Tournament Fishing Is Not Always About the Money

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Usually when people say “It’s not the money, it’s the principle” the truth is that all they really care about is the money.

I was reminded of this phrase, somewhat out of context, during a recent family vacation to New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. A friend from college drove over from his home in Maine for a day and he and his three year old son joined me on the boat. It was a windy day, and he managed to catch a few fish,” but after about an hour his boy decided it was time for us to go back to the house.

Commenting on the price of his out-of-state license, my friend said “Wow. It cost me fifteen dollars for each fish I caught.”

He must’ve been thinking it was an outrageous sum to pay per fish. All I could think was that he got off cheap.

I don’t know how many fish I catch in the course of a year, except that no matter how many it is, it’s not enough. That’s both the greatest and the harshest aspect of our sport: no matter how well you do, it can’t be mastered – there’s always someone who does better, “the one that got away,”

or another cast that came back untouched.

But I know for sure that anyone who only spends fifteen bones per bass is doing pretty well. Add up the cost of your boat, your tackle, your licenses, your gas, etc., and you better catch a bass for every seat at Yankee Stadium if you want that kind of return.

And the money just seems to flow and flow and flow.

I’ve vowed not to write about gas prices because just about anything I can say would be redundant, but I’m going to go back on that vow today. If you had told me even two or three years ago that we’d be spending four bucks a gallon now, I would’ve been horrified. When I was a kid, my grandfather owned a garage where he manufactured truck springs. He had a gas pump just in case, but I don’t think anyone ever used it. I remember being shocked that his pump had a price of 72 cents a gallon when the going rate everywhere else was somewhere in the lower 60s. I read recently that a lot of more rural convenience stores can’t retrofit their existing pumps to charge four dollars a gallon, so they’re faced with the choice of either replacing them or ceasing to sell gas.

Maybe we were willfully blind, but none of us thought it would get to this point. We’re angry at the gas companies, angry at the gas stations, angry that we’ve chosen a sport that seemingly mandates that we buy gas-guzzling trucks and boats. Some of us have changed our habits, others have not – yet?

But as we rail against our policy makers and the corporate jetsetters, we don’t feel the same antagonism towards the people who make some of our discretionary items. At least I don’t. If you had told me fifteen years ago, that people would readily pay 10 or 15 dollars for a crankbait, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. Now, that’s the norm, not the exception. Look to our left coast friends and you’ll see that some of them don’t blink at the prospect of three digits for a swimbait.

I’ve been comfortable with high-priced lures for longer than most. I still catch plenty of fish on old standbys that cost less – baits like the original Zara Spook, a Bomber Model A and a Rapala Husky Jerk – but I recognize that there are specific situations where a different bait might be more effective. Different doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive, but if it does, then I’m often willing to pay the price.

But just as I became comfortable with the double digit price hardbaits, a new phenomenon came along – tungsten weights. If you had told me even two years ago that the day would come that I’d spend six dollars for a single weight, I’d have encouraged you to seek out a padded room. The biggest concern I used to have when buying lead bullet weights was whether it was worth it to spend the extra buck to get the painted version as opposed to the plain ones. Now the incremental price difference among my choices is far larger. But you know what? I’ve converted to tungsten for the vast majority of my Texas rigging needs these days, and I T-rig a lot. On a trip to Lake Falcon this spring, I probably lost fifty dollars worth of weights over the course of a week and while I wasn’t happy about it, it didn’t bother me all that much.

So what’s the difference between the four dollar gallon of gas and the six dollar flipping weight?

A lot of it comes down to value.

The four dollar gallon of gasoline that I buy today doesn’t do more for me than the two dollar gallon of gasoline that I bought a year or two ago. Same number of miles, same ride in my car. In fact, the experience it provides may be even worse – more congestion, worse roads, more hassles behind the wheel.

But the six dollar weight may produce more fish. How many exactly, I can’t say. Unlike my friend, who could assign a dollar value to his fish as a result of his limited expenditures, I can’t say for a fact that a two hundred dollar rod puts X number more fish in the boat per year than one that costs half as much. Does my custom-painted crankbait get more baits than the same bait straight out of the package? I think it does, so I’m willing to take that risk, even if I’ll never know for sure. We all want to catch more fish than our friends and competition – how much we’re willing to spend or how much time we put in to accomplish that goal is a matter of personal choice..but in fishing there are no guarantees. You pay your money, you take your chances.

The other thing that differentiates the gasoline from the weight is the level of discretion involved in the purchase. Sure, we could drive less, ride our bikes more and buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, but most of us are resigned to the fact that some amount of driving is necessary in our day-to-day lives, and gasoline is an essential component of that necessity.

Fishing? Well, despite what I tell my wife, much of the stuff we buy is not absolutely necessary. We could still catch some fish with lead weights tied on the rods and reels we used twenty years ago. Some of us still do. But when we choose to get a newer, supposedly better, piece of equipment, I think on some level all of us recognize that we’re making a cost-value assessment and value may favor a higher cost.

I recognize that not everyone has the same financial means, nor does everyone share an equal commitment to angling success. I’m pretty darn tight with a dollar in most cases, but when it comes to fishing I try to pull out all the stops. That doesn’t mean I won’t be beaten next week by a guy with a tomato stake rod, a lead weight and a no-name bargain-bin worm, but I’m going to do everything in my power to beat him.

What good is saving the money for a rainy day when there are fish to be caught now?

That’s my guiding principle