- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

The old game of keeping up with the Joneses used to revolve around expensive automobiles, houses and chic clothing. You know what I’m talking about. If my neighbor bought a new car, by golly, so would I, and — bang! — the buying race was off and running.

Lately, however, it also has become fashionable to spend a lot of money on high-end fishing gear. How silly can we get when it’s oh-so-easy to buy nicely working equipment for one-tenth the cost?

A kind of madness has taken hold of many millions of American anglers and the handful of companies they deal with. Everybody who’s ever manufactured a fishing reel, rod, or fishing lure now has top-dollar items that would make Donald Trump blush with envy because he would wish he had gotten into this game that appears to be a kind of robbery. Only this robbery has happy, willing victims who do not complain.

Let’s look at some prices that are so high we might all get a nosebleed:

The Japanese Shimano tackle company appears to be keenly aware that certain Americans will try to out-yuppie one another by spending far, far too much for a simple fishing reel.

For example, in the current Northern Bass Supply catalog there is an advertisement for Shimano Stella spinning reels that — for even the smallest model that can hold only 110 yards of 6-pound testline — will run $489.99.

Folks, we’re talking about a cockamamie spinning reel that is intended to help you catch stocked trout, perch, small bass, crappies, maybe a little old catfish — none of which will “run away” with hundreds of yards of line like a powerful tarpon, bonefish or permit might. No, the aforementioned species tug a little, then lay on their side while you reel them in. So why would Shimano make this reel with 12 ball bearings, waterproof drag system, titanium-coated roller and other such nonsense when you’re angling for a fish that a child can hand-line in without any problem?

One other thing, Shimano, if you ever hope to get me to spend $489.99 for a light-use spinning reel, don’t you dare tell me that the body of the reel is made of aluminum. For shame. For that kind of money, I believe silver or gold-plated metal would be appropriate.

By the way, the same Shimano Stella models can run up to $699.99 for the largest size in the lineup, a saltwater reel capable of holding 460 yards of 20-pound testline.

The funny part about the Shimano ad in the catalog is that at the top of the same page there are several Quantum spinning reels that can do the job at $29.95 each, or a fine-working Abu Garcia Cardinal spinning reel for $49.95. Now we’re talking.

In the current Cabela mail-order catalog the high-dollar game continues, although we hasten to add that Cabela’s also will sell you a decent rod and reel combination for under $90. Don’t try that, however, if you’re looking at fishing rods alone and the name brand is Loomis. I have no earthly idea why Loomis believes it knows more about graphite fishing rods than, say, Quantum or Berkley, or Fenwick, but Loomis has an 8-foot baitcaster rod that costs you $370.

Get serious.

Even Cabela’s house brands are getting into the act. While the Nebraska-based company doesn’t produce anything, having foreign tackle manufacturers turn out its equipment and then hoping to attract buyers who look for worthwhile bargains, it sells a Prodigy/XML spinning reel for $119.99. Keep this up, Cabela’s, and you’ll become the Shimano of the Midwest.

By the way, in most catalogs, Shimano’s Calais level-wind baitcasting reel costs $329.99. Its Calcutta baitcaster with the 10 ball bearings runs $499.99.

Lest you think I’m picking on Shimano, most other tackle companies are engaged in similar pricing.

My advice: If you want to catch bass, medium size stripers, catfish, crappies, perch or walleyes, you can go to a local Dick’s Sporting Goods store, or a Wal-Mart, Kmart, etc., and buy a nicely functioning spinning rod that comes with a reel for less than $50. Step up a little and you might spend $80 for a combo. In the case of baitcasting reels and rods, a combination deal is offered by most all catalogs and large store chains for less than $90.

One of my favorite brands, Abu Garcia, sells its famous Ambassadeur reel with a rod for under $100.

So unless you plan to hook a sailfish on a spinning outfit while standing tall on a charter boat in the Sea of Cortez, skip the $700 spinning reels and the $400 rods. You can do quite well with gear that costs one-tenth that.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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