviceable when you are fishing rod
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    spring salmon is now operated. Bear:I’m seeing
    these big wide giant water spouts, and some lightning.

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