Fish On: For the fisherman on your Chistmas list

COURTESY PHOTO Our columnist is reeling in and landing the Christmas spirit.
Our columnist is reeling in and landing the Christmas spirit.

Over the years I’ve discovered that a lot of the success and enjoyment I derive from fishing has to do with the equipment I use.

Because of new technology and materials, fishing tackle is better, lures more effective and other gear more fun for fishermen to use or wear. With thoughts of new tackle or gear displacing sugar plums in your heads, I wanted to bring you up to date on some of the gear that might improve your fun and comfort if somehow you just happen to find it under your Christmas tree.

I’ll try to hit the high points along with some offbeat equipment you may not even know you need, but you do! I’ve also included approximate prices.

What you need in the sun: On sunny days I always wear a long billed baseball-type cap with some horrible design on it ($25), a long sleeve SPF 30 fishing shirt ($20), and a good pair of deck shoes (I leave barefoot fishing to the Samoans since I can’t stand cuts on my feet). I also lather up with Target’s own highly rated brand of SPF 50 sunscreen cream at $9 for a summer’s supply. My dermatologist doesn’t like it and I think I know why.

Next, a pair of good Polaroid glasses is a must to help you see through the glare and protect your eyes from sun damage and flying lures or other objects on the boat or beach. When wearing them, it’s often possible to see fish swimming right under the water’s surface or slashing at your lures, which is always a kick. You don’t need the $300 models and can start with a good pair for less than $50 and bifocals at less than $100.

Finally, to fight off the sun and skin cancer I wear a wildly decorated sun blocking mask commonly called a “Buff” that also keeps the gnats off of my face and neck at dawn and dusk. Buffs ($20) are lightweight and you can breathe through them, but wearing one makes you resemble a terrorist so if you have one on, remember to take it off before going into the bait shop.

Two must-haves: I think going fishing without a good pair of fishing pliers with quality tungsten-carbide cutters on them is a big mistake. Without them attached to a sheath on my belt with a lanyard (so they don’t go overboard) I cannot cut braided line or monofilament, unhook fish by twisting the hooks out or tighten knots so they won’t slip.

Yes, tough guys can bite thru 40-pound leaders or pull knots tight with their teeth, but I don’t know anyone who can use their front teeth to twist hooks out of a bluefish’s mouth without becoming seriously disfigured. The aluminum plier frame and tungsten carbide blades on my $35 Calcutta brand pliers have seen plenty of action over the past two years and they are still in excellent shape.

A final game-changing item I suggest every fisherman have is a fish gripper with a scale on it to weigh fish. This is a device that allows you to land and control fish, toothy or not, by clamping the gripper to the fish’s bottom jaw. With a gripper you never have to actually hold the fish by its body or gills and can easily hold the fish up without dropping it while taking a photo and immobilize the fish while you remove a hook and weigh it fairly accurately on the built-in scale.

The big name in grippers is the Boga Grip (starts at $125) and while I have one of these, I also have two others made by Rapala and Bass Pro that do the job for $30. I can keep one on either side of my boat’s console for easy guest access. The downside of using a gripper, of course, is by having a “real scale” on board all of the “25-pound bass” or “12-pound blues” you release will lose 5 to 10 pounds from your “expert” estimates of pre-gripper days.

Basic tackle ideas: Assuming that you might be interested in some rods and reels, I have a few suggestions. I primarily use 7-foot spinning rods with a four series reels spooled with 14-pound braided line when fishing for stripers, porgies, bluefish, fluke, weakfish and other inshore fish. Spinning rods can be used for bottom fishing with bait as well as with casting lures and are easy to use and care for.

If you’re looking for a really durable lower-priced combination, try a Penn Battle 4000 spinning reel with a matching 7-foot Penn rod for under $100. Almost all of my spinning reels are Penn Battles and after three years have kept on delivering quality service with a good drag and no problems.

If Santa can afford to spend a little more, two other quality manufacturers offering package deals include Diawa and Shimano with prices of about $160 for the combo sets.

I use braided line because of its smaller diameter (14-pound braid has the same diameter as 6-pound mono) it casts much farther than mono and is almost twice as abrasion-resistant, so you can really bear down on a larger fish without breaking the line. However, it is more expensive than mono with 150-yard spools of Berkley Fireline (my favorite) or Power Pro, costing around $16 as compared to Trilene 20-pound mono that sells for about $10 for 500-plus yards. You also have to use a 3-foot 25-pound mono leader, which is an additional cost when fishing with braid.
Lures: I could tell you about tons of lures to buy, such as Cordell Pencli Poppers or Norman Rattlin’ Chug Bugs or Creek Chub Striper Strikers but I won’t, since by now your heads must be spinning.

But I will tell you where you can find the gear mentioned so you can give Santa a hint. Start locally at Jack’s Marine on the Island, Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor, Wego Tackle in Southold or Dick’s Sporting Goods (where you can find one). Also, go online to or for good photographic views of all the gear I’ve described.

One final tip: Don’t write to ask Santa because he is very busy and he knows who has been bad or good and since he already knows all about fishermen he’ll never get back to you.
Happy holidays and a healthy and wealthy New Year!