When a customer walks into Dogfish Tackle looking for a rod and reel combo that "will do everything," Dave Bayes begs them to reconsider.
"It's just not going to happen," said Bayes, who has been working in the Seminole-based fishing supply store for 14 years. "You end up buying a combo that is all right for a lot of stuff but not great for anything in particular."
When it comes to saltwater fishing rods and reels, I have some good news and bad news.
First, the bad news: There is no rod and reel combo that will work in every scenario.
If you want to be an all-around angler, count on buying at least a dozen different rods. You will need a grouper rod to fish offshore, a couple of trolling rods for kingfish, a snook stick to reel in those linesiders, and a light-tackle rig to set that 2-pound test world record for spotted sea- trout. And that is just a start.
Now, the good news: Fishing is a sport that you can do from the time you are young until you are old and gray. There's no rush. Start slow. Take it one rod at a time. You have your whole life to buy equipment.
Method to madness
Before you buy a rod and reel, consider what type of fishing you plan to do.
"If you are going to spend 90 percent of your time fishing with artificial lures, then buy a combo designed specifically for artificial lures," Bayes said. "If you want to catch tarpon, then buy a tarpon rod."
But if you are dead set on taking a "generalist" approach, there is an answer. "That is your basic, inshore spinning rod," Bayes said. "That is pretty much all you need to fish the flats around here."
This combo serves as most anglers' introduction to the local flats fishing scene. You don't need a boat to get to some of the best spots. Just grab a pair of old sneakers and start walking along most causeways.
In general, a 6 ½- to 7-foot, medium-action rod rated for 8- to 12-pound test line will work well for an angler who plans to wade, fish from a seawall, dock or boat, where there are few obstructions.
Most rods come in one- or two-piece models. Many veteran anglers prefer one-piece rods because of their superior strength and flexibility. But beginning anglers will find two-piece rods work just as well, and they are easier to transport. A quality inshore rod and reel combination costs around $150, but less expensive models are available.
Bridges, piers and the open water
They don't make a fishing rod that will hook and land everything swimming around a bridge such as the Sunshine Skyway. If you have a heavy rig and are gunning for tarpon, it's doubtful you will hook a kingfish. If you are after kings, slim chance you'll stop a tarpon.
For years, the standard bridge and pier combo was a heavy-duty glass rod and 4/0 reel. An 8-foot rod with 60-pound test is big enough to bring in just about anything.
But today's fishing equipment is more sophisticated. Lighter, stronger materials have allowed for rods and reels to become more specialized. No self-respecting saltwater angler would dare fish for tarpon, kingfish and grouper all with the same rod.
Offshore fishermen typically have one set of rods for trolling, another set for bottom fishing, and yet another set for specialized pursuits such as live-bait kingfishing.
For example, if you want to drag Islander lures or ballyhoo for dolphin and wahoo you might consider buying a Shimano TLD25 ($180) and a 6 ½-foot stand-up trolling rod ($180-$250).
But if you are after grouper, a bottom fishing combo comprised of a Daiwa Sealine 400H ($130) and a Dogfish Stik 15H ($129) will do the trick. This same combo can double as a snapper and amberjack outfit.
If winning a kingfish tournament is your goal, you'll need a live-bait kingfish outfit, such as a Shimano Torium 30 reel ($200) and a matching Tallus rod ($139).
"There are a lot of rods and reels out there," Bayes said. "But the best bet is to go down to your local bait and tackle shop. Tell them what you want to do. Don't be afraid to ask some questions and be prepared to answer a few yourself."
Next month in our Fishing 101 series: sheepshead.