Lost reels evoke rich memories of fishing


Mar 11, 2001
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Lost reels evoke rich memories of fishing

February 6, 2003


GRAYLING -- There should be a certain delicious comfort in sitting in an easy chair on a cold February day, paging through fishing tackle catalogs and glancing out the window at a new layer of white frosting on the snow-shrouded landscape.

Usually, I enjoy browsing through the catalogs, but there's some moroseness on this day. An airline lost one of my bags (gone-forever lost, not two-days-in-Shreveport lost), and I'm looking for replacements for three favorite fly reels, a good spinning reel and some three- and four-piece fly and spinning rods.

The fly reels and one of the fly rods were old and valued friends, companions through adventures high and low in some wonderful and not-so-wonderful places around the world. That was especially true of a Fin Nor No. 2, the first top-quality reel I ever owned. It had felt the tug of everything from bonefish in the Bahamas to carp in Lake Michigan to kowhai in New Zealand.

As I ponder cruel fate, I realize that truth be told, it really wasn't the reel I cared about. It was just a 25-year-old chunk of metal that can be replaced by a new chunk of metal that's even better and will cost half as much. What I'm really afraid of losing are the memories that came to mind when I handled that old Fin Nor.

There's the 200-pound bull shark I had the audacity to throw a fly at while fishing for barracuda with my pal Bob Klein off Windley Key in Florida, and which I had the blind luck to land when the wire leader held. It's by far the biggest fish I've caught on fly tackle.

I still can see those razor-sharp, triangular teeth inches from my fingers as I reached down gingerly with a pair of pliers to pop the fly from the corner of its jaw, and I can hear Klein's Keys conch voice as he drawled, "You really are Scotch, ain't ya?"

There's the week spent on rivers in Venezuela that were so badly mapped we were often unsure of where we were, and where most of the fish we caught had no English equivalents of their Spanish and Indian names.

The three- to five-foot catfish that swarmed in some areas were so voracious, we caught one that ate a five-pound grapnel anchor we used to hold the dugout canoes.

There's the 28 1/2-pound salmon I fought for 45 minutes on the Pere Marquette River before beaching it. When we got it on the scale, my first reaction was irritation and disappointment, because during the fight I was sure it was the 30-pounder I had been trying to catch for 30 years.

Then an inner voice said: "You've just caught one of the most magnificent fish you'll ever take, and under tough circumstances, and you have the nerve to be disappointed? What's the matter with you?" It's odd to feel ashamed and proud at the same time.

That last memory shook me out of my funk over spilled milk. I decided that instead of brooding over what was gone, I should be enjoying the opportunity to make the best of what is to come. It isn't every day we get to buy a bunch of fishing tackle, so I dived back into the catalogs and was delighted to find that the hard part wouldn't be deciding what I wanted, but what I couldn't have.

Today's anglers get far better deals than we did in years past. Saltwater fly reels are available for $140-$200 and are far superior to those we paid $400-$500 for 20 years ago. And $100-$150 will buy fly rods that match the sticks we paid two and three times as much for 10 years ago.

The same is true of spinning and bait-casting tackle. Shimano took spinning and bait-casting upscale about 10 years ago when it introduced reels that broke the $100 barrier in a market that used to think $59.95 was big money.

But it turned out that anglers didn't resist the high-priced reels. Instead, they lusted after them, and soon a number of reel companies were marketing precision instruments in the $400-$700 range.

In the long run, that was good, because soon other companies figured out how to make reels that were 90 percent as good as the top-end models but cost less than half as much. Today, Joe Average can afford a piece of fishing machinery his father couldn't have bought for any amount of money.

And I've also realized that it wasn't the tackle that prompted those great memories, it was the places and circumstances in which I used it. After I buy the new stuff, it will be used in the same places and circumstances and give me a chance to add to my reminiscence bag.

Maybe I should hope the airlines lose a bag more often.

Contact ERIC SHARP at 313-222-2511 or esharp@freepress.com. Order his new book, "Fishing Michigan," for $15.95 at http://www.freep.com/bookstore or by calling 800-245-5082.

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