I hear it all the time from customers: “I just bought this brand-new boat with the best electronics and man, you should see this state-of-the-art trolling motor. Now I need some fishing gear, but I don’t won’t to spend a lot of money on it.”
Really? You just spent all that money on a serious fishing machine, but for the equipment that’s actually gonna catch you the fish you want to be cheap? If you’re planning on looking really good and seeing pretty colors on a screen, you have accomplished your mission — but if you’re planning on putting some fish to the boat, you might want to buy some quality tackle.
Now, I’m not shaming anyone for fishing with cheap gear. If you’re just starting out and don’t know if fishing is really your thing, or if it’s truly all you can afford, then cheap tackle is fine. But when people tell me they’re going out to catch tarpon or amberjack and expect to do it with low-end tackle … Well, I’ll put it this way: Battling tough fish with sub-par equipment makes for a very long and frustrating day. It might even make that new sled you just bought seem like a bad idea.
Big saltwater fish are very hard fighters that will test the limits of even really good fishing gear. The cheaper stuff doesn’t stand a chance. And when you add in the salt (corrosion) and sun (UV damage) factors, cheap equipment is doomed.
The next question: “If I have to buy a good rod and reel, can I buy just one?” Yes, absolutely — if you only want to do one kind of fishing I like to use the golf analogy. Can you a whole round with just one club? Well, I suppose you can, but you probably won’t make many friends (and the rest of your foursome will pretend they don’t know you while you’re putting with your favorite sand wedge).
Every rod and reel setup I have serves a different purpose. Let’s break them down.
For targeting snook and redfish on the flats, I like to use a 7-foot 8-17 pound class Star Stellar Lite rod and a 3000 series Penn reel spooled with 15 pound Sufix braid. This combo is light in weight but tough enough to pull fish out from under trees and docks.
If I’m after trout, I’m fishing open water. I can use my snook rod, but I want to keep it sporting. So I use a smaller reel (2500 size) and lighter line (10-pound braid). I also like a 7.5-foot rod here. The extra length gets me a little more distance but I lose a little accuracy. Since I use this rod in open water, where I don’t have to make precise casts into mangrove pockets, it’s not a problem.
For cobia, mid-sized sharks, big snook and small tarpon, you gotta step up your game. These hard-pulling machines demand heavier gear. I like a 7-foot 20-40 rod paired with a 4500 Penn Spinfisher LiveLiner. The LiveLiner gives me a free-spool option, which comes in very handy while fishing with live or frozen bait. I spool this with 30-pound braid.
If grown tarpon are on your list, a beefier setup with great casting is called for. I like an 8-foot 15-30 rod and a 6000 series spinning reel spooled with 65-pound braid. The long rod lets me throw even lightweight crabs a pretty good distance.
We haven’t even looked at offshore. If that’s your destination — well, it would fill up the whole magazine to try and go through all the options. Point is, if you set up your boat with quality rods and reels that are matched to the types of fishing you plan to do, you will enjoy your time on the water.
I have my favorite brands, but there are other great rod and reel makers out there. I’ve had great results with the equipment I mentioned, but I would also like to point out a local company called Reaper Rods which is excellent, and they make a great rod for any fishing condition.
If you need recommendations on a proper set up, normally I would say come see me or any of the guys or gals at Fishin’ Frank’s to get set up with great equipment so you can enjoy the precious time you get to spend on the water. Of course, I don’t know how long it will be until there’s a Fishin’ Frank’s again, so all I can say is I hope to see you soon.
Remember, get your kids hooked on fishing and they won’t be able to afford drugs.
Capt. Steve “Pegleg” Phillips owns and operates Southern Charm Charters, with his wife Heather as occasional first mate. If you’re wondering why his friends call him Pegleg, stop in at Fishin’ Frank’s and meet him. For charter info, contact him at 678-787-4750 or through his Facebook page at .