In keeping with tradition, I’m going to provide some Christmas gift ideas for the fisherman on your list who has everything.
During my time at The Kansas City Star, I followed two themes. I started by highlighting new products on the market. Then, I started featuring items made by companies based in Mid-America.
This year, I’m going a different route. I’m featuring products that I’ve already field-tested – equipment that are my favorites and are in my boat almost every time I go out.
I’m not saying they’re the best on the market. Nor am I getting a cent by the companies to say nice things about them.
I’m merely pointing out some of the fishing equipment I have no qualms about recommending, based on years of fishing.
- ST. CROIX LITE POWER PREMIER SERIES FISING ROD matched with PFLUEGER PRESIDENT SPINNING REEL: I love to fish with finesse methods for everything from bass to crappies to bluegills, and this is the best setup I have found. The combination is seemingly as light as a feather. The St. Croix Lite Power rod (about $120) is a step up from an ultralight, with plenty of sensitivity, but still enough power in the butt to set the hook on a good-sized fish. The reel is affordable ($50 to $60), yet has a good drag system and is durable.
- LEW’S TOURNAMENT SERIES BAITCASTING REEL paired with G. LOOMIS IMX ROD: You get what you pay for with this combo. And you pay a lot. This isn’t cheapie stuff. But I’ve found through experience that quality equipment can make a difference. The G. Loomis IMX (about $300) has long been one of the top rods on the market, providing sensitivity and plenty of strength. The Lew’s Tournament Series reel (about $200) is one of the lighter models you’ll find. It weighs only 6.2 ounces. But it allows for long casts, has a great drag system and can tackle the big ones.
- HUMMINBIRD HELIX 7S : I just finished my first fishing season with this unit on my boat, and I’m amazed at how much better a fisherman it made me. In addition to enhanced regular sonar fish-finding capabilities, it also has down-scan, side scan and GPS. Operated in split screen, you can position your boat over brush piles and easily pick out concentrations of bait and gamefish. It also locates subtle changes in bottom contour, rock piles, logs and other structure you didn’t know were there. It sells for about $800.
- GARMIN VIRB: This small video camera allows you to essentially take selfies while you fish. You mount it in on a stick in your back light pole, turn it on, then start fishing at the bow of the boat. Them you can edit the video to make a production of some of your best fishing moments. The newer models are voice activated, have a touch screen and include image stability features. It sells for about $400.
- ENGEL LIVE BAIT COOLER: Bait buckets have come a long way since grandpa’s day. The Engel units have all the features of a good cooler, including a hinged lid that provides a tight seal, insulation and plenty of room. It also has an air pump to keep the water oxygenated. It comes in three sizes: 13, 19 and 30 quarts. I bought the 19-quart model so I could fit plenty of minnows in without crowding them. The 19-quart Engel sells for about $90.
- BERKLEY DIGITAL FISH SCALE: Warning: This product can result in disappointment. Fish always seem to look bigger when they are in the water, on the end of your line. But this scale makes sure your fish stories are accurate. It weighs fish up to 50 pounds. Retails for about $20.
- SWIMMING MINNOW GRUBS: This plastic grub is probably my favorite all-time lure. With a slender body and a twister-type tail, it has the look and action of a shad. It was originally made by Gene Larew, and that is where I first discovered it. I got a handful from Larew himself, tried them and found them amazingly effective for everything from crappies to bass to white bass to walleyes. When Larew passed away, his company eventually stopped making them. But I still found bulk packages of the grubs in small bait shops in the Ozarks. They never did have a label on the bags and the bait shops wouldn’t tell me who was making them. Now the Bobby Garland Co. is making them and I’m still buying them. They come in 25 colors and sell for $4 for a 15-count bag and $11.89 for a 50-count bag.
- Z-MAN ZINKER Z FINESSE BAITS: You look at the Zinker Z, and there’s not a lot there to impress you. It’s a straight, almost non-descript plastic lure that just doesn’t have a lot of appeal…to humans. To fish? That’s a different story. When cut in half and affixed to a light, mushroom-type jig head, the Zinker Z is a fish catcher. A lot of it has to do with its buoyancy and its slow fall once it is jigged. It is salt-impregnated and made of a super-tough material that makes it durable. When I go fishing, one of these baits is usually tied to one of my lines. A package of six baits sells for about $4.50.
- SONNY’S SUPER STICKY CATFISH BAIT: In my years of writing stories on good ol’ boys who love to catch channel catfish, there have been two common threads. One, many of them use Sonny’s dip bait. Two, they tell me, “Don’t tell anybody about this stuff,” like they have some secret bait. Sorry, guys. It’s not a secret. And I’m telling. I know a lot of stinkbaits work, but this is the best one I’ve ever used. When someone says this gift stinks, it’s a compliment. A 15-ounce jar sells for about $20.