A long time ago, an old fishermen told me that fish don't change, and it remains pretty much true.

All the fancy equipment and gadgetry in the world can't help if an angler doesn't understand the basic wants and needs of their quarry.

Those points hit home while watching a bass fishing show, and its plethora of ads, on television last weekend. By the end of the episode, a beginning angler would think they needed a $75,000 boat, $45,000 truck, $15,000 in electronics and $10,000 more in tackle just to catch a little green fish.

Seriously? Who can afford such a hobby? An industry desperate for new participants is off track.

I'm okay with technology, and trying new stuff is interesting, but cost has become prohibitive for newcomers and part-timers who have yet to learn fishing's most basic principles.

And it's not just bass fishing. Salmon trolling leans the same way, as well as simple shore fishing. Seems the "best-dressed" steelheader these days must have a $200 (or more) centerpin reel and matching $200 float rod to fish a creek.

Did you know they make $9 bobbers these days. Heck, the special Tro-Kar hooks and titanium sinkers the bass guy used cost more than the first rod and reel I fished with.

Full disclosure is one of the first big trout I ever caught was landed with a $3 combo complete with single-action bait caster, steel rod and black "cat gut" line. Modern centerpins and super lines haven't improved as much as the sales folk want you to believe. The rod, on the other hand, is an artifact.

Point is, you don't need everything the short-sighted marketing knuckleheads tell you. If you enjoy it, that's fine. Whatever makes an angler happy is alright with me, too.

Be aware, however, there is a feasible and inexpensive low end to fishing.

I have used sticks and stones in the past. They were, and still are, economical, environmentally-friendly and extremely stealthy.

Before salmon were stocked in local streams, and long before float-fishing became the "must-do" steelhead tactic, my dad and his friends used sticks to float nightcrawlers for "native" browns.

Fat twigs were natural, worked good enough and were free for the taking.

My job, on one of those brown trout adventures, before I was old enough to wield a rod, but apparently not too young to handle a tree pruner and saw, was to collect "stick bobbers" for the trip.

As instructed, I lopped off a thumb-thick branch from a maple tree and cut it into three-inch pieces which were dried and split about halfway to allow fishing line to be inserted and held in place. If the split didn't hold tight, dad always had a supply of newspaper rubber bands to secure the line.

Like today's fancy floats, the original stick bobber allowed longer, snag-free drifts. And, although not as balanced as modern stuff, the sticks have a superior sneak factor.

Another virtually free item is stones for weight.

With the price of lead, titanium and other alternative metals skyrocketing, they are legitimate for sinkers and anchors (the bass man had a pair of $1,900 Power Pole anchors).

It may have been perch, or it may have been carp, but there was a shore-fishing stretch when I ran out of weights and was slight of funds.

A handful of stones, probably one-ounce in size, were individually wrapped with wire and a inexpensive swivel attached. That was before Super Glue was invented, which might be simpler to fasten.

The bottom line is the stones worked. They undoubtedly look more natural, afford a softer bottom landing and, again, cost just about nothing.

Besides, they cast like rocks.

OUTDOOR NOTES: Ice on. Anglers were finding four, five and six inches of solid stuff on area lakes at mid-week. Caution is still necessary, however.

The fishing was good, too, but nothing spectacular on the La Porte lakes. Reports from there were mainly bluegill and perch along with a smattering of crappie, bass and pike. As always, some of the smaller, private waters have been red hot for panfish.

Ice fishing contests are set for Fish Trap Lake on Jan. 30 (call Dan at (219) 851-5047) and Fish Lake on Feb. 6 (call Dave at (219) 369-1235).

Steelhead fishing is on again, too, after sub-zero wind chills locked up streams last weekend. Should be decent, mostly because most of the steelhead have not seen a bait in a while.

Indiana's North Zone Canada goose season closes Jan. 24 before reopening Feb. 1-15 in La Porte and 29 other counties.

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