Snagging the perfect gift

Holiday shopping ideas for the hard-to-shop-for angler
File photo by M. Scott Moon Christmas for the angler on the list can mean anything from clothing to items for the tackle box.

If you are having a hard time finding the perfect gift to widen the eyes of the seasoned Kenai Peninsula angler in your life that seems to have everything he or she needs already, you might not be alone.


At first glance fishermen can be a hard group to shop for. You know the type — a real salmon stalker or trout bum who already drops thousands of dollars every summer on bait, flies, line, rods, reels and clothing.

Plus, any fisherman above a novice’s experience level will agree it’s best to leave choices about big-ticket items — rods, reels, line, etc. — up to the individual angler, as each one has a different opinion about what’s best.

However, many fishermen appreciate gifts that are fishing-related, expand on a type of angling they haven’t yet tried, or provide another avenue to feed their need for all things fish.

Here are a few complied suggestions from area fishermen and retailers on holiday gifts for a type of fisher you may know:

Gear-collector fisherman

Many fishermen love not only the feeling of catching a fish, but also the feeling of being surrounded by too much gear and too many gadgets. Sometimes the best gifts for this fisherman have little to do with actual fishing and more to do with things that support the addiction.

Dawn Nushart, sporting goods counter manager for Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing suggested a compact weather radio that gives an up-to-date forecast of Peninsula weather and marine conditions for Cook Inlet.

“It is really cool and compact and it comes in handy, like with last night,” she said. “All of a sudden they were predicting we were going to get real heavy snows and high seas ... I flipped it on and got a real good idea of what to expect.”

Nushart said the radio is the size of a cell phone and has an alert “so if something does come in that’s real unexpected it’ll come on automatically and give you a weather warning.”

Another suggestion that seems to be popular with the technologically-hip fishermen is a pair of sunglasses made with built-in video capturing abilities or a small, waterproof, portable video camera.

I would suggest giving books for this type of fisherman, too. There is an entire genre of literature dedicated to fishing memoirs here in Alaska and fly fishing in particular. One I read this year I’d recommend was “Breakfast at Trout’s Place: The Seasons of an Alaskan Flyfisher” by Ken Marsh.

The reason I suggest fishing memoirs here is because when I read Marsh’s book, it gave me a number of ideas for things I’d like to buy, places I’d like to try fishing or techniques I hadn’t considered.

River fisherman singing the blues

This fisherman is your standard mid-June Russian River, late-July Kenai River sockeye warrior who may be growing tired of flipping year after year. This could also be for the river guide who is tired of hearing a motor rumble or pushing oars or a river fisherman tired of walking miles up and down the same banks.

The remedy I’d suggest for this angler is a float tube for fishing on the Peninsula’s numerous, often forgotten lakes. A float tube serves the same purpose as other watercraft — a canoe or kayak — but it is easily portable and made specifically with the fly fisherman in mind. Fishing in one on a quiet lake can be a relaxing, welcome break away from the combat fishing crowds.

Dave Atcheson, author of “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula” and a fishing instructor at Kenai Peninsula College, said he has seen more and more local fishermen warm up to the float tube.

“There are a wide variety and you want to kind of do some research,” he said. “I kind of like the ‘U’-shaped ones for easy access to get in and out of them. Sometimes the back of them is upturned and bow-shaped so they tend to be a little more expensive, but they cruise on the water a little bit better.”

Float tubes come in a wide variety of prices and like most fishing gear, the basic model will serve its purpose until the fisherman figures out what features he or she would like on a more advanced model.

“A 100-dollar one will work good,” Atcheson said. “That’s what I’ve got. They are round usually and they don’t have a lot of frills on them, but they work fine.”

I would also include some nice, detailed topographical maps of the lakes in the area to go along with the float tube. Also, some sort of cataloguing technique — say a blank Rolodex — would allow the fisherman to keep detailed notes on each lake, how it was fished and which flies or bait fish hit at what time of the year.

Restless fisherman seeking winter hobby

Many fishermen take up other hobbies, say bowling, pottery or obsessive television watching, during the winter to keep their minds off fishing as to not torture themselves.

But for the fisherman who can’t drive over the area’s bridges without looking longingly at the snowy, frozen river I’d suggest a beginning fly tying kit. If you don’t trust the salesman or don’t know where to start, consider shopping online for kits made through trusted outfitters like Cabelas or Orvis.

“The tying aspect of it is something we always relish this time of the year,” said Mike Harpe, manager and guide of Kenai River Fly Fishing. “Hot fires, cold beers and tying flies — always a good one.”

The fly tier with a few seasons under his belt could always use more materials like fur, hair or thread, Harpe said.

“My wife gets me a ton of flesh (fly supplies),” he said. “I’d say you can’t get enough of that. But this is the time of year to get creative when you have a lot of time to think about it. Relish those moments when you are out there burning up the flies.”

If the fisherman you are shopping for likes to read or write, consider additional tools that may spark him or her to pen their fishing memories. If you think this fisherman would like to take a journey into woodworking and make their own fly boxes, a gift card to the hardware store, a pattern from the internet and foam inserts could be the nudge they need.

Older fisherman feeling nostalgic

Some fishermen are just too set in their ways to start tying flies, have too much rust in their joints for a float tube or can already feel the weather in their bones. For this fisherman, Joe Connors of Big Sky Charter and Fishcamp suggested something timeless.

“I like old fishing gear, antique stuff,” he said. “If I ever get a reel, a fly rod or some old gear, that’s kind of my favorite.”

Connors said such items can be found at pawn shops in the area and online.

“Just nostalgia, so to speak,” he said. “Today you’ve got all the new gear and everything is lighter and titanium and aluminum, but I just like the old stuff. It’s kind of what I collect. Some of the fragile stuff I would never use — a vintage bamboo rod — because it wouldn’t stand up, it’d break too easy. But I do. I play with the reels and some of the old plugs that might be 40, 50, 60 years old, those are always nice to try. I would suspect (fish here) wouldn’t have seen it.”

Paul Tornow of Alaska’s Angling Addiction suggested fishing-related artwork as a gift.

“It is one of those things that kind of takes you back to a place or a memory that you once had on the water,” he said.

Tornow said many fishermen would appreciate good art because the two are tied closer than it would appear.

“Whatever they are, spin caster or fly fisher, it is a work of art,” he said. “Even when you do like spay fishing that’s kind of like an artistic dance in the water. It is very closely tied to artwork itself, the motions, the moves, the scenery and the place you are.”

For this fisherman I would also suggest compiling old fishing photos in some manner, perhaps for a calendar, a collage or another purpose. Fishermen tend to be nostalgic creatures and old age tends to exacerbate those tendencies.

Other assorted ideas:

■ Vacuum packer — For the obvious preservation of the day’s catch and for keeping neat odds and ends in a backpack, tackle box, or to preserve bait.

■ Binoculars — Many areas where fishermen find themselves are also hotspots for birding and other wildlife viewing. Or, in some cases, finding the car again.

■ Polarized sunglasses — A great tool for fishing shallower streams like the Russian River or Quartz Creek. You’d be surprised how quickly you can locate a sockeye hole with the right eyewear. I’d also suggest a pair of the cords that hold them to the fisherman’s head so they don’t disappear into the drink.

■ Digital camera — Some fishermen will carry a digital single-lens reflex camera with them on fishing trips, but some might prefer a smaller, waterproof point-and-shoot with a wide angle for shooting fish portraits.

■ LED headlamp — A headlamp is perfect for fishing when the light gets dim, early or late in the season or for the area’s midnight openers.

■ Backpack-fly box combo — Several companies are making really great backpack, fishing gear combos that greatly range in price and style from big packs to smaller vests loaded with pockets.

Stocking stuffers:

■ Knife sharpener

■ Set of carabiners

■ Fillet glove

■ Repair glue for leaky rubber boots or waders

■ Large fingernail clippers for cutting line

■ Pocket-sized sunscreen containers

■ CamelBak or other strap-on hydration systems

■ Bear spray

■ Wool fingerless gloves

■ Waterproof pouch or box for wallet, keys and cell phone


Brian Smith can be reached at

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Tight Lines publishes on the third Thursday of the month from October through April, and will return as a weekly feature in May.