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Good fishing sidekick an endangered species

I probably have mentioned this before at one time or another, but I seriously have not found the answer: What are the rules when finding a suitable fishing companion?

I'm not a purist by any means; I will fish with any and all, and have learned from the best as well as some of the worse. I have fished with those from the North, South, East and West as well as some from across the big water and some that never before left city streets. I have fished for everything from carp to billfish, in both fresh and saltwater, as well as a few exotics that had attitudes. I have a few favorites, but for the most part any species that I can entice to come to my hook is fair game.

The problem as I see it is finding a suitable fishing companion who is as dedicated as I am to the pursuit of a lesser vertebrate. I'm not a snob by any means, however, there just don't seem to be that many around.

Whatever happened to that companion who would rise before sunset, eat on the run at the next greasy spoon, grab a few snacks from the nearest drop-in mart, split expenses and help you clean fish at the end of the day? They either no longer exist, or are spending time finding a fishing partner of their own.

I don't mind those who make the effort, and I am fairly lenient when it comes to giving advice and receiving it. But there is a fine line between starting the day with advice for a newbie and ending up at the end of the day being the student just because they caught a few more fish than I did.

If you have problems at home, stay home. At the office, go back to work. Fishing is fishing and there is little room for stress. I want to fish with people who are fun to be with, who share a few laughs and are even-tempered.

The act of trashing one of my rods just because your knot failed is not my idea of fun. Laughing because you forgot to tie off the anchor while drifting into the bridge is not fun. Eating the last sandwich or drinking the last soda because you left your meal on the porch is not fun. Watching you pull a log from the bottom all the while yelling, "Get the net!" -- that is fun. Rowing the boat a hundred or more yards while dragging the anchor, OK ... a bit of humor awarded, as long as you are not the one doing the rowing (Ken!).

I like to be organized when I approach things, and fishing is one sport where organization is paramount. Many times I fish on the spur of the moment and I like to know that my gear is where it should be when I want it and how I left it. A good many of those I have shared a boat with are either totally confused or pack rats. Their tackle box is more likely to be a brown paper bag with a few quick-stop-before-the-trip purchases, all tossed together at the last minute.

I don't mind lending, but take the word for what it is meant: lend, not keep. If the lure, hook, rig, rod or reel is working, more power to you. Remember where you got it and return it in the same condition it was borrowed. Just because we may have shared a fishing trip in the past does not mean I can claim you as a deduction.

The choice of a fishing companion is not one to be taken lightly. It may seem as if I am venting a few frustrations, but I really only have a few basic rules when it comes to my favorite sport. Leave your ego at home, bring your fishing gear with you as well as your lunch, save bragging rights for the end of the trip and, above all, know this: If you tell your wife, spouse or girlfriend that you are fishing and you use my name, you had better be holding a fishing rod. I may stretch the truth a bit, exaggerate more than most and, at times -- maybe, just maybe -- tell a little white lie. But my faults lie in my fishing, not keeping you safe beyond the bow of the boat.

MAKING IT EASIER

With money getting tighter these days, many anglers are finding it more beneficial to make their own leaders and bottom rigs. A good many anglers I know have taken it a step further and are making their own lures, and some have even built their own fishing rods.

Fishing tackle can be expensive, especially if you are actually fishing where the fish are known to habitat. If you aren't losing rigs, you aren't fishing where they live. As Harold always said, "You can't fish on credit." Those anglers who catch fish lose tackle simply because they take chances.

If you are an occasional fisherman, it may be best to stick to store-bought gear. But if you do a good bit of fishing, catching a fish on a lure you designed, a rod you built or a leader you perfected can be fun and exciting -- with the added bonus of saving money.

If you are a devout offshore angler who seeks only large billfish, then you are in a league of your own and nothing in this article is going to sway you. You have spent your time in the trenches and know full well the cost associated with your particular sport. The following advice is directed to the more common variety of angler, those with thinner wallets.

This column will focus on making an effective bottom rig. There are two choices -- the choice is a matter of preference -- single or tandem.

The Bait Rig

Here are the basics (what you add or take away is a matter of preference):

Use an 18- or 20-inch leader, a hook and an egg sinker. Cut your leader material from a bulk spool about 24 inches. At one end, tie your choice of hook with your favorite knot and trim the ends as close to the knot as possible. Slide your sinker to the end of the line and tie the end off to your swivel. TIP: Find the bottom and peg your sinker with a toothpick. The sinker can be adjusted to fit your particular needs and the type of bottom you encounter.

This rig is perfect for shrimp, mussels, clams, mullet or cut bait. Rig a half dozen or more and place them in a small plastic bag in the bottom of your tackle box. The bags keep them separated and ready for action when needed.

The Tandem Rig

With this outfit you will use a popular weight, a pyramid sinker. Use a cut piece of leader material about 24 to 30 inches long. Tie a snap swivel at one end (for your sinker) and a hook on the other end, about 8 to 10 inches up from bottom (a loop knot works best). Come up the line another 8 to 10 inches and tie on another hook, once more using a loop knot.

The tandem rig and use of a pyramid sinker allows your bait to stay just above the bottom. A trick I often employ is not to tie the sinker directly to the swivel. Use a large industrial type rubber band slipped through the eye of the sinker and looped to your swivel. If you get snagged, the rubber band will break and you can salvage your leader and hardware. Tie on another rubber band and sinker and you are ready to fish again in no time.

Purchase the best you can afford, but know that a good many rigs will be lost. Be sure of your knots and your connections, watch out for overhead lines and obstacles. Cast and enjoy.

I would like to thank those readers who have reminded me to keep things simple and be a bit more instructive. Depending on reader response, I may include more do-it-yourself pointers in future articles. Let me know what you would like to know and I will do my best to keep you informed.

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