Fishing on the cheap

There are many things about fishing that are important, but having expensive, high-end gear isn’t one of them.


I was reminded of this Sunday while silver fishing at Deception Pass in Puget Sound. At one point in the proceedings, I found myself needling my son about his spinning outfit. He had bought the whole she-bang, rod, reel and line, for 17 bucks. I told him that if he was going to be serious about fishing, he ought to get a good bait-casting outfit, like the one I was using.

“When we went fishing last week, who caught the only fish, Dad?” he asked.

“Uh, you did,” I said, and that got me to thinking about what’s truly important about fishing gear.

For starters, unless you’re catching fish for money or because fish are vitally important for your food, the main reason to fish is for fun. And you can have a whole lot of fun fishing on the cheap.

Earlier this week, while driving up Skagit Valley, I crossed a bridge over Jones Creek, the hallowed place of my boyhood where I caught my first fish. My “outfit” consisted of a stick, a piece of string, a bent pin and a worm. I remember throwing my bait in the creek, and feeling something pulling on my line. I instinctively pulled back, and a surprised fish came flying out of the water. That was not only the most exciting fish I’ve ever caught, but the least expensive.

When I was in Kid World, my family was entrenched in the lower end of what is now referred to as the middle-class. Skimping was a way of life. When I wanted fishing tackle, I had to buy it with what little money I could earn by picking blackberries, mowing lawns or turning in pop bottles. I never had more than two lures in my pocket. My rod and reel were the cheapest I could find or scrounge. For all that, fishing was my chosen source of fun until I turned 16, when cars and girls suddenly became interesting.

Thanks to growing up in a lower-income home, I developed a practical streak that stuck. Even after I was able to afford “high-end” tackle, I never bought it. The most expensive gear I’ve ever had has been given to me, either by friends or by manufacturers who hoped I’d write something good about it.

Having grown up using barely adequate tackle, I learned early that it wasn’t really that important to have the expensive stuff. I learned that what’s important about gear is simply being able to put something interesting in front of a fish, and being able to hook and land that fish. Most everything else is just so much hooey.

Nowadays, when I see some 10- or 12-year-old kid riding a bike toward a river or lake with a simple, make-shift fishing outfit, I envy him. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s having more fun by fishing on the cheap than he’ll ever have again.

Les Palmer can be reached at


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