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America's Fishing Equipment Ranks Last for Live Bait

An example of horrible performing bite indicators that America manufactures - mass quantity refuse - the live bait angler's enemy to catching fish (cheaply made bobbers)


Cheap, Clunky & Bad - American Live Bait Tackle Companies- Shame on You


Ok, the next time you are in a fishing store, look at the rack of bobbers if front of you. See all the bright colors some stripes and some contrast? Without any uncertainty, the people that make those products don't know what a bite indicator is capable of. Yes, I just wrote that - they don’t know what a bite indicator is or they wouldn’t make them like that. Many company owners don’t even use the products they sell, resulting in pathetic poor-performing products. But, highly profitable.


The next time you reach for your bobber- think, are they just trying to make money off me with the cheapest product?


As part of my Revolution series, I look at the horrible tackle available to live bait anglers in America. I have been tracking fishing equipment back in time - a bit of fishing archeology. 


Why has live bait tackle gone backwards in time and become worse here in the United States? Around the world, tackle continues to advance far ahead of ours. The gap is so tremendous, it is shocking how poorly we fish compared to the world. America has the world’s worst live bait fishing tackle. 


My findings are shocking. My theory that fishing tackle has become worse is proving to be true. Evidence is everywhere.


Where did all the fishing equipment go? Why do the shelves contain bobbers with so few features. Why could inventors of gimmick bobbers have missed the whole point? If they did their homework, they could easily see how bad their products were - that they are not rockets and they lack brains.


How is it that live bait anglers have been neglected and forgotten? The simple answer - racist & classist America. If you live bait fish, you are lumped into a lower class. You are not bright and you just fish the dumb way.  You are too cheap to buy expensive tackle (read profitable) and you are not worth the time to manufacture quality. You “don’t need it”, “won’t buy it”. 


Whites wrecked the tackle industry for live bait anglers. They didn’t want to sell to Chinese, Blacks or poor Irish. Turn-of-the Century, politics, class, racism and war are factors. You know these racist terms: “Garbage fish, bottom fish, trash fish” - those are the fish we poor fished for. We don’t need any special tackle for that - I guess.


Also - how is it that we have put up with this for so long?  I have theories on how some of our skills have eroded through time, and I am collecting my evidence. Vintage floats and hooks show where we were in fishing fifty and even one hundred years ago. It is a sad fact that American fishing equipment was BETTER back then! There are components no longer used by tackle companies because they want to save on cost and increase their profits.


Somewhere the focus shifted from having the coolest, best fish-catching product where a company owner could be proud, to a cheap widget. Now, some of the changes came because our cities grew and lake resources were used up. Even as far back as 1890 the US Fish & Game Service was trying to stock fish. 


People had caught fish before the 20th century. Cities like Chicago exploded with commerce and people going from 4,000 residents to over 2 million people. A few wars got in the way and items like wire and brass, performance components in early tackle were taken off everyday items to aid the troops. In many cases, these parts were never put back in.


Manufacturing and material needs during war changed the components that went into bobbers in the 40’s. Manufacturers took out wire components and brass components. 


Following the war, these components existed, but other products were on the market without these components - built for fast manufacturing made of plastics and sans the extra wire or brass. They could make these cheaper and faster to shop out to dime stores. Lures started to really dominate the scene and bass were distributed across the United states 40 years prior.


Float eyes or guides to hold your line and to keep the bite indicator taught - they were removed. Now, some who knew what a bite indicator was made their own or crafted their own bite indicators. The masses, we continued to buy tackle lacking it’s working parts. 


Wars ended, life returned but machines and manufacturing were the flavor-of-the day. More, faster, cheaper and lots of plastic. Cork went away, quills went away, wood went away - in favor of plastic with seams.


Generations grew up and maybe we focused too much on destination fishing. Resorts, trips, exotic wilderness- that is what was sold in the print magazines. On the brand new television set, we saw adventures in National parks. Curt Gowdy traveled to remote parks, pristine resorts and to destinations around the world. Americans still make the trip very far away in order to seek fishing. A lot of the fishing was fantasy based as good fishing couldn’t be found near home.

Or- Could it? I say there has always been good fishing, just the fishing got tougher and the equipment became horrible. Combine the two with the run-away favorite bass and you see a recipe for disaster.


Revolution Continues...

In my next article, I will talk about America’s fishing decline - the situation worsens...


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Comment by Johnny wilkins on August 15, 2011 at 5:39pm

Revolution has moved forward- I have a bluegill rig, a bluegill hook remover and a small store to distribute this stuff. Get in touch with me and I can send you the link to the store. The small rigs and floats are available for:

1. Short range (telescopic pole, short casts with spinning gear)

2. Medium Range (spinning gear wagglers)

3. Long Range - large, long waggles for long casts

Comment by Johnny wilkins on April 24, 2011 at 6:30pm

I do enjoy saying stuff like - I only caught 4 good ones, but had to go through the other 300+ to get to those 4 really nice ones. I enjoy a leisurely 300 fish and I also love casting, but I prefer catching vs. casting.


I disagree with the "we abandoned" the fishing industry - we have built their giant monument to fishing in several giant big box stores. It is the box stores that are the hybrid bluegill with their big mouths and aggressive behavior. They buy in quantity and beat each other at price. Their tackle is ordered nationally so their regional fishing expertise suffers.


I strongly believe there is room for far better tackle here at my stores and at your stores. I am not going to send you to Italy, France or England to purchase tackle and I hope for US companies to pick up on this so that improved tackle is in stores near you. For the same price, you can have far better tackle - it's a no brainer. Remember that you and I both purchased Thill floats- it was the company that took the wire guides off their tackle to make more money off of you, make it faster, make it cheaper - make more money.


Saying that - I tried some prototype floats and I did NOT like they way they held up. While these floats caught over 100 fish each on the afternoon, I had some finish chip off them. Once the finish came off the wood wicked up water and changed the weight of the float. Since the float got heavier, it was sinking on me. Now- I have to go back and fish test these again as I might have been bouncing it off some concrete. I might have cracked it myself. I don't know, I was under a tree with a wind at my back and concrete at my side - it was the perfect storm of hard fishing so I will test it out another day. 



Comment by Keith Owen on April 19, 2011 at 10:36pm

Hey Johnny,

     I’m glad you took my post in the spirit it was given. I am amazed that in a metropolitan area the size of Chicago you can still manage to find great places to fish. Pretty cool.


     I understand the intent and direction of your discussions. I have enjoyed reading articles and watching videos of European style bank fishing and understand it can be very productive in highly pressured waters. Truth is though, around here you simply don’t have to go to that much trouble to catch a lot of fish, either quantity or quality. I know several farm ponds where you could land several hundred Bluegills in a few hours of fishing using a mop handle for a rod; your shoestring for line and a tennis ball for a float. They are simply that plentiful and un-pressured. I’m lucky and, by-golly, know it!


     I know its fun to do simple things in an intricate way though. I do have to admit that I am a bit of a “technique” junky myself. I am on a quest to see just how big a fish I can catch on my eight foot, two weight fly rod with regular ‘ol flies (no bait). It has an unconditional lifetime guarantee and I plan on including a picture of the fish that broke it when I return it to the manufacturer for replacement. If I could afford it, I would be out there trying to catch a Tarpon on a zero weight.


     Its human nature to rarify a simple act until the point of the original task is forgotten or lost. Look at what the British have done to simply hitting a ball with a stick.  What IS the point of Cricket anyway? We have done the same thing to the bland task of collecting a few fish for a meal. Trust, me I am as neurotic as the next fly-angler, I know. We even get snobbish about it and write/read books that promote the idea that “Sometimes fishing isn’t about catching fish…” Really?


     I see angling as a circular continuum. If the good old cane pole and worm are at the top (twelve o’clock), most average fisher-folk (average as in method, not skill level) are at three o’clock, which would put the bass fanatics at say six to seven (directly opposite from where we started). As we move on around I suppose fly rodders would be at seven-thirty or eight and the long-pole bank dudes at ten.


     I’m not sure if very many folks have seen the new fishing craze that is sweeping Japan right now or not. It’s called Tenkara (actually a VERY old method that has been revived). It uses a fairly long, eyeless fly rod with a short section of fly line attached to the tip with a leader then the fly. Let’s put it at eleven-forty-five on our circle. Tenkara is very stylized with very specific casting actions and special flies, a long way from our three o’clock folks with the Zebco 33s or ultra-light spinning tackle. Take the graphite out of the rod and replace the rare feathers on the hook with a garden worm and we are right back where we started.


     Is a Bluegill caught on a $50 rod more important than one caught on a $5 one? Nope. How about one caught on bait versus lure? Nope. Is a fish that was caught after hours of patient waiting better than the ones I catch TOTALLY by accident? Maybe, but I’m the judge of that.


     That’s the great thing about fishing, we can be anywhere on the circle and still agree that a good day at work is STILL better than a bad day fishing. Assuming we can agree that there ARE even bad days fishing.


Best Fishes,


Comment by Johnny wilkins on April 19, 2011 at 12:36pm
Retro 1895 it's back in style baby.
Comment by James Micheal Landrum on April 19, 2011 at 11:50am
Well, one thing is for sure, if things keep goin like they are--- we'll all be fishing with WORMS, CRICKETS, MAGGOTS, TREE POLES and SAFTY PINS, and be daming up every creek we can to catch a fish for Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper. Change, Yea,We got Change!!!!!!!!".
Comment by Johnny wilkins on April 19, 2011 at 11:22am
I know there are a lot of good anglers on this board like yourself - this is what the first paragraph means. It means you have skills, you have practiced you just seek gear to fit your needs/waters.
Comment by Johnny wilkins on April 19, 2011 at 11:21am


Amazingly awesome post. Thank you for sticking with me. There are so many anglers who need  a tweek- you need the gear to make your magic happen and I can make that happen for you.


A slip float that meets these conditions:

[ add one for into the wind - one for with the wind ] - yes!!

Must be able to reel up to within 30" of rod tip. < this one I need expanding on by you. All slip floats can be reeled to the tip - I thin I am misunderstanding this one. What is your rod length? I recommend a 7 - 8 foot minimum for float casting and fast action with a soft tip. 9 or 10 foot - all the better to cast easily and lightly.

Must have enough mass to cast 20-25 yards.  < easy. If we are casting through lilly pads, mmnnn sort of easy. Attacking lilly pads is tough on the light presentation and heavy line cuts down dramatically on casting distance

Must require the smallest amount of weight to operate correctly. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Must be able to fish depths of 15 feet. you know I suggest two rigs I would not fish 5' of water on a slider / slip rig as this shallow water requires a different ((club)). If you had to do it you could, you just will miss out on some subtle bites with the longer float needed for the slider rig (and 15 foot).

Must have a metal "eye", where the line slides through to prevent wearing a groove. (plastic works terrible.) I only fish metal eye floats but I can do one better

Must perform all these functions better than the floats I currently use.


Did you want to participate in the Revolution exercise? I ask that you fish the same way / same gear you are on the same water. Log it (this can be just for yourself). I never have to see it if you want to keep it private. I will check out the floats you fish and then will supply you with different floats, diagrams and setups that you can try for comparison.


If they can help you then great- if something in the setups or the floats don't work for you it is probably my fault - but we can adjust.


Your last excitement statement is one I share. I would probably like to catch some specimen 11" line-rippers. Unfortunately - these are extremely rare where I live. That said, my favorite-ever fishing trip was when I went scouting for a place on a new river for my son so I could rig up and take him to catch. I did the grunt work, I just wanted him to enjoy catching. Well, my target was walleye. I worked and worked trying to get the setup proper so he could haul in walleye. Three hours into this scouting mission, I was losing hope. Then, by accident, my bait fell near my feet on the rock bank. I saw a flash and spotted some gill action.


My favorite gill outing ever was using an 8 foot telescopic pole and catching monster 1 lb. gills - 1.5 lb. gills as there was a massive school within 12" of shore in a cut beneath us. When these big daddys struck the line on the pole was so tight in the wind that it made an extremely high-pitched whine in the wind - like a piano string! This was so exciting and these were the biggest gills in quantity I had ever seen. The fall colors were amazing on the fish and the trees!


I do enjoy the big fish, but a lot of times fish #147 has the chance to be that big fish. I have to weed my way through hundreds to get one really excellent specimen. But- you are right- the big gill is to cherish.


Oh- and, I don't use drag. [ I had to throw in one strange element of the post to get people wondering ]




Comment by Tony Livingston on April 19, 2011 at 10:51am

Okay Johnny, I do think I understand you a little better . Your last response has cleared up a few things for me. I believe now that you are primarily addressing folks who are beginning anglers, or just learning how to fish. I just figured most folks on here knew the in's and out's of Bluegill fishing. I didn't stop to think that there might be some newbies looking to wet a line. That was a mistake on my part.

Myself, and most anglers I know, realize that pre-packaged setups like you describe are usually not what a succesful angler should be using. We know enough to pick and choose our gear, bits and pieces at a time, to come up with what we want. I think this might be one area where I was confused by your comments - you look for "kits" or packages already put together, while we are content to make it ourselves. The snelled hooks you describe is what I am referring to. It's not that the gear isn't there, you just have to know how to assemble it properly yourself.

As far as my setups - well, I use many. When I refer to walking the bank, I'm usually not fishing out in front of me. You are correct when you stated that fish can spook that way. I walk only far enough to put me within casting distance of where I want to fish. Say, 20-25 yards. That way my shadow isn't on the water, and my footsteps don't arouse suspicion.

This technique has an obvious problem, that being trying to get a soft "touchdown" on the water, while still having the required mass to achieve that casting distance. Understandably, if I'm throwing artificial lures it isn't an issue, just live bait fishing. And that, Johnny, is the entire reason for my posts on your blog. You may remember that we had this very similiar discussion last year, when you first began your improved float crusade. No disrespect meant. I am looking for the same thing now, as I was back then.

A slip float that meets these conditions:

Must be able to reel up to within 30" of rod tip.

Must have enough mass to cast 20-25 yards.

Must require the smallest amount of weight to operate correctly.

Must be able to fish depths of 15 feet.

Must have a metal "eye", where the line slides through to prevent wearing a groove. (plastic works terrible.)

Must perform all these functions better than the floats I currently use.


I have many different styles, shapes, and weights of floats. However, I began to notice a problem with all my slip floats. I would cast out, but the line would not travel completely through the float. Eventually I discovered that my line was wearing a groove in the plastic eye where it slides through. Doing some research led me to the Thill Pro series, which contain a copper (Yes!! actual metal!) eye to prevent this problem. I have many different sizes and weights of this float now, and it serves me well. I honestly have my doubts that anything can beat it, and still operate within the guidelines I listed above.

On to the fishing itself. Yes, I prefer to target the bigger Bluegill. And I should note that I only fish for Bluegill, no other species. If I catch a Bass it's because it hammered a micro crankbait. Strictly accidental. To me, a good day is a dozen "keepers", with any fish over that number released, or culled, depending on condition and sex. (I don't release any females, or males smaller than 5 inches.)

Sure, I'll catch some smaller fish. But not nearly as many since I expanded my use of artificial lures some years ago. You are right on when you say that kids enjoy catching any fish, but now that my boys have gotten older, (10 and 8), they have switched from quantity to quality..... they also want to learn to target larger specimens.

You asked if I knew how great it was to get six hooksets in a minute. Let me pose a question to you. Do you know how great it is to hook ONE 10-11 inch Bluegill? To See your ultralight rod bend almost double and your line cut an arc through the water? To hear a properly set drag on a micro reel scream as the fish takes line? To actually play the fish? To feel the power and strength of a dominant Bluegill showing his stuff? To hopefully land that fish, and admire it for what it is, not just number 147?

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not attacking you or your style of fishing. To each his own, I'm just stating that some of us prefer to catch bigger, not necessarily more.

Fish on, Johnny.


Comment by Johnny wilkins on April 19, 2011 at 10:49am
a book is a great idea. yes, less talking, more fishing and more photos! (and a book)
Comment by Johnny wilkins on April 19, 2011 at 8:49am

Bad Stuff is Cheap - Good Stuff is Inexpensive


Apple uses premium materials and runs superior software on their own hardware components.
My Aunt and Uncle flat out told me they didn't want Apple. I bought them one and they denounced it and continued using their PC computers. Then, I showed them one task and they saw how easy that was. Next they asked me, to format something. Before I knew it they wanted to know more.
Well, eventually they kept asking me and then they bought one. Then two, now they have ipods, ipads, laptops and they will never use a PC again.
There is different stuff out there.
Yes there are packs of hooks that say they are "American Made Hooks" - they are even Red White & Blue! They are "Hand Assembled in China"- you can pick those up for $1.50 and you thought they were good ole American gear.
Eagle Claw is from Denver but their stuff comes from China. It says so right next to the American Flag on the back. You might catch a couple of fish on them. But, with a $2.50 pack of snelled hooks, on proper line with a proper hook shape- Thinking Differently-I will have to unhook a lot more fish.
It doesn't wreck my day or bother me too much to unhook a bunch of fish and some big ones.
I'm just different. Just give me and some concepts a chance.
: )

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