I once heard a story about a woodsman who was very attached to his ax. He’d say, “this is the best ax I’ve ever had. I’ve replaced the head twice and the handle three times, and it’s as good as the day I got it 25 years ago.” Of course, if he’s replaced the only two parts there are in that tool, how can he say it’s the same ax? I think I know how. I have that same feeling about a tool of my own.
Readers of this blog know that I try to take good care of my fishing tackle, and spend 2 or 3 days a year going through tackle boxes and trays to clean and reorganize my hooks, rigs, snap swivels, sinkers, soft plastics, tins, etc. I repack the boxes and trays after cleaning them up, I sand and sharpen hooks. I throw away things like rusty hooks or flattened barbs that I can’t use anymore without seriously risking a missed fish.
I also take stock of my fishing rods and reels. I have about 10 at any given time. Some are lighter, some heavier. Some are conventional reels, some are spinning reels. Some are 6.5 or 7 feet tall, some are shorter. These rod and reel combos need attention, too. When it comes to rods, the most common problem is a broken rod tip or a ring popping out of a guide. These I get fixed at the local tackle shop, at least for the first few times they happen to a rod. At some point, I might decide that a rod has seen better days and replace the rod entirely. Usually, given the medium quality rod I often buy, that doesn’t happen until a rod is at least 10 years old. The reels are another story. Good reels can last 20 years if well taken care of. From time to time, though, I replace a reel that has a mechanical problem I can’t easily fix, or whose moving parts are sticking in ways that WD40 can’t fix, making reeling a less smooth experience. That, too, can cost me fish.
One rod I’ve been fishing with for 25 years is a particular favorite. I use it for a range of fish but mostly fluke and bluefish. It’s a white fiberglass rod with guides set up for a spinning reel and a black rubber (hypalon) grip. The reel is a Penn Battle II 4000 spinning reel. Or at least it is right now. You see, aside from the expected minor repairs, I’ve replaced the rod twice and the reel once, at different times, when they needed to be changed. But for the entire 25 years, this has been one of my favorite rods. And I do realize that there’s no part of it that’s the same as it was 25 years ago. But to me, that rod and reel has been in my hands during many great days of fishing, and it helped me to land many fine fish. It really is a consistent 25 year experience. It’s not the parts that make it up, it’s the idea in my head about what it is that works for me in a rod and reel combo, and the way I use it.
And that’s the lesson I take away. In so many disciplines, it isn’t the tool itself, it’s the way the person using the tool thinks about it and leverages it’s characteristics to get the job done well. That’s true for the woodsman and his ax, and it’s true for my favorite fishing rod and me.
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