Outdoors: Those old catalogs bring back fond memories

The calendar on our wall tells us the solstice is only seven weeks away. Spring training begins when pitchers and catchers report in three weeks! Yet, as each arctic front descends this month, such events seem far in the future. Still, the coming weeks offer seasonal opportunities for our local outdoors persons: check the gear, look through the catalogs online or in print (which still miraculously exist), and check out what sports shops or local outdoor shows have to offer.

When facing up to the task of organization we always get a sinking feeling — so much to go through, so little time! Still, that old proverb (Chinese?) about a long journey beginning with a single step immediately comes to mind. Our gear check always begins with an evening or two of inventory, and the results often amaze us. We come across reels we hardly remember and brand-new lures we planned to slip into our tackle kits years back but never got around to actually including. Extra gloves, woolen socks, even outerwear, all suddenly emerge, and it’s hard to figure out why these items never saw the light of day during the last few years.

Around the time I realized that fishing was going to be my first outdoor love, I would eagerly await the late January day when my parents would visit the home of my fishing mentor who lived in lower Westchester County. Following a bracing morning of sledding down the long hill below the house, I would break out my two reels (not the 22 I have today!) plus catalogs from a number of lure manufacturers (L&S, Heddon, Shakespeare, Helin and Creek Chub come to mind) and sit with Charlie Herrel for hours. We would take apart the reels, then strip away the old lubricants before re-greasing and re-assembling them. Since these were single-action fly reels or bait-casting reels from the 1940s or the 1950s, there were no star drags or disc brakes to worry about. The early spinning reels from the 1960s were even simpler to work over. Then we would pore over the catalogs and figure out what lures might be really useful for the largemouth bass in the lakes we fi shed. There were order blanks in the catalogs, and you simply ordered straight from Michigan or Indiana or wherever. (No discounts, either.)

When the lures arrived, we couldn’t wait for the season to open. Sometimes we would get ahead of other anglers with lures that were more effective than ones we had used in the past; sometimes we would wind up with some real stinkers. One lure, a real shiner encased in plastic with a spinner in front, seemed like a wonderful idea, for example, but proved a complete failure, except for an occasional stupid chain pickerel!

Fast forward to the winter of 2014. The catalogs are still there, but now come from the big outdoor companies, e.g. Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, etc. They’ve become much more specialized, of course. Using a gift certifi cate from L.L.Bean, I went looking recently for a truly impregnable lightweight rain suit for wear afi eld. When none of the seasonal catalogs had a good match, I went to an online catalog to find what I needed.

When it’s time to work over reels nowadays, most anglers don’t dare disassemble any winch manufactured after about 1980. Instead, we’ll go to one of the numerous tackle shops on Long Island where we trust the proprietor to return the reel with all parts included and drags properly functioning. Sometimes a sealed unit winds up with a factory repair, too.

A rod or reel dropped off provides an excellent excuse for a chat with a friend and a chance to buy a lure or two on the spot. A trip down the aisles of a good sports store can be a trip down memory lane, but don’t knock the booths at the many Expos from now into March. They make you dream of the future, trips you would love to make and perhaps will.

There’s still nothing quite like the arrival of something you’ve ordered or something you are given as a gift. An envelope came the other day from an old fishing/hunting friend, Ed Scalice, who’s now tying fl ies for Canyon Gear in Sayville. He sent along a few of his latest creations, fl ies which blend the old concepts of fl owing hair (streamers) with the latest materials: epoxy bodies and synthetic fi bers. Not only do these flies look great, they also hold the promise of getting past the choppers of a bluefish or two.

A gift like this certainly brings the spring striper run closer, at least mentally.

Opening that closet and beginning with inventory is surely a better activity for the restless outdoors person than checking email messages or text messages yet again. In any case, for yours truly, it certainly beats clicking the remote and watching tattooed giants in baggy shorts tossing up “bricks!”

Katharine Schroeder File Photo
Katharine Schroeder File Photo