Shopping for the Fisherman: Don’t Blow It!

By Zach Harvey

As much as I pride myself on being a fairly easy-going chap, I’m willing to acknowledge that for my loved ones, buying me presents has to be about as much fun as attempting to capture by hand, then forcibly bathe, a PCP-addled badger. The trouble, and I suspect this applies to many of you reading this, is that fishing is one of the great jealous-mistress life interests: For those of us with the pis-catorial affliction, there’s not much room for other major interests such as career, sleep, or personal hygiene.

Those around us know that what we want is fishing gear or other fish-related stuff, but that we are horrifically persnickety about the stuff we use. Generally, over time, our non-fishing relations go through one or two major misfires in their well-intentioned quest to furnish thoughtful gifts, then vow never to buy us fishing gear ever again.

While we try to project total gratitude for, say, a new rod they’ve bought us, they home in on the split-second’s hesitation in our response, the slightest tremor in our voice that will confirm total, catastrophic gift failure: Jeeeezus, they think, shame on me for not knowing that there was a galaxy of difference between “moderate-fast action” and “medium-fast action….” We feel ungrateful and then guilty. They feel sad and alone and then angry. Cue up the sad music: Christmas has been ruined.

So, here in December, the month of the Holiday Gift Guide, during which an array of fishing products soak up the vast majority of editorial white space in the fishing magazines, I thought I’d offer up a few ideas on the whole issue of shopping for fishermen. You, goodly reader, will look much less like the fish-obsessed scoundrel you indeed are if you can simply slide this page across the kitchen table to your family and let me, a bona fide authority on bad fishing gifts, break it down. The following bullet points ought to clear things up a bit, save all parties some frustration in the weeks ahead.


Best to skip the fishing joke book, the singing rubber bass, and the rest of the junk you non-fishermen are forever buying on the grounds that there’s a fish on the package or “it’s cute” or “you’ll probably think it’s funny.” Children under five can get away with buying Dad such things, but you ought to know better: We don’t love our fishing indiscriminately. We do not clap, like so many dimwitted gray seals every time someone holds up a mackerel for our inspection. Fishing is serious dude-type stuff that demands a keen intellect as well as total physical prowess. Our interests are highly specific by species and area—and for many or most, what happens as little as 50 miles away might as well be on another continent.


One age-old gift-giving notion that wreaks havoc on fishermen is the idea that a present is only thoughtful if you, the gift-buyer, have room to exercise some choice that will make the purchase unique or heartfelt. Where rods, reels, line, or plugs are concerned, best bet will be to get explicit specs on the desired gear from the giftee. If surprise is important, track down a fishing partner who will know his/her preferences and provide an exact make/model description. Especially when you’re shopping for a more seasoned fisherman, there are no points for style or creativity.


An alternative to the aforementioned rote-memorization approach is to avoid the pieces of gear that relate to specific species or methods. What we target, where and how we fish have a major impact on the gear we choose (and often the gear we use is the product of years we’ve spent refining our methods). To try to choose the perfect rod without intimate knowledge of the where’s, when’s, and how’s of your giftee’s fishing is a major gamble—even with third-party help. The difference in rod length, action, pound-test rating, the way it will match up to our reel of choice, all the intangibles of feel and preference in lures or baits—even the way it rests in our grip—add up to huge differences between two rods that appear, at first glance, nearly identical. Fortunately, some gear transcends species and location: Good, commercial-grade foul-weather gear, super-comfy deck boots, head-lamps, coolers, polarized sunglasses, a well-engineered vacuum sealer, etc. may not seem as exciting initially, but will become indispensible tools in a use or two.


Consider, too, the possibility of booking a top charter captain or guide for a day, or picking up a gift certificate for a trip or two on a local party boat. I have never known a fisherman who objected to a day fishing with professionals—as a learning experience or just a day when he/she can leave the aggravation to a highly qualified someone else. Here, the trick is to do your homework—find a captain with the right combination of fishing cred and personality to ensure a memorable trip.


In my family of origin, there was a sentiment that a gift certificate represented the worst kind of cop-out—proof-positive that a gift-giver didn’t know or care about the person who would receive the thing. On the contrary, it reflects a perfect balance of gift-giving humility and unselfish love when you recognize that there have been precious few times in the history of rod-and-reel fishing when a man stood before the neatly-arranged pegboards in his favorite bait and tackle joint with a sense that he had more money than he needed to squander on new gear. Arm an obsessive fisherman with a reasonably substantial gift certificate, turn him loose in the shop, and you will see what true adult happiness looks like.