Fishing on a limited budget

Andrew Richardson
Recently I had a conversation with a colleague of mine regarding his desire to take his stepson fishing. He explained that although his wife's twelve-year-old son loved to fish, my colleague was unable to justify the expense. I must admit I probably gave him a stupid puzzled look before enquiring exactly why he thought a fishing trip was going to leave him bankrupt. "It's all that special gear you need mate" he said in a deadly serious tone, "you know, those expensive surf rods and big reels, and all the floats and sinkers and stuff you need. I can't justify the price of it. Not for a fishing trip here and there." 

Oh my poor misguided colleague! It seems he had been listening to me giving someone else a run down on all the fishing gear I own and had formed the wrong impression. I had to explain to him that although someone like myself does indeed own a reasonably expensive surf rod with a large reel, and is quite happy to spend twenty dollars here or there on sinkers alone, it really didn't have to be that way.
I explained that I certainly didn't start out with all this flash equipment I own today, and that much of it I own simply because I fish quite a lot and wanted gear that was robust enough to handle it.  
It got me thinking. Essentially I own lots of fishing gear not because it helps me catch more fish, but because I love to fish and I guess I love to spend money on it!
So having stated this case to my colleague he rightfully enquired  "So how do I go fishing without spending a fortune then?'.  

How do you start
The best place to start is probably your local fishing store.  The staff at these stores are well aware that not everybody has truckloads of cash to splurge on fishing gear and will be more than willing to point you in the direction of budget priced items.

Look at a tackle store combo
If you are looking at purchasing surf fishing equipment, a reasonable combination of twelve foot rod and pre-spooled ball bearing reel will set you back around one hundred dollars. If you are looking for something more general purpose, a six-foot medium action rod and pre-spooled reel will start from around forty dollars.

Hooks are cheap
A packet of hooks will cost anywhere from five dollars upwards and a good idea is to buy a pack consisting of a range of hook sizes. This will give you an array of options depending upon where you're fishing and what you are fishing for. I recently purchased such a pack consisting of around one hundred hooks, the previous pack I owned lasted me for more than three years. So as you can see they're pretty good value.

Options with sinkers  
Sinkers will vary in cost depending on the size you buy. A good surf sinker of around sixty grams will cost you about a dollar each, a little more if they're heavier and a little less if they're lighter. You can also buy packets consisting of several sinkers and they come in a wide array of shapes ranging from spherical to oblong with protruding wire to grip the bottom more successfully.
Another way to keep costs down is to make your own sinkers. Sinker mould kits can be purchased from most fishing stores and although they are a bit of an outlay to start with they can save you money in the long run. Depending on the sizes and shapes, a decent mould will set you back around twenty five dollars.  
Lead can be purchased in sheets from hardware stores for around ten dollars a metre, but a better option would be to try your local scrap metal merchant as mine sells lead for one dollar per kilogram.
I must admit these days I do tend to buy my sinkers more often than not as making sinkers can be a labor-intensive pastime. The back panel of sinker mould packets will often show a diagram of a pot on a stovetop, presumably melting down your lead. I have found a stovetop does not get hot enough. Instead I usually light a fire in my outside barbecue and put my pot containing my lead directly into the coals - the hotter the better! Be careful not to breathe in the fumes, as I am sure this would do a person no good at all! Again be careful when pouring your lead into your moulds. A pair of leather gloves is essential for this job.  
If you do not wish to purchase sinker moulds you can improvise my making an imprint in a bucket of wet sand with something such as the pointy end of a steel dropper, or a pre-purchased sinker, and pouring your molten lead directly into this. You will need some fencing staples to place into the sinker after you've poured it, and before the lead sets, so you have something to attach your line to. It's fiddly but it's effective.
If you don't want to go to all this trouble, just do what I did for years and use tin snips to cut the lead sheets into small rectangular sections, say six centimetres by two centimetres, roll it up long ways then tie it directly to your line. It's simple, cheap and effective.

Once you are outfitted with your rod, reel, hooks, line and sinkers you are ready to go fishing! However tying your sinker and hooks to your line and casting it in to the wild blue yonder will do you little good unless you attach something to the hooks for the fish to nibble on!

Bait options
Bait is obviously essential when it comes to catching fish and many, including myself, believe the type of bait used to be the most important factor when it comes to catching fish. There are many options. If you open the bait freezer at your corner store or anywhere else advertising the sale of bait you will be greeted with a plethora of choices. My advice would be to buy a packet of "blue bait', which is essentially small fish in preservative, and then purchase another packet of something else to change to if the blue bait isn't catching. Squid would probably be my preferred second option, as it tends to stay attached to the hook better than say prawns or pippies, or even blue bait for that matter. (A handy tip is to buy some fuse wire and wrap a small piece around your blue bait after you have attached it to the hook. This will stop the bait from being easily removed from the hook by pests such as crabs.)
In my opinion your bait selection should be dependent on where you choose to fish. My experience tells me that prawns are effective bait in estuaries or rivers where the current flow is not too fast, and pippies work quite well from a beach. Blue bait seems to work everywhere. Packets of bait will set you back anywhere from three to five dollars, and a packet is normally enough for a days fishing with a couple of lines in the water.  
If all of these options fail, or if you don't like the idea of packet bait, try a cheap piece of steak or chicken breast. Both of these options, the steak in particular, have caught me plenty of fish from the Tamar river in years gone by.

Chasing trout - try bait
If you are chasing trout rather than salt-water fish then a lot of these same principles apply.  Effectively a rod, reel and line will set you on your way!
A great way to spend a days fishing is to gain permission from a land owner with a river or creek running through their property, then walk the river/creek casting an unweighted bait into the water, just over the bank. Freshly dug garden worms are best early in the season, especially if the waterway is in flood, and grasshoppers make great bait in the dryer months. (Just be careful to make sure no one is watching you as you ridiculously leap and bound around in the paddocks trying to catch the little suckers!) Early morning is best for catching hoppers.  
If you are after something a little less strenuous for fresh water fishing the answer would be to try fishing with grubs or mudeyes. These can be purchased from tackle stores and are well suited to set lines in lakes and rivers. Going fishing after dark with these baits can be fun as species such as eels and blackfish can be caught to add variety to the night.

Or try a lure
If casting a lure is more your style then try the "mark down" or "seconds" bins at your favorite fishing store. Quite often you can buy cobra style lures at discounted prices. These lures are probably imperfect in some small way, usually having more to do with the way the lure looks than the way it will work. With these lures you can run the line directly through the body of the lure and tie it to a treble hook. Even tying the line to a standard single hook will catch fish effectively.

Keep it interesting
Variety, as well as quantity, is important if you are taking a young person fishing. A child who will sit on a beach for two hours of bite-less fishing and not get impatient or bored is a rarity, so I would recommend starting off fishing on a wharf or jetty. Small fish will regularly feed in these areas and they can be great fun to catch. Also try a location as close to home as possible, to avoid hearing the timeless "are we there yet?" question too regularly.
So for a small initial outlay, then by using some of the above tips, you can spend a day fishing without breaking the bank. You never know, after a while you might decide that you love fishing and want to upgrade your gear. However starting out with budget priced items is, in my opinion, the smarter way to go.  
Most of all have fun and enjoy it even if you don't catch a fish. Even the most experienced fishermen with the most expensive gear come home empty handed sometimes.
Not that they often admit it!

Spend plenty of time at the local tackle store. Don't be shy to ask for fishing advice, because the more fish you catch after a visit to a fishing store the more likely you are to return that shop again!

Andrew Richardson.

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