Is there anyone anywhere that hasn’t been affected to some degree by our ongoing battle with the COVID-19 virus? I know a few folks who were self contained enough it didn’t affect them greatly, but, as best as I can determine, it has affected all of us in a negative manner.
In this column, I’m going to suggest some gifts for your favorite fisherman. I’m also going to suggest that we all do as much shopping as possible close to home and support our local merchants. These folks are our friends and neighbors and could use the sales more than the big mail order businesses. Let’s spend our Christmas money with them and help them survive the winter and be open when spring arrives.
I know some folks are avoiding doing any shopping in person. If you feel that strongly, that’s what you should do. However, call up your local tackle shop or independent outfitter and ask them if they will deliver, ship things to you or ship directly to your friends and loved ones. Most will be glad to – and will appreciate your business even more than if you had come to the store.
Selecting Christmas presents for our favorite fishermen has always presented a bit of a problem. I won’t say they’re picky as heck, but I will say they play favorites. This year will present even more of a problem as many manufacturers shut down last March, April and May and haven’t gotten caught back up. There are some things that won’t be in stock at your favorite local tackle shop and it isn’t their fault. You may not find it internet shopping either.
OK, so how do you pick the perfect gift? I wish I had the absolute correct answer for this question, but I don’t. However, I’ll offer a few ways you might be able to find out.
Most fishermen like to talk about fishing. If you’re a non-fishing spouse, relative or friend, you can remember many times you have heard the same story. If you’re a fishing relative or friend, you may remember how great the fishing was that day and that the story only grazes the surface of the fun. Now, stop tuning the story out or getting caught up in the catch and listen to the hints being dropped about which rod or reel or line or lure or whatever would have made that day even better. Even the fisherman telling the story may not realize these are hints for future presents, but they are.
Another place to get help for fishing presents is to ask their fishing buddies. They should know. If you don’t think you can trust their fishing buddies to keep the secret, visit, call or email their favorite tackle shop. The staff there should know just what makes your fisherman drool.
I’m going to offer a few suggestions in the paragraphs below. There is no way I can mention everything, but I’ll try to have suggestions for all kinds of salt water fishing. Hopefully, even if I miss the gift you’re after, hopefully something here will make you think of it. The final thought, for when nothing rings the bell, is a gift certificate to the fisherman’s favorite tackle shop. Those who think out of the box can find options and alternatives to even this. One year, one of my friends received a prepaid charge card to be used for gas to go fishing. There are many options!
Let’s start with rods, reels and line. You’ve got to have these to go fishing and they make excellent Christmas gifts – but – and this is a big but – they have to be the right ones. It is important to get a trout fisherman a light action rod, while a flounder fisherman will usually want a medium action for more backbone to set the hook. Then, fishermen prefer different length rods and some use spinning gear and others use bait casting gear. This is a gift where your fisherman’s fishing buddies and the staff at his favorite tackle shop can be invaluable help.
Here’s a novel idea one of my friends received a few years back. It was great in a couple of ways. His wife went to his favorite tackle shop and worked it out with them for my buddy to get the rod of his choice and she would pay for it. They then found an old and trashed rod in the back room that she wrapped along with the gift certificate to get his new rod taped around the handle. He knew it was a rod from how it was wrapped, but imagine his surprise when he began opening it and it was an old dilapidated rod. He was speechless for a few seconds until he found the gift certificate wrapped around the handle. Now he tells the story as his best Christmas surprise ever.
Reels are also personal choices for brand, size and type. Every reel company makes spinning and conventional reels in a variety of sizes and styles. This is another place where your fisherman’s buddies and the staff at his favorite tackle shop can help a lot. You can also sneak into his shop or man cave and check out the brands and models he has. Taking a picture will help anyone trying to help know what he already has. A weighted box with a gift certificate is also a good way to go with reels. The tackle shop should have an empty box you can wrap. Be sure to add some weight (sand in a zip lock bag works well), so it doesn’t feel empty.
Every fisherman needs lures and rigs and there are a multitude of choices. Depending on location an inshore/nearshore fisherman will cast hard lures, soft plastic lures, jigs and spoons. With hard lures, there are options of different size, shapes and with or without rattles in topwater, suspending, sinking and diving lures. Topwater and suspending lures are explained by their type and are both popular. The difference between sinking lures and diving lures is that sinking lures use their weight to go deeper and diving lures use their shape or a lip to dive while being pulled forward. Fishermen need them all.
Most soft lures are designed to be used with a swim bait hook or jig head to fish along or bouncing off the bottom. They have various minnow, shrimp and crab shapes and come in a variety of sizes. There are a few that float and can be used as topwaters and D.O.A. Lures offers a chugger head that allows almost any soft bait to be used as a topwater lure. Several companies make saltwater spinner baits that combine a spinner and a soft bait. These are popular for red drum and also catch flounder well, plus other species when they’re feeding aggressively.
Jigs are typically metal and have a trailing hook. They can be cast and retrieved or jigged vertically. Jigs are very effective lures and are used from inshore channels, to the nearshore rocks, wrecks and reefs to offshore for jigging bottom fish, tuna, wahoo and more. Needless to say there are a variety of sizes and styles. Check with fishing buddies and tackle shops for the ones that will be best for your fishermen.
I am a fan of spoons! A spoon of some design will catch just about everything. Starting inshore, weedless spoons are known for catching red drum, but they will also catch flounder, stripers, trout, snook and more. They come in sizes from 1/4 ounce to over an ounce, in various colors and have some sort of hook guard to prevent the hook from loading up with grass and snagging on different things.
Spoons are a lure where I’ll make a recommendation. The 1/2 ounce in gold (for most days) or copper (For extremely sunny and bright days) will catch fish most of the time. The 1/4 ounce moves through flooded grass better and the larger 3/4 and 1-1/8 ounce spoons are seen better in the surf or other situations where the water is stirred up. Cajun Thunder combines their Flats Intruder weedless spoon with an in line spinner and calls it the Cajun Sleigh. The “thump” of the spinner helps fish locate this in dirty water and it catches a lot of fish.
Moving in to the ocean, smaller spoons catch Spanish mackerel, bluefish, false albacore and Atlantic bonito well. Most are trolled, but Clarkspoon makes a spinner and weight attachment called the Clark Caster that allows casting spoons. Moving a little deeper, larger spoons catch a lot of king mackerel. These spoons also occasionally catch other pelagics, like dolphin, tuna and wahoo.
The rig of choice varies with the area. Here in N.C., the most popular rig by far is the Carolina Rig. I guess it’s fitting that this rig is popular in the state that’s its namesake. This is a small simple rig that uses 8 to 24 inches of monofilament or fluorocarbon leader with the hook on one end and a swivel on the other. Above the swivel, on the line to the reel, is a bead and the sinker.
A Carolina Rig varies in length according to the preference of the fisherman, in strength according to the species being targeted and the sinker varies with the depth of water and the amount of current. Most are made using egg sinkers, but a flat sinker helps hold position when the current is strong. Several versions of Carolina Rigs can be purchased, but many fishermen prefer to make their own. For this and for any of the other rigs, consider giving the components and allowing fishermen to make their own rigs.
The next popular inshore rig is a bit of a toss up between speck rigs and double drop bottom rigs. Both of these can be readily purchased. The big difference in speck rigs is the size/weight of the bucktails, while the big difference in double drop bottom rigs is if it is plain, has colored beads, or has little plastic squid looking things at the hook snaps. All of them work and you change the sinker as needed due to depth and current.
Carolina Rigs, speck rigs and double drop bottom rigs will also work in the surf and nearshore ocean. We also see pre made trolling rigs for ocean fishing. Clarkspoons are popular for nearshore trolling and they can be purchased in kits with the leader, a spool to wind the leader onto, a trolling sinker and/or a planer. Whatever you need is ready to go fishing.
Numerous companies make rigs for slow trolling for king mackerel. These include two hooks, three hooks, rigs with or without skirts, ribbonfish rigs and more. There are also individuals who custom make king rigs to order. You can specify the brand and size of hooks, brand of swivel, leader strength, leader length or any of the variables of the rig. My suggestion for finding these folks is to make a post in one of the king mackerel fishing groups on social media.
Offshore trolling rigs are also available in local tackle shops. There are options for pulling naked lures, plus adding ballyhoo or strips. These are available from smaller sizes for trolling for school dolphin to jumbos strong enough to hold bluefin tuna. Blue and white or blue and crystal is a must have color and after that ask your fisherman’s friends and favorite tackle shop.
There are also accessories your favorite fisherman will need. Let’s start this with technical fishing gear. Clothes made with quick drying and sun resistant materials should be high on every fisherman’s wish list. Include fishing shoes, wading boots, foul weather gear, polarized sunglasses, buffs, hats and caps as part of this. There are lots of options with fishing clothing.
Tools are a great gift. There are many varieties of pliers, fish grippers, knives, landing nets, gaffs, fillet boards and more that every fisherman will like and enjoy. I’ll even add a good set of digital scales and a measuring board to this group. We all know fishermen want to know exactly how long a fish is and how much it weighs.
A cast net is an option here too. Understand that there isn’t one cast net that does it all, so you need to get this right. Check with his fishing buddies and favorite tackle shop before buying. A minnow net won’t catch menhaden in deep water and a net that catches menhaden in deep water won’t catch flounder bait minnows.
Don’t forget coolers. All fishermen need them and they come in sizes from small to jumbo, construction from economy to near indestructible and price ranges from reasonable to Wow!
While marine electronics are expensive and gifting one is a great way to help your fisherman have the best, most fishermen are very particular about which brand and model they want. If you can find out exactly, a new fish finder, GPS, VHF radio and such are great gifts, but they’re complex and easy to miss the mark. This must be exact and may be a situation where a gift certificate may be the better choice.
Most years a ticket to one of the area fishing schools would be a great present to help an aspiring fisherman shorten the learning curve. There are usually several across the coast most winters, but that doesn’t look to be the case this year. COVID restrictions are getting tighter, not loosening, and gathering crowds is neither wise nor permitted. There has been a little talk about several of these schools trying to hold virtual events, but nothing has been confirmed at this point. You’ll see it here if that happens.
Fishermen that read this can help themselves by sharing the link and leaving hints. Non fishermen won’t understand subtle hints, so be bold with your hints. Perhaps instead of directly sharing this with your family, you can arrange with several of your fishing buddies that everyone shares it to someone else’s family. They can send it as being helpful and lead off with something like; “I know you’re having a little difficulty selecting Fred’s Christmas gifts, here’s something that might help.” And it might help too! You won’t know unless you try.
Merry Christmas and my best wishes for a safe, happy, healthy, prosperous and fishy New Year!