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The "Better Gear" Conversation

Blog by: Jim McFarland , CO 1/22/2019
It starts innocent enough with a phone call, text, email and sometimes even on the water.  Someone will begin a conversation about better gear and the conversation always goes to the same place where every single one of the initiators of the conversation gets it all wrong!  Also, interesting enough, I'm never really asked my opinion but told my own opinion along with the opinion of the person telling me.   In this blog I'll share a typical conversation and let's see if you can spot where it goes wrong.

Friend: Hey AWB, do you really believe more expensive gear is better
Me: Not necessarily more expensive.. bett...
Friend interrupting: But I'm very good and I know tons of people that are great anglers and they don't have expensive gear
Me: Not expensive, bett...
Me: If you're not a good angler it's not going to make you a better angler.  But if you're a good angler it will....

Okay, so you see how the conversation is going, this one's a bit abbreviated but you get the gist.  They ALWAYS go this way.

My goal here is to explain to you the better gear conversation BEFORE I get rebutted and hopefully my message gets across.  I have not and have NEVER told anyone to buy more expensive gear.  I am however, a strong advocate for better gear.  If I recommend a specific rod or reel it's because I was asked for a specific recommendation.  I have never teased anyone about their gear (Kev-O and Frigid-I-Hole are exemptions from this) Yes, I am very biased towards certain brands.  However, when I give advice I ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS tell a person to go and handle rods and reels in person.  If you don't like the way it feels at the store you won't like it when fishing.  Which means you're not going to use it. If it's 10 cents or 10,000 dollars, you have now spent too much.  The opposite is also true.  If you love it, and it's 10 cents or 10,000 dollars, you have now spent just right. 
If you look at fishing gear like tools, no matter what kind of tools the difference becomes clear.  I work in Information Technology, therefore a computer built for the average home user will NOT work for me.  With tools, applications and the scripts I use, a normal PC will not be able to do the job.  Ask a good mechanic about tools and ask to see theirs.  I promise their tools will not be from bargain basement stores.  I've known mechanics that you could put a wrench in their hand and they can tell you the brand without even seeing it.  Ask a landscaper if they can do their job with a Miata.  Ever see a landscaper without a truck?  Again, this comes down to tools.  Your rods and reels are no different, they are tools for fishing and better tools will improve your angling.  If you're new to fishing you won't notice a difference.  It's like anything else, you don't know the difference in quality until you use the generic first.  Just ask The Boss about knives.  When we met, she didn't understand the difference a good sharp knife could make.  She now has more knives than I do fishing gear.

Better gear does not necessarily mean more expensive.  There are lots of great products out there which are not out of reach of the average angler.  Here are 2 quick stories about better gear, the first is a person I had this conversation with and he still uses the NOT better angler argument, the 2nd is something I witnessed and better gear would improve an already great angler's game.

Person number one has gone through this conversation with me not only via text, but email and in person.  lol  In between these conversations he has purchased a fairly high end rod with a great reel.  As far as I can tell when we speak this is his favorite combination to take where he goes for whatever he fishes for. Yet he sticks to the argument.  Here is what I think about this.  He is taking this combo not because it cost more, but it is the most comfortable in his hands.  It provides better hook up ratios due to increased sensitivity and faster line retrieval.  He likes the reel so much, he bought one for his wife.  So to reiterate my point.. it's not about expense or that you're suddenly going to be a great fisherman, it's about a better quality tool.

Person number two I met at a lake shortly after my surgery so I couldn't fish but I could hang out and keep them company.  He was using a tube jig and he was bouncing it pretty good so there would frequently be slack in his line.  Fish tend to hit tubes on the drop!  I witnessed him get a few bites and miss them.  Remember what I said about tools?  This is where the right tool for the job would have increased his hookup ratio.  My friend was using a moderate action rod and if he were using a fast or extra fast action rod, he would have had more success.  The reason is the parabolic bend in the rod.  Moderate action bends more from the middle and has more give so it is much slower at setting the hook.  Whereas a fast action rod bends closer to the tip and will take up line much more quickly.  For you boat guys, setting the hook jigging from directly beneath your boat is nothing like setting the hook on a long cast from shore.

To bring this home, it IS NOT about spending more money.  It is about having a better tool to do the task.  Also, please spare me the story about the guy you saw on the river with his very expensive Sage or Orvis rod and super expensive waders and how they couldn't catch a fish while you were slaying them.  It only proves my point, better gear will not make you a better fisherman but if you're already a good fisherman, it will help improve your success.  If you're happy with what you have, PERFECT!  If you want to improve your angling experience, better gear will make a difference.

  Coyute, I know, I know, I'm a gear pimp.  That I may not be able to dispute.

Blog content © Jim McFarland
Blog Comments
SGM, 1/22/2019 2:18:22 PM
Hey why are you trying to get me to buy more expensive gear? Just kidding, I understand your point however my idea of better and someone else or your idea can be a big variable. That said, some of us are victims of old comfort habits that may be the hardest part to break to get better. Maybe we will just have to hit Pueblo in May and do a head to head comparison.
Ajax5240, 1/22/2019 2:47:03 PM
To reinforce your point Jim, another thing to add to the argument... I would bet that 99% of the people that now fish with higher quality gear started with the cheaper stuff. Making their way over to good gear over time. Much like the mechanic. We all started with a craftsman set, but now own snap on. We know the difference because we have lived through it. And now prefer to use good gear! I also find it a lot more reliable. Less frustration, more fishing.
bharper, 1/22/2019 2:48:40 PM
Great post Jim and very true in most cases!👍🎣 SGM- I’ll be ready to hit Pueblo in May! 😁 I would enjoy learning some techniques from both You and Jim!
bharper, 1/22/2019 2:53:02 PM
I forgot to mention that I caught my two biggest Trout on a lite 6’6” Shakespeare Rod! I caught the 9 lb Bow using 6 lb mono but the forgiving action of the Shakespeare Rod tip helped me keep the big fished hooked up in fast current on a small river!
Smelly, 1/22/2019 3:23:18 PM
AWB Remember Long long long long ago when your were a kid ? Bet you had 1 fishing rod. And if you were like most of us. That rod was a med action spinning rod. And I bet you caught fish back then. IT IS about spending $! Cause having a better tool is going to cost more $ ! Here is the thing. Your argument about better gear is valid.But to a point IMO.First the sky seems to be the limit on how much we are willing to spend on gear $700 rods and reels are out there to be had. I can see a $200 -$300 outfit improving my fishing experience. Not convinced that a $1000 outfit is going to improve 3X as much. The other thing. We seem to be getting " Golfer Syndrome". Can't go fishing unless we have 2-5 rods in tow. Not always practical,and not in everybody's budget. Also creates a "Barrier To Entry ". If I were a newbie. And was given " today's " list of must have gear I would need to get into fishing. I would think twice about doing it ! Here is a story to illustrate my point. My other "neglected " hobby is photography. I have a Cannon camera and multiple Cannon lenses ( not aftermarket). I have a few $ wrapped up in my outfit. Wife and I were headed out for vacation. We got a late start. And Planes don't wait. In my haste. I forgot to load my camera into the car. Everything else was packed the night before.I did remember to pack my pocket camera into my luggage. Would have been much easier to do with my " real " camera. But I still managed some cool pics with my "Cheapo" stuff. Better gear ENHANCES the experience. But it isn't a substitute FOR experience. And you can still have good experience without having to "pay up " for it And I agree with Coyute. You"re a DAMN GEAR PIMP ! Sincerely, Person #1 :-)
Hawaiian Punch, 1/22/2019 5:28:57 PM
Politic's,religion and does this dress make me look fat? All questions to stay clear of . . . .Guess we can add the "better gear" line to the list. Here is where a fourm like Fish explorer can come in real handy.I'm tired of buying gear twice and would rather narrow down or eliminate it altogether.Remember how you started fishing one way,jump forward 20 yrs and how the way has changed.I remember when downriggers first came on in Colorado. . . .everyone was using giant rods (10+ft) look now and you will find every size rod possible.(I use 5ft ugly sticks) You want to see the better gear curve,no place better than a super popular ice fishing spot.your going to see it all.From guys with an axe and 6 ft casting rod to guys with every new ice toy out there. Food for thought: put 100 Motorcycle owners in a room,interview each one and find out what kind of motorcycle they started riding on.Now what are they riding today? Out of all of the Harley owners,how many started on a full dresser Harley. It a learning curve that's overseen by a money curve.
skiman, 1/22/2019 5:54:13 PM
I can remember years ago, an old-timer taught me how to slay fish with an inexpensive flyrod, a “freeline” reel, 6# test mono, a split shot, a #12 salmon egg hook, and live rock worms on a certain section of the South Platte in Deckers. I don’t see how more expensive or newer gear would have made him, (or me), a better fisherman back then. But that was a long time ago, and today it would be like fishing with a stick and a string! The point is, times and equipment is in constant change, with new things coming out all the time. I don’t believe they necessarily make you a “better” fisher person, but they do give you a more confident feeling out on the water. Whatever the case, I sure wish I still had that old freeline reel...and the old timer that taught me how to use it!
bron, 1/22/2019 6:29:02 PM
Whatever gives you confidence and you are comfortable with is good. We have many low end combos that we consider "lucky" because we scored big once with them and it gives us confidence to use that particular rig. We have went high end on our carp gear because in a tourney losing that one big fish can cost you---at TGP last year at least 12 fish were hooked but only 4 landed. I think if you have the money spend extra on the tackle that fits your fishing style and it will improve whatever your niche is. That old lucky pole should come out once in a while too though.
esoxrocks, 1/22/2019 7:15:43 PM
Jim, you and I have had this conversation. My position has always been that there is a line of diminishing returns, after which each extra dollar of cost provides a decreasing amount of value. I’m always looking my for that sweet spot where the cost/value lines cross. You don’t need to swing a $500 rod to have the proper action or loading characteristics, but you probably do need to spend $100 or so.
IceFishingFool, 1/22/2019 9:14:49 PM
I love my $5 and $20 Black Betty reels ☺
Whiskerhunter, 1/24/2019 4:39:08 PM
No comment. LMFAO!!! We said Jim.
Jim McFarland (anglerwannabe), 1/24/2019 5:44:45 PM
ok guys.. better gear DOES NOT mean you have to spend more money. And if you do it doesn't have to be significant. For example person number 2 was using a moderate action Ugly Stik,, just simply for what he was doing a fast action Ugly Stik would have worked better. Right tool right job. I love Trokar hooks, those darn things are expensive.. every year TackleWarehouse puts them on sale for 33% off at Christmas.. they also give their gift certificates off 10%. Combine the 2 and you get over 40% off which makes the hooks pretty close to what other hooks cost. Except Trokar are literally sensationally better, Look through their clearance section and you can find good rods and reels for a great price, Just using TW as an example.. plenty of other tackle places do the same sort of thing.
Jim McFarland (anglerwannabe), 1/24/2019 5:50:41 PM
Smelly upgrading your fishing gear is no where near the ballpark of ANY kind of optics that involve the names Lieca, Zeiss or Swarovski cameras or scopes, Quit going back to the argument about being a good angler.. better gear, better tool. And I do agree I can be a bit of a gear pimp.. but I KNOW you love that combo and for me that's what the bottom line is. Right on point Brian and I mentioned exactly that. To appreciate better gear you first have to star with lower end and use it for a while. Also, using a better tool for a few hours or one day is not the same as using it daily. Jeff and if you recall I pretty much agreed with you.
Jim McFarland (anglerwannabe), 1/24/2019 5:52:26 PM
Thank you everyone, I love all your comments and opinions and as I've pointed out many times these are my favorite blogs. Ones that stir the pot a little and get us talking. Russ and Brian, I look forward to kicking your butts this Spring.. oh yeah, I went there! lol
bharper, 1/24/2019 9:28:00 PM
AWB - As long as I catch the tank you can have all the stocker slimers! 😜🍻🎣
bharper, 1/24/2019 9:38:49 PM
I’m speaking of the South Park fisheries Jim! Lol! Jk! I have never fished at Pueblo! I also have only fished Spinney four times and Antero once! I have fished the Dream Stream about 6 or 7 times! Looking forward to the challenge and learning experience from both of you!
Fishful Thinker, 1/25/2019 10:04:26 AM
Fish catching aside, a highly skilled angler, especially a mechanically skilled one as opposed to a generally "fishy guy", will derive more pleasure with equipment on par with his skill level. Tiger Woods would still score well with pawn shop specials, but I'd bet the feeling he gets when he makes good contact with his fancy driver is ingrained in his dreams. Anyone that argues to the contrary probably still thinks that fishing is just about catching fish. CL
Coyute, 1/25/2019 12:42:55 PM
"Coyute, I know, I know, I'm a gear pimp. That I may not be able to dispute." LOL!! Thanks for the laugh Hoss! Good article. BTW, don't tell anyone I have all my old Ugly Stiks in my gun safe!
Whiskerhunter, 1/25/2019 1:02:44 PM
"Maybe we will just have to hit Pueblo in May and do a head to head comparison." SGM, everyone is a good fisherman in May when fishing is easy. I think a more accurate test is late season when the shad are in full swing.... That's when skills are required.
Jim McFarland (anglerwannabe), 1/26/2019 6:03:26 AM
Thanks guys. Coyute - I still got 3 Ugly Stiks. Really don't know any angler that didn't start with something like that or one of the old Shakespeare setups. Chris - if you're talking warm water fish, gotta agree with you. But fall is prime time for pike and trout! Chad - succinctly said.
SGM, 1/26/2019 7:12:07 AM
Whiskerhunter, Since AWB rarely fishes Pueblo or for walleye I want to give him the best chance at catching some fish. Once he gets a few under his belt we can certainly move into July, August etc. thru November.
JohnnyW, 1/26/2019 4:20:13 PM
I must say, you make a very convincing argument on the need for better gear Jim. However, one very important question remains, how do we convince our wives?
Goosehunter82, 1/26/2019 5:51:16 PM
If your wife needs convincing maybe you should start there.
Jim McFarland (anglerwannabe), 1/26/2019 6:08:33 PM
Johnny - I normally just say, "Hey Steph, look what I just bought" My biggest issue is she is a gear thief! lol Like I keep saying, it doesn't have to be more expensive and even if it is, then only nominally so. When I buy the really expensive stuff, it takes time. I'll take $5 to $50 per payday and put it away until I have enough to buy what I want. It goes quicker than you think. While on the subject, also feel it important to get exactly what you want and not settle for anything else. Old adage of it's more important want what you have than have what you want.
Skookshunter, 1/27/2019 8:38:32 AM
I used pretty bad equipment when I was just getting into fishing and used that stuff for years not knowing what I was missing out on. When I picked up a decent spinning outfit, I couldn't tell a difference between my crappy gear and the good stuff. But after I got used to using my better equipment, I picked up my old rod and reel and it felt awful so I gave it away to one of my nephews wanting to get into fishing. I think an inexperienced angler wont really be able to tell the difference at first, but let them fish a decent combo for a while, then give them some bad equipment and they'll understand.
Anteroman, 1/27/2019 9:19:12 AM
I didn't read all the comments but just wanted to weigh in. I too am an old guy and have been fishing since I was 5, that's 69 years ago. I started out as most did back then with a simple Mitchell 300 spin reel. Progressing through life in both fresh and saltwater I've been on both sides of the fence with tackle. On my charter boat back in the late 80's I carried a rod inventory of 50 or so pieces with some of the Fin-Nor and Penn International rigs pushing the $2500 each mark. In the past 14 years I've concentrated on trout fishing primarily in the South Park area where we purchased a cabin in 2005. I started with what I would call mid priced equipment mostly from Bass Pro, I then moved to some "Top of the line" stuff from RL Winston, Sage and Scott, all nice all expensive and all still in use. Over the past several years I've only purchased TFO rods in 5 wt and paid between $99 and $129 for each ( The warrantee is amazing, $35 repair or replace!!), my reels of various makes cost usually less than $70, for the type fishing I do, primarily lakes from a pontoon this stuff does as well as the high end tackle. I do spin fish as well and have a number of Shimano Stella reels which were quite expensive and worked well, the downside, Shimano doesn't inventory or have available spare parts for these reels after about 5 years, unbelievable in my opinion. I have for the past several years relied on the Pflueger spin reels, not expensive and quite reliable. My toon is "top of the line" and I wouldn't trade it for any others I've seen or used. Figure out what works for you and your budget and go from there. Bill
Tbubb, 1/28/2019 3:02:51 AM
" I have never teased anyone about their gear (Kev-O and Frigid-I-Hole are exemptions from this)..." Well, yeah. kev-O's ice rods, right?!?!? I know he broke his last white one and was upset. I thought maybe a broomstick or some conduit might be just as good (wink). One thing I always thought was that the reel mattered more than the rod. Rods are at least repeatable and do the same thing most of the time and you can adapt to them, but reels get... finicky. So in my experience, they don't always behave well, which is to say, not predictably. So I must admit, the reel is the place where I am more careful about it when I buy it now.
Smelly, 1/29/2019 1:33:22 PM
I think Anteroman just gave the " definitive " answer on the better gear conversation. Figure out what works for you and your budget. Very well put Bill !
FXA0, 1/30/2019 8:53:08 AM
Budgets matter. But mindsets are often just a big of a barrier, if not more. For a long time, I was stuck on $200 or less rods. I couldn't justify buying anything more expensive than that. The extra money was just not worth it. Only pros and poseurs needed that fancy stuff... :) Three years ago, my father in law told my wife and I that he had a medical condition with his heart. I decided to buy him a G Loomis NRX. He called me when he got the rod. He was really happy with the NRX. I had bought him rods between $100 to $200 over the years, but I never sensed that level of excitement when he received the cheaper rods. He is not not a "gear pimp" by any stretch of the imagination. He isn't even into gear or knows much about the various brands. But he had no problem recognizing that the NRX was far better than anything else he had had. After that, I figured that it must really be something else if my father in law liked it that much, so I bought myself one. Since then, I have bought 4 more... Fish with whatever gear you feel is right for you. But it's silly to think nice gear is pointless, especially if you haven't even tried it. Just like it's silly to think you must have nice gear to enjoy fishing.
Fishful Thinker, 1/30/2019 4:35:45 PM
I'll add that my guide clients fish with St Croix Avids with Revo SX reels and good braid...about $350 for the whole set-up, but more importantly, it is well chosen to be a balance of quality and value and also perfectly matched to how/where we fish. It is the very rare client that doesn't comment on how much they enjoy fishing with it. Occasionally, with qualified clients that I know have skills, Ill break out my high end stuff for them to sample. I'd do it more except they never want to hand it back...and it's hard to get the drool off the fiberglass. CL
Goosehunter82, 1/30/2019 5:32:07 PM
Good stuff Jim and plenty of great feedback. For years I fished with the trusty ugly stik. If I'm carp fishing I still do. I have since bought some nicer st croix rods but personally don't nessasry see a huge difference. That said most of my fishing is trolling so I don't think it matters as much. I spend quite a bit more on my trolling rigs but I guess it's what I use the most and even still I don't go crazy buying trolling rigs. Switch to ice fishing and I definitely agree. High quality equipment makes the difference between catching fish and missing fish. Imo for ice fishing good equipment definitely makes the difference. With that in mind I can see how good rods and reels for casting could be equally as important. Personally I think that line is the most important thing we can work with. It's kind of like owning a fast car and putting cheap tires on it. I spare no expense when it come to buying and replacing line.
FXA0, 1/31/2019 1:41:11 PM
If you cast a lot, a nice rod makes a difference. You may or may not catch more fish, but your time on the water will be more enjoyable. I could cast all day with a cheap rod, but I much prefer a higher end rod that is not as tip heavy. And that's important. A nice rod may not be much lighter overall, but rod manufacturers can build less tip heavy rods when they use better materials/technology. That extra weight and that extra flex at the tip of the rod translates into a less pleasant experience when you cast a lot. Line is also very important. I have a specific trip in mind where having the right line meant I could get into the strike zone. Combine that with a sensitive rod and I was the only one catching fish hand trolling behind us. It wasn't the fisherman. As soon as I handed my rod to my friend, he started catching fish.
FXA0, 1/31/2019 1:51:24 PM
I forgot to mention: buying a nice rod can be cost effective. I have never broken a nice rod, because I know what it costs and I take good care of them. On the other hand, I have broken many lesser rods. :)
Jim McFarland (anglerwannabe), 1/31/2019 6:23:37 PM
Smelly - the only way to figure out what works for you, is to buy it. Tbubb - Kev has had some misfortune with rods. FXA0 - my buddy has an NRX and I suspect he may love it more than he should. lol GH3 - for trolling rods, may want to ask Dan Swanson. Not sure how many I have to say this before it sinks in, you DO NOT necessarily have to spend more money for better gear. If you do, it could be marginal. Fishful Thinker - I've had that too, where folks don't want to give back my rods. As always, thank you everyone for the responses. This type of dialogue is fantastic
Killerfihser, 2/1/2019 6:34:56 AM
My older brother, best fishermen ever, catches fish with line and hook tied to his index finger, I kid you not. I put my brother to a challenge with his $29.99 Walmart combo verse my medium price $400 combo. I chase white bass exclusively for the fight and the boils, once you spot a boil it's on. Yes, my brother still catches fish, even beats me, as the boils starts to exploded and we both continue to catch fish but he's tired out quickly, while I'm still going at it. It takes him twice as much to cast and reel in fish as his gear wears him down. No doubt fancy gear does not make you a better fishermen but it sure does help you prolong your fishing throughout the day.
JOHN_COSprings, 2/1/2019 8:03:58 AM
A more expensive rod may allow the experienced angler to cast further, a reel may have smoother drag, line lay, retrieve, a sharper/stronger hook may result in less hook pulls, a tougher line be more resistant to breakage and snap offs. Do all these enable you to catch more fish ? perhaps though they certainly do not make you a better angler. Patience, perseverance, practice, listening to advice, time on the water, these are what help you improve. I actually caught my most carp in a single year on budget friendly Ugly Stick Rods, some cheap spinning reels form Walmart, Big Game line, Lazer Sharp Hooks, Sweetcorn out the can as bait, a pair of simple Y bank sticks and some wooden clothes pegs as bite hanglers off the line. I paid far more attention back then to my fishing for sure ? Now I have an arsenal of expensive toys, electronic highly sensitive indicators, sonars, coffee making supplies I guess I have grown lazy :)
Smelly, 2/1/2019 2:36:13 PM
Just like you miss hooksets AWB. You missed Anteroman's point ! If your budget has no limits. Go for it. If you can only realistically spend $100. Find something you like in that range. AND don't feel under gunned cause somebody near you has a $400 outfit. You can still catch fish , and still have fun.It's all good. WE might notice the difference between a $100 rod and a $400 rod. The fish.Not so much! My wife and I are known as D.I.N.Ks. Dual Income,No Kids.I can splurge a little. But if I told my wife that I shelled out $600 for a fishing outfit.So I can enhance my fishing experience . It may enhance my fishing, but I can guarantee it won't do a DAM thing for enhancing my sex life ! Matter of fact. I think things would be mighty chilly around my house for quite some time. And I suspect others on this site could make the same statement.Gotta laugh a little FXAO. I seem to be the Opposite of you. Only broke 1 cheaper rod in all the years I've owned them. Since upgrading to St Croix Avids , I'took 2 of them out just last season ! Doesn't matter what you own. S#!t Happens ! Guess I don't live right !
TADA32, 2/1/2019 6:51:57 PM
I got to fish with my first ever 1000 dollar fly rod this summer. That's a 1000 before reel and line and so forth. Can't say I could tell a huge difference between that and my t&t rod. But I'm glad I got to say I used a thousand dollar rod. I pick gear based off how it feels to me. But I will stick to some mid to higher end gear. Sometimes noodle rods if I want to have a change of pace.
FXA0, 2/1/2019 7:43:40 PM
Smelly, maybe you got more clumsy over the years... :) That's OK, I was always clumsy, and I still am. I broke many cheap rods and even 3 mid price rods (St Croix Avids). I have had a St Croix Legend for 10 years and it is my oldest rod. As for the wife not being happy about buying a nice rod, well, maybe you should give her the enhanced sex life before you buy the rod. :) In all seriousness fish with whatever makes you happy, cheap or expensive.