If a time-traveling angler were to leap from a typical tackle shop of just 10 years ago and land in a store today, he would surely feel astounded by the proliferation of situation-specific gear.
"I'm looking for an offshore rod," he might say.
Instead of giving an answer, the salesman would ask, "What will you use it for? Trolling? Live-baiting? Jigging?"
Had our flabbergasted friend asked about spinning or baitcasting rods for inshore fishing, he would face choices from a wide assortment of sticks expressly designed to deliver top performance according to target species, type of bait or lure, and even geographic area (Gulf, East Coast, West Coast).
My fellow anglers, welcome to the era of specialization!
The Right Rods
We can probably thank bass anglers for the high degree of segmentation in today's rod market. As high-profile tournament anglers spearheaded the development of different rods for every imaginable scenario from drop-shotting to deep-cranking, manufacturers watched sales grow, niche by niche. It didn't take long for them to realize that saltwater anglers could also use an array of rods for the many different situations involved in pursuing popular game fish such as redfish, seatrout and king mackerel.
For instance, a rod meant for casting topwaters to redfish boasts a faster action than one designed for catching seatrout on live shrimp. Manufacturers sweat over details like a rod's handle length and material, number and type of line guides, and overall length and action in an effort to fine tune performance factors such as feel (comfort), casting distance and accuracy, and hook-setting/fish-fighting properties.
The same goes for offshore rods. Long, soft-tipped blanks work well for lobbing live baits (a favorite tactic on the West Coast), while kite fishermen on the East Coast usually prefer stiffer actions.
The recent development of thinner, lighter offshore rods stems from two trends: the downsizing of conventional reels and the deep-jigging craze. Anglers need more manageable rods to match a new generation of reels that have become smaller and lighter without sacrificing power; jiggers demand rods that are light enough to work vigorously on drop after drop, yet gutsy enough to handle brutes like amberjack and tuna. Mixing and matching the right kinds and quantities of glass and graphite allows manufacturers to reduce a rod's weight and diameter while maintaining proper action backed by more-than-adequate strength.
If his head stopped spinning long enough to choose a rod, the visiting angler from yesteryear would get dizzy again as soon as he tried to select a reel to hang on it.
He might pick up a baitcaster (such as a Shimano Calcutta TE) or conventional reel (like a Penn International Torque), notice the protruding side plate - which no reels had 10 years ago - and ask, "What's this?"
"The extended gear box houses oversized parts that give the reel a faster retrieve ratio while maintaining power," the salesman would point out.
Thanks to advancements in engineering, along with modern materials and refined production processes, manufacturers now offer compact winches capable of whipping large game fish. Today's high-end reels feature rigid frames, robust drive trains and strong-yet-smooth drag systems. And we're not just talking about conventional reels. Top-end spinners boast beefy drags and tough metal bodies to withstand punishment dished out by gung-ho anglers and stubborn fish.
These compact powerhouses (which spurred the development of lighter-yet-strong rods) owe their existence, at least in part, to the increased use of Spectra lines. Superbraid's thin diameter guarantees plenty of capacity on relatively small reels, even when spooling up with 50-pound-test or heavier.
Ten years ago, many anglers harbored doubts about using superbraid for hard-fighting saltwater gamesters. Spectra lines have evolved and improved to the extent that knot strength and abrasive surfaces (that might damage rod guides) no longer represent reasons for concern. New braiding techniques, coating techn-ology and fusion processes produce round, smooth lines that cast very well - even on spinning reels - and hold with familiar knots. Now fishermen use these lines with total confidence in situations that range from deep-jigging for tuna to twitching topwaters for trout.
Manufacturers have also improved the way they add pigment to braids, offering a wider variety of colors that don't fade or rub off. At the opposite end of the Spectra spectrum, tackle-shop shelves now hold colorless braided line. What was that thump? Our time-traveling angler swooned and hit the floor when he saw (or didn't) clear superbraid!
Monofilament has not stood still in time, either. New formulas coupled with modern-age extrusion processes result in mono that rates extremely strong for its diameter. Besides thin diameter and Herculean tensile strength, these lines promise low stretch and high abrasion resistance.
In a best-of-both-worlds scenario, manufacturers continue their efforts to make Spectra lines that act like monofilament and mono that behaves like superbraid.
Say accessories and I think of cuff links. Fishermen have no "accessories" because all our stuff ranks as absolutely essential gear. Along with big-ticket items like rods and reels, to catch fish we need things like gloves, gaffs, pliers, hooks and lures, and tackle boxes to organize them, right? And proper clothing. You're not gonna fish naked, are you? OK, don't answer that.
The old adage states that lures are made to catch fishermen. Whether you believe those words or not, you'll find today's assortment of artificials sure to catch the eye of anglers and fish alike. Years ago, plugs wore a simple coat of spray paint; now manufacturers rely on the latest printing technology to embellish lures with lifelike, holographic finishes.
Not just lifelike looks, but a natural feel adds to the attraction of soft-plastic lures designed for blue-water trolling. Offshore anglers can now reach into a tackle bag, rather than a cooler, for baits such as ballyhoo, mackerel and bonito. Many of these long-lasting imitations come prerigged, too.
Few anglers like the smell of chemically enhanced soft-plastic baits such as Berkley Gulp!, but many believe in their fish-attracting ability. Manufacturers keep busy creating new styles, sizes and flavors to keep up with the growing popularity of such lures.
Employing science and technology to develop products that become more advanced each year, manufacturers constantly outdo themselves. What will the future bring? I can't help but imagine a time-traveling angler from the future dropping into a tackle shop today and asking, "How did they catch fish with these ancient devices?"