Like clowns from a tiny car at the circus, fishing rods kept coming and coming from Jerry Howard’s boat. They came from stacks on each side of where he sat at the back of the 18-foot boat. Others were carefully pulled from the boat’s side, where they’d been threaded through narrow openings to rest within the craft’s hull.
Reminding me of the string of handkerchiefs from a magician’s fist, Ashley Eustice, Howard’s granddaughter, quickly pulled rod after rod from the boat’s main storage compartment. Cody Requena, her young cousin, created a teepee of poles and lines around their grandfather.
There were one piece rods and two piece rods, long rods and short rods and even short rods that telescoped into long rods. The types of reels were just as varied, and the fishing line seemed to come in more sizes and colors than thread in a sewing store.
A count showed Howard had brought 23 fishing rods afloat last Tuesday morning.
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“I’ve got quite a few more at home I could have brought,” Howard said. “I don’t seem to be able to walk out of Walmart without buying a new one.”
In his defense, Howard is a versatile angler who may pursue several species, several ways, on any given day. That he’s an avid tournament angler, sometimes with Ashley as his partner, means he doesn’t want to waste time switching lures or trying fix a tangled reel. Instead, he wants to grab another outfit and get back to fishing.
But there’s no denying we hunters and anglers can be an obsessed lot when it comes to our equipment. I’m as guilty as they come. I could hunt about everything in North America with the pump 12 gauge I got in high school, a hand-me down .22 and a venerable .30-06. But I have many more.
Since I don’t fish as much as Howard, I could probably get by with five or six fishing rods. Yet the rod racks in my garage hold about as many as he had in his boat. This spring I bought a new fishing rod and reel at a fund-raiser, and placed it in the rack next to the identical outfit I bought last year – which had never been used.
Turkey gear may be my main weakness, and I probably average three to five new calls every spring. I usually end up hunting with the same box and slate calls that have tolled in scores of birds over the past dozen seasons.
The past three years I’ve spent more on new, full-sized, highly-detailed turkey decoys than I did on foam fake jakes and toms the previous 30 seasons combined. I’ve still shot far more turkeys without a decoy than with. And please, never ask my wife about waterfowl decoys if I’m anywhere around. Seriously.
Most of my serious hunting and angling buddies are the same, if not worse. Andy Fanter has a great array of marlin gear, and he lives in Great Bend and averages one marlin trip per year. Others make the many dollars I spend look like pennies.
Ed Markel’s collectible thing is great hunting properties. Multiple times a year, he’s looking at another quarter-section here or half-section there. Markel already owns more places that he can possibly hunt in a season and I’d rate them all from good to outstanding. Yet he keeps looking for more.
The act of shopping for new equipment, getting it ready, and dreaming how it will improve our success is a way to keep our minds on our passions even when our bodies aren’t afield or afloat. With more gear also comes increased confidence.
Unfortunately, it often does little to impress the fish and game we are after.
The plan Tuesday morning was for an article on using special spinning rigs tipped with nightcrawlers, fished near the bottom, to rack up some impressive numbers of fish, including walleye. They did not get the memo.
For miles we trolled with the spinners and sometimes with bigger crankbaits, over places where nice fish had been caught in previous days. Nuisance white perch of about four to six inches were the most common catch, and they weren’t really that common. Finally, one rod bowed deep and started bucking.
“That’s gotta be a nice wiper,” Howard said as he pulled the rod from its holder, and handed it to Ashley. She fought the fish well, keeping it from heading into nearby snags. It measured 25 1/4 inches and weighed more than 6 1/2 pounds. Back at the boat ramp the wiper was the only fish in the livewell.
“Good thing we had all 23 rods or we might not have caught that one nice fish,” Howard said with a chuckle.
I expect there to be 25 or more rods, including some brand-new outfits, in his boat the next time we fish together. My hunting partners know I’ll have more and newer goose decoys when we hit the fields near the lake this winter.
They say money can’t buy happiness, but we anglers and hunters sure give it a try.