Fishing for a gift idea?

My buddy’s wife sometimes messages me for advice.

She is on the lookout for a fishing-related Christmas or birthday gift for him and for some reason thinks I have ideas. 

Another friend’s parents reached out this past year asking what sunglasses they should buy him for sight fishing.

Most anglers aren’t afraid to buy themselves what they need to get the job done and finding the right gift for somebody like that can be a challenge but I promise, if they love fishing, they’ll love whatever fishing gear or fishing-themed gift you give them. So, in the spirit of Christmas and consumerism, here are a few ideas, including everything from stocking stuffers to what is known these days as an “experience.”

Couple things first:

You might have to do a little research digging around your loved one’s fishing gear to see what they already have. About half of what I list below is fly fishing specific but there are plenty of other ideas out there if none of these fit the bill. Feel free to click here and reach out with any questions. I’d be happy to help brainstorm other ideas.

If you live on Cape Cod, you can buy most of these gifts locally at places like Goose Hummock, North Chatham Outfitters or, if you’re feeling ambitious, with a quick trip over the bridges to The Bear’s Den in Taunton. With that in mind, here’s a bonus idea: a gift card or certificate to any of those locations or the fishing shop closest to your lucky angler.

Think about ways you can buy local or at least American and what kind of packaging you need for it. The less the better. Nothing against foreign products per se (and buying at a local shop is far from a guarantee that it’s domestic) but if any of us care about our effect on the environment where we live, work and play, a little extra research and effort goes a long way.

Finally, I admit this is all more than a little self-serving; the more people fishing out there, the more likely I’ll be able to pay the bills. I’m also more than a little invested in a few of these but that’s the reason I feel comfortable recommending them. With that admission out of the way I present the following ideas in no particular order.

1. Starter fly fishing set up: Maybe you need a gift for someone who has been talking about learning to fly fish but hasn’t pulled the trigger. Push them over the edge with an inexpensive rod and reel package. Plenty of first time fly fishers start off with the Redington Crosswater combo, which runs about $170 but comes almost ready to hook into a keeper straight out of the tube. Only extras needed would be some extra leader and tippet and a few flies, which you could include as stocking stuffers (see below). Used to be Redington would guarantee everything for life but now they’ll charge you once things go wrong, which they will eventually but better it happen with a sub-$200 setup as the novice gets his or her feet wet. Made in the U.S.A is difficult, especially for a starter rod and reel. Sage makes all its rods at its factory in Washington State but you’re going to pay about twice what you would for the Redington combo for just the rod. It’s similar or even double again that price for other Made in the U.S.A. brands.

2. Fly casting lessons: This works for both the person who has always wanted to take up fly fishing and the longtime practitioner. A good place to start is by finding a certified casting instructor with Fly Fishers International but organizations such as Orvis and Cape Cod’s Trout Unlimited chapter also offer lessons. Prices vary but an individual lesson can cost $50-$70 per hour with a two-hour minimum. Orvis and Trout Unlimited schools are one-,  two-, and three-day affairs that run a few hundred dollars.

3. Practice casting rod: For about $50 you can give a novice or experienced fly fisher the gift of practice with a practice fly casting rod. There are other versions out there but Temple Fork Outfitters does a good job replicating the real thing and is guaranteed for life. The ability to practice indoors at home or at the office, especially when it’s snowing outside is invaluable no matter the caster’s skill level.

4. Art: Most fly fishers would rather have a fish print on the wall than take an actual fish home with them. Start with Nick Mayer. I’m biased because I know him and am on the pro staff of his apparel company but I encourage you to decide for yourself. His fine art is a detailed study of the fish he loves to chase. There are striped bass and bluefish but also exoctics as well as flora and fauna that are not of the scaled or finned variety. Prints can be bought for $75 or you can go big and buy an original. Whichever you choose, it will be well received and looked on wistfully when weather or work keep the real thing out of reach.

5. Headlamp: Every angler who starts early or stays out late needs a good headlamp or three. They are inevitably lost or get dunked and destroyed in saltwater. There are plenty of options out there and you can go with as many bells and whistles as you’d like but one of the keys is to make sure it has a red light, which won’t scare the fish away and piss off other fishers in the area. There are waterproof versions and various power options. I personally like mine lightweight with an easily adjustable and comfortable strap. Google “fishing headlamp” and there’s a ton of comparisons available. I’m a fan of Petzl but can’t tell you why other than applying the general concepts I outlined already.

6. Books: This is worth its own post, something I’ll tackle later. I try to provide mini reviews on Facebook from time to time so feel free to follow for more there but I’ll list of a few classics here. Your decision may depend on what you think the recipient is most interested in: history of a fishery, a narrative and more recent tale, a collection, or a how to. There are two obvious choices for the history of the striped bass fishery. First and above all others is John Cole’s “Striper: A Story of Fish and Man.” It was written in 1978 and stands the test of time but is no longer in print. The copy I have was given to my father by my mother for Christmas that same year. It is readily available, however, on Amazon, eBay and elsewhere. I just found a review from 1978 that referred to some of Cole’s prose as “purplish.” I wouldn’t change a word. It is, hands down, a classic. Next up is “Striper Wars; An American Fish Story” by Dick Russell. Russell picks up where Cole leaves off, cataloging the history of how striped bass populations plummeted after years of overfishing and the fight by conservationists to protect the fish for the future. This is a fascinating read that includes how the battle over bass led to the 1985 defeat of the largest public works project proposed up to that time in New York City. Russell lives on Martha’s Vineyard and is still active. Last week, the Vineyard Gazette published a letter to the editor he wrote calling for striped bass to be removed from the island’s famous fishing derby because of the pressures the population is again facing. David DiBenedetto’s “On the Run; An Angler’s Journey Down the Striper Coast” is a good read that chronicles DiBenedetto’s exploration of striper fishing along the Atlantic and its history. I had a chance to speak with DiBenedetto as he was researching the book, forgot about the conversation for a while and then realized he had published. Don’t think I was any help but the book is great. If you’re looking for a how to book, Lou Tabory’s “Stripers on the Fly” or “Inshore Fly Fishing” are good bets. Tabory lives in the Connecticut town where I went to high school and is a reservoir of knowledge on the subject. His books are good on their own but could be a fine companion gift to a fly casting lesson. Finally, “Stripers: An Angler’s Anthology” edited by John Waldman is a commendable collection of striper stories that covers both coasts and boatloads of fishing experiences across the years. If your loved one loves fishing and stories, and stories about fishing, a book on the subject is an easy choice.

7. Boater safety course: Another easy choice if anyone on your list goes offshore in their pursuit of fish is a boating course. Personally, I think anyone who takes the helm should have at least some rudimentary training even though it’s not currently required. Not everyone needs to get their merchant mariner credential but a two-day boater safety course makes all the sense in the world. Even on a good day it can be dangerous out there. Learning the basics can mean the difference between coming home safely and ending up in the hospital or putting someone else there. On Cape Cod and the South Shore, Hyannis-based New England Maritime offers a wide range of courses, including the basic two-day safety course ($189), first aid, towing assistance, and the more involved captains courses. My brother bought me the safety course as a gift back in 2007 and I secured my OUPV (Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels) credential using New England Maritime again this past year. Now, I am helping to teach the courses so I’ll admit bias but, honestly, it works and sends students away with not only a fancy certificate but with practical knowledge for working and playing on the water. Next captains course starts Jan. 6. For more information, check out their website here or get in touch with me directly. The gift of safety is worth every penny.

8. Flies: These are great stocking stuffers but make sure they are bagged or the hooks are otherwise covered. For fly fishing on Cape Cod for striped bass or bluefish, go with chartreuse clousers or deceivers, bunker patterns, or small crabs and poppers. With time running short, best move is to hit a tackle shop that sells flies and just ask if you’re not sure what to buy. A fly fisher can never have enough flies.

9. Cheap nippers: Another stocking stuffer idea. These are like nail clippers but specifically to cut line when a new fly, leader or tippet has to be tied on. I know guys who have spent $80 on nippers; I like the ones that run for less than $5. If you really want to get fancy, get one that attaches to clothing with a line that snaps it back into place. The cheap ones will rust out eventually but they’re simple and I usually buy a couple at a time so I have backups around.

10. Send them on a trip: There are lots of experiences for the angler who has everything. If you have the dosh, you can send them south right away through a trip organized by your local fishing shop. Concord Outfitters has been doing trips to Cuba that are getting great reviews. The Bahamas is open for business again after getting hammered by Dorian in September and needs your business. Or, you can give them something to look forward to in the spring on Cape Cod. If you want to buy all or part of a trip with Cape Cod on the Fly for a loved one, get in touch here and I’d be happy to provide something you can stick in stocking or put in an envelope for under the tree.

Tight lines and happy holidays!