Trout fishing on a budget

With inflation in the United States surging over 8%, and over 6% in most of the western world money is becoming increasingly tight in many households. This basically means less money to spend on a discretionary product, and for many of us, that includes fishing tackle.

In this article, I am going to discuss areas where money can be saved, without impacting the quality of the fishing.

1) A expensive new rod is not going to catch more fish

That new Sage R8 Core fly rod looks divine, and I am certain it is an absolute jewel to fish with, but at $1050 it will leave a serious hole in many of our pockets. But, such a rod is not going to catch any more trout than your current rod, or one that retails for a fraction of the price.

It is easy to spend a lot of money buying fishing rods, both spinning and fly rods are available at premium prices, and these rods are certainly nice, but we are only fooling ourselves when we pretend they catch significantly more trout.

I have some very expensive, and very nice rods on my rack which I greatly enjoy fishing with, but I can just as easily grab for example an Okuma Celilo, a rod that retails for approximately $30 and still have a wonderful day on the river. If fly fishing, the Echo Carbon XL for under $200 is surprisingly nice, and I have enjoyable days with even cheaper rods. I just use these two rods as an example, but there are plenty more budget friendly products on the market.

It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but as beater rods from my kayak I often fish dirt cheap soft tip Ugly Stik and Penns, they survive any amount of abuse and catch fish just fine.

2) Consider buying used, but check the condition first

Buying second hand is always a good way to save money, and fishing tackle is no exception.

I still recommend doing some due diligence before buying used fishing tackle, and in general, I avoid buying used rods unless I know they are in pristine condition, the reason is simple graphite rods if not treated well can easily snap.

Used reels are often safer to buy, but I do like to see them first in person to make sure I am not getting a faulty or saltwater damaged product.

In my experience, the biggest savings can be had when buying used flies and lures. I like to browse second hand online marketplaces for full tackle products being sold. I always, check to see if the box is full of ‘brand name’ products or cheap Chinese junk. Metal lures in particular, if kept away from seawater can last for decades.

Judging the quality of flies sight unseen is harder, but normally it is possible to get some idea on whether the flies are good quality or not. I usually look for older fly boxes from premium brands. If the fly box looks new and from some unknown brand, full of strange patterns then there is a good chance the flies are cheaply tied from some bulk online deal. I avoid such boxes.

3) Fish closer to home

When I first got into trout fishing, some of the first advice I received from old timers in my fly fishing club was to “fish my backyard first”. That there is surprisingly good fishing close to town, and there was little need to drive hours to some famous or iconic spot which is probably crowded and thrashed by guides.

My biggest expense by far when fishing is not rods, reels or terminal tackle but gas. I spent a small fortune driving to fishing locations, and it quickly adds up throughout the season.

Back when gas prices were low, I did not think twice before driving an hour or two to fish some iconic or unknown headwater, now to save some money. I much prefer to target the fisheries closer to home. I still do take longer fishing trips (A change of scenery is always nice), but usually for more specific reasons, than just going for a fish.

One of the more surprising things I discover when spending more time on my local waters, was just how far some people will drive to fish them. I often talk to people who have driven from several cities over just to fish in my backyard. The crazy thing is, I use to drive a similar distance to fish in someone else’s.

4) Always search through the clearance bins.

I love clearance bins in fishing stores, while they can be full of junk I sometimes find much better deals in them compared with the prices available online.

Now, I am of two minds about whether clearance bins actually save money or not. There is a chance, I will buy a lure or fly box I don,t actually need because it is 60% off retail, I tell myself that “It is too good of a deal not to buy”. So then I will end up with boxes of fishing gear I probably will never use.

Also, I might enter the store to forage through the clearance section, I nearly always wander into other departments just to check for any new products. So, a good amount of self control is required to only buy the tackle that you need.

Just because a $60 hand-painted tuna lure is 90% off does not make it a good deal for a trout fisherman. Just leave it in the bin.

5) Last season’s models and designs are just as good

Staying in the fishing stores, the last season products are typically just as good as the current one. Also with the current high levels of inflation, they are often significantly cheaper.

It is not uncommon for manufacturers just to make a few cosmetic changes, and then market a product as the ‘all new’ 2023 version when in reality the red highlight was replaced with blue. It is exactly the same product, but just for a higher price.

This practice also annoys the store owners, because they have to order new products, and clear out the old designs simply because the 2023 style was announced and now getting marketed.

6) There is no need to wear fishing brands

There is a lot of clothing targeted just at the fishing market, and much of it sells for a premium price. In most situations, very comparable clothing can be purchased significantly less that is targeted towards other hobbies. Sorry Simms, Orvis I am not going to spend $80 on a nylon shirt or polyester hoodie. I don,t need my shirt to match my boots.

More often than not I wear hiking shirts while fishing, still a bit expensive but I find the higher levels of competition between the outdoor outfitters often result in sharper prices and bigger discounts for the same quality of the material. Sure, it does not support your local fishing store, but when money is tight savings need to be made.

What are the main differences between fishing and outdoor clothing? normally just the colors and maybe some slightly different pockets. The core of the two products are identical. I just avoid the bright colored fabrics.

7) Recover lost lures from snags

One of the best ways to save money is to go for a swim.

Fishermen lose a lot of spinners an lures in popular fishing holes, they cast out, snag a tree and break off. It has been a few years since I have done it, but I use to pull 4 or 5 lures off a submerged tree every Monday afternoon. Every few weeks I get lucky and will find a jerkbait.

(I like to swim on Mondays because weekend anglers lose lots of gear)

That works out to be about $24 worth of lures for free. I have not had to buy salmon spoons for over decade.

If you own a wetsuit, swimming the pools during the winter can be even more rewarding, because no one else is crazy enough to jump in to get them.

8) Fish heavier line and single hooks to lose fewer lures

When trout fishing, we often feel the need to fish as light as line as possible. After all , we do not want to risk spooking trout by fishing line they might see.

While I accept thinner diameter line does have many advantages, it is harder for the fish to see, allows longer casts and maybe even more sensitive. It does have one big downside, break-off are a lot more likely.

The simple act of changing from 2lb mainline to 4lb or 6lb can save a significant number of lures. One or two saved lures every trip quickly adds up over a fishing season. For this reason, I rarely actually fish 2lb line, I lose too much gear and most of the time I do not believe it costs me fish.

Single hooks are also significantly less likely to snag the bottom or tall tree branches than treble hooks. By changing out treble hooks, to a single upwards facing hook can reduce the number of snags by a considerable amount.

9) Restore rather than discard old lures and spoons.

I often find myself with a pile of old metal spoons or lures, the hooks might be blunt, and the shiny, vivid coating has been scratched off and there could even be signs of corrosion.

I do not discard these old lures, there is still plenty of life lift in them. I give them a fresh coat of paint and an epoxy clear coat to restore the shine. New split rings and hooks can make them fish better than new.

If you have a large pile of old lures, it could even be worth looking into powder coating them. There really is plenty of ways to restore old lures.

10) Reverse fishing line

Fishing lines and braids in particular can get very expensive. So rather than throwing away an entire spool of expensive braid consider reversing it end to end. This is because the front third of a spool of line sees the most use, while the back third of the line basically never sees the light of day.

Reversing fishing lines can easily double the line’s life expectancy saving a lot of money in the process. For advice on how to tell when fishing line is due for replacing check my guide here.

11)Use backing with braid fishing line

We all use backing with our fly fishing reels, so why not always use it with our spinning tackle? Braid is extremely thin, and it can take a considerable amount to load some reels to capacity.

If the spinning reel is a little on the large size, most of that braid will never see any use. So it is a good idea to partly full the spool first with a much cheaper monofilament line, before winding on a hundred yards or so of braid.

I even buy braid in bulk, but only load approximately 100 yards at a time. If kept in a cool, dark, dry location a spool of braid will remain good for years.

12) Re-tie your knots often

I know re-ting knots is a nusiance, it takes away from quality fishing time. But damaged knots is one of the main reasons why the fishing line breaks, losing not only fish but expensive terminal tackle.

It is a good idea to check knots after every fish, or any time the line has been under pressure. For example, freeing a snagged line.

If in any doubt, I will then retie the knot. A few inches of line costs significantly less than a brand new lure.

13) For best longevity, fly lines require cleaning and care

Fly lines get coated, and if not properly cared for they can start to crack. This shortens the life expectancy of such lines.

With premium fly lines now costing north of $60, it makes financial sense to prolong their life. For this reason, it is a good idea to clean your lines with a dump cloth after using them in dirty water.

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