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Right outfit can be start of a good fling

It happens every day.

A husband or wife, father or mother, neighbor or friend walks into some tackle shop to buy a fishing rod.

They might be new to Florida and just want to catch one of those monstrous fish they've seen lurking beneath their dock light at night.

Maybe they've fished a pond or two "back home," but this saltwater sport is something entirely different and mysterious.

Or perhaps they know absolutely nothing _ the only fish they've seen have been deep-fried and stuck between two pieces of bread.

Whatever the reason, they want to fish.

But when they take a look at the hundreds of different fishing rods and get a load of those price tags, they panic and, perhaps, decide to stick to shuffleboard.

"We see people like that all the time," said Larry Mastry of Mastry's Tackle in St. Petersburg. "They just don't know where to start."

So the logical question is, "What kind of fishing do you want to do?"

Most beginners don't own a boat, so they usually say they want to fish from a seawall, dock, bridge or pier. This narrows the choices considerably.

"I'll start them off with a spinning outfit," Mastry said, "because in a matter of minutes, they can learn how to cast."

But with dozens of spinning rods of different lengths, weights and actions, how does one choose?

"Put it in your hand and see how it feels," Mastry said. "Buy whatever feels most comfortable just like trying on a pair of shoes."

One manufacturer's "medium" rod may have better action, or flexibility, than another manufacturer's "light" rod.

In general, a 6{- to 7-foot medium-action rod rated for 8- to 15-pound test will work well for beginning anglers who plan to wade or fish from a seawall or dock where there are few obstructions.

Fishing rods usually come in one- and two-piece models. Many veteran anglers prefer one-piece rods because of superior strength and flexibility. But begining anglers will find two-piece rods work just as well, and they are easier to transport.

Most rods and reels are sold separately. But the beginning angler will find a package deal, where a properly matched and balanced rod and reel are sold together, to be a better buy.

"It is important to remember that if the rod is rated for 8- to 15-pound test line, then the reel should have the same capability," Mastry said.

Most sporting goods stores and tackle shops offer good spinning packages in the $40 to $50 range. They'll catch fish just as well as rods and reels triple their price.

If you plan to fish off a bridge or pier, where the fish can run behind obstructions after they are hooked, you'll need heavier line, and subsequently a heavier rod and reel.

"If you try to get an outfit that will do both (seawalls and piers), you won't accomplish anything," Mastry said. "You'll wind up with something that is too light for one, but too heavy for the other."

Now that you are ready, you may want to introduce a small child to the sport. And you don't need a lot of money.

Here's what you do:

For $10, you can buy a cane pole, line, hooks, sinker, bobber and bait. This basic fishing outfit has no moving parts, so there is nothing to break.

Cane poles usually are 10 to 16 feet long. Look for one that comes in two or three pieces. It will be much easier to store and transport.

Buy some long-shanked, size 8, Carlisle hooks. Small fish find these hooks more difficult to swallow, so they will be easier to remove.

Tie on a piece of 10-pound test line. Many tackle shops, Mastry's included, will rig the outfit for you.

Then all you have to do is buy some shrimp. Pinch the heads and remove the shell; use as chum. Then take the meat and cut it into four or five small pieces.

"Kids just have a ball," Mastry said. "They'll catch pinfish all day as long as it wiggles, they don't care."

An expanded outdoors report appears each Friday.