When I felt the bump of the horse trailer on the curb as I drove through the turnpike toll, I had a bad feeling. Minutes later on the Massachusetts Pike, a glance in the rear-view mirror of the haul vehicle confirmed my fears; the tire on the trailer just didn’t seem to be running right. When a car passed alongside and its driver frantically gestured towards the trailer, I knew it was time to pull over and change the tire. Fortunately, we had all the tools necessary; even more fortunately, we had a spare tire bolted to the front of the trailer.
No motorist in his or her right mind would think of taking a long trip without such a “spare” tire assembly. Yet, it’s amusing how many outdoors persons travel without preparing for such contingencies. It’s so easy to stumble over gear and fall on a fishing rod, crushing it, or catch a long wand in a closing door as you step across the doorstep into camp. Fly rodders are notorious for leaving tackle assembled while proceeding through tricky entrances or into rear compartments of autos. Anglers set up a reel with shock leader or tippets ever so carefully, but often fail to check reel screws, bails or nuts that hold reel handles in place.
Sometimes we’re able to make emergency repairs. An older generation of bamboo rods always came with spare tips, for example. I’ve made repairs on guides when wraps came undone by finding a handy roll of duct tape and taking a turn or two around the foot of a loose guide. On one Canadian trip I got really lucky and snapped a fallen guide ring back into place, then used a drop of instant glue to make it more secure. If I catch a loose screw or two on a reel plate or notice a loose nut on a bail or handle, a small screwdriver from my kit or a pair of pliers comes to my rescue.
The worst “uh-oh” moments come when repairs in the field are impossible. Where’s the technician who can replace a bail spring on the spot? Who can load up a spool of line while standing hip deep in the surf? Who can take apart a delicate reel after it has fallen into the bilge and filled with fine sand? That’s where your replacement comes in.
Just as you wouldn’t think of fishing with one lure and one leader, you shouldn’t think of proceeding without a spare outfit, or at least a spare reel. If storage is no problem on a big boat, we usually stash a spare outfit in a safe corner of the cabin or tie it to the rail where a spot is empty. We also put a spare reel into our daypack, just in case one of our winches malfunctions.
On a bottom fishing trip, the spare outfit is handy when we lose a rig and want to jump right back into the action during a “bite.” Re-rigging can take place during a lull in the action. On a drift fishing trip years ago in the Florida Keys, I had an outsized mahi burn up a bail roller and render a spinning outfit unfit for casting. I spent the rest of the afternoon with a 12-pound class drift rig, set up with a tandem-hooked ballyhoo, and saved the trip with my very first sailfish.
It’s a tough call when you have to go with only one rod, as one does so often working a stream of wading from the beach. Unless you want to carry the spare rod all day, you probably leave it back in the truck or back in the tent, but you at least should stash a second reel in a pocket or wading vest. Fly fishers sometimes carry spare spools to change lines, which is so much easier. I’ve seen a few anglers manage to carry spare two- or three-piece rods by taping them together or using a Velcro strap fastened to their person. Still this can get pretty clumsy as you plod miles along the gravel or walk a forest path. It’s tempting to put them down above the high tide line or off the trail as you proceed, but hours later you had better remember exactly where you stashed the spares!
One trout specialist I fished with in the wilds of Quebec got around this problem by building a short fly rod with somewhat larger guides and a reel seat just above the butt. He could, in a pinch, slip a small spinning reel onto the back of the rod and toss tiny lures when he wasn’t fly-fishing. Such spinning-fly combinations were offered by specialty catalogs at one time long ago, and they were deadly on tiny streams where backcasts were out of the question.
Being prepared is like being flexible. It certainly doesn’t hurt.