The Recovery Kit: An Angler's Lifeline | Great Days Outdoors

When trouble strikes on a fishing trip, rely on yourself and a portable angler’s recovery kit.


The birds began to dip and dive into wildly hopping shrimp that were escaping the attacks from below. So, I got ready to become a predator myself. I readied my rod and made my first cast of the day.

My lure only went about ten feet and part of my rod went with it. Something had rubbed against my rod tip during the trip to the water from home. Before I knew it, my formerly one-piece rod changed into a two-piece rod.

Unless I could do magic, my fishing trip was over before it started.

It turns out that we anglers can do magic sometimes if we have the right tools on hand. It only took a few minutes to run back to my truck and fix the broken rod. Within 15 minutes, my rod was again fully functional as a one-piece rod. I was back in the game chasing the fish. My rod was a few inches shorter than it was originally, and the casting action was not what it once was, but I was fishing and the trip was still on.


Anglers can fix many accidents, mishaps, and other disasters. All we need is a few repair materials and tools with us. Of course, like most things to do with fishing, we have to balance a number of factors when we put a recovery kit together.

We need a full array of tools and materials to fix our little disasters, which inevitably come along, but we can’t haul the whole tool shed along with us. When I put my recovery kit together, I included only items that I know I would need.

I had previously run into situations when I needed the stuff in the kit, but I didn’t have the kit ready then. As a result, my fishing time suffered. So everything I advise anglers to include in the kit has been needed before (most of it many times). Of course, every angler will have different needs, so this kit is just a starting point.


A Case to Hold the Recovery Items

My son, Rob, was the one who urged me to create an emergency repair and toolkit. He has fished with me for years, and he has seen some pretty bad accidents befall us. He took it upon himself to buy a small, portable ice chest with side pockets and a padded storage lid.  

It doesn’t matter what kind of case we choose for our emergency recovery kit, but we do need a case of some kind to keep our repair stuff organized and close at hand. It comes down to this: We need a case big enough for our recovery gear, but not so big we can’t take it with us.  


I do recommend a small ice chest like this one Rob bought for me. It has plenty of room for tools and materials, it’s easy to carry, and it takes up little room behind the seats of my truck. This is where it stays and never leaves.

But in the case that I someday catch some fish, I could even use the recovery kit ice chest to keep my fish cold on the way home.


Rod and Reel Fixing Stuff

I don’t want to remember how many fishing rods I have managed to break in all my years of fishing. I’ve done my part to keep the rod-making companies in business. Sometimes that nasty little “pop” sound a fishing rod makes when it breaks will be a trip-ending signal. Other times, it just means a little delay.

If the rod breaks close to the tip—the most common place of fracture—a repair is not too hard to make. We only need a replacement rod tip. It’s sold in convenient packs at almost every bait-and-tackle shop, and some sort of glue to hold the replacement where it should stay. Very often, heat-activated rod glue is sold with the replacement tip packs. Super Glue also works well to hold rod tip repairs in place.

Rarely, a rod line guide will come off the rod. This repair calls for a drop of Super Glue to hold the guide back on the rod, and a turn or two of duct tape to secure the replaced line guide back to the rod. Duct tape is by no means a permanent rod guide repair. However, it will often hold long enough to complete a fishing trip.

Most reel repairs require more tools and materials than what is easily supplied on the water or back at the truck. However, a good gear lubricant can help free up a sticky spinning reel bail, and if a reel gets dumped in salt water, a quick spray of WD-40 and then a re-lube with reel oil can help keep the reel from corroding and freezing up.

The most basic, important, and most often-forgotten part of reel repair is to have a spool or two of replacement line close at hand. Having the right sort of line along can do more to salvage a damaged fishing trip than just about anything I know. Don’t assume that “I can get more fishing line anywhere!”

I’ve been fishing lots of places where no stores were close at hand. Since I had suitable replacement line on hand, I reloaded stripped reels and was able to keep on fishing. It doesn’t matter if a big fish spools me or if another boat snags my line while passing by and doesn’t hear my yells to stop. Having replacement line in the right test weight is just a good way to keep a fishing trip on the water.

Keeping an electric knife in your recovery kit can also come in handy.

Where and how you clean fish makes a big difference in the taste. Photo by Ed Mashburn

General Fixing Materials and Tools

Let’s start with the most basic repair material—duct tape. Yes, I know it’s a stock redneck joke. Honestly, duct tape is just about the best emergency repair material in the world.

I’ve salvaged fishing trips by using duct tape. It repairs rods, ripped rain gear, wading shoes, rod reel seats, holes in boats, and even damage to myself. I can’t imagine going very far away from home without a roll of that silver miracle.

I have just a few basic hand tools including a flathead screwdriver, a Phillips head screwdriver, a large pair of lineman’s pliers, and a pair of needle-nose pliers. It’s remarkable the kinds of mechanical problems that can be fixed, at least temporarily, by these few tools.

I’ve already mentioned Super Glue for rod repair, but I have used Super Glue to repair electrical gear on my boat, broken line guides on rods, and I even use it to repair my broken fingernails before they tear and become a really painful problem when I’m on a fishing trip.

I like to have an assortment of plastic ziplock type bags in my repair case. These bags to help me store and keep up with lures, reels and anything else that might happen to break.

A small can of lubricant—WD-40 is a good one—to help clean gummed-up reels. I use if I have to break a reel down and clean it while I’m fishing.

It’s not really repair stuff, but I have a good fillet knife in my recovery kit, and it stays in the kit. I use my electric knife at home to clean fish on the rare occasions that I catch enough to clean. I was on a trip far out of town once and we actually caught some nice speck trout.

We wanted fish for supper but when cleaning time came, we had no fillet knife with us. I tried to fillet those poor trout with my pocket knife. I will never do that again. You’ll find a good fillet knife in my recovery kit since then.

I also have an oyster knife in the recovery case. I don’t open many oysters with it, but it’s a good tool for prying open stuck cans and other tight and difficult things that need some leverage.

Of course, I have a pair of heavy gloves in the kit. On many occasions during fishing and boating, you need hand protection badly. Handling crabs, opening oysters, and getting braided fishing line off a wrapped-up prop come to mind immediately.


Personal Health and Hygiene Materials

It would be a mistake to assume that the only stuff that suffers from breakage and damage is rods, reels, boat gear and trailer items. On occasion, the human part of a fishing trip also needs repair.

In my recovery kit, I always have a clean towel. This is not my hand-wiping towel. It’s the towel I use to wipe my eyes when I get something painful in them, or—God forbid—to stop serious blood flow. I keep this clean towel in a large ziplock bag to guarantee it stays clean.

“On occasion, the human part of a fishing trip also needs repair.”

Bugs can make a trip a disaster almost as quickly as a broken rod. I have bug spray or wipes in my kit. I also include a bottle of sunscreen. Of course, I have these items in storage on my boat. Unfortunately, when I don’t take my boat, the stuff I need is not handy. So, it goes with me in the recovery kit, which stays in my truck.

Unflavored meat tenderizer may seem an odd thing to have in a recovery kit, but this magic powder can save the day sometimes. If we fish in salt water—the Gulf in particular—long enough, we will someday run into jellyfish. Jellyfish stings are very painful. Rubbing or pouring fresh water on the stings doesn’t do a thing to help stop the hurt. One of the enzymes in meat tenderizer helps neutralize jellyfish stings, so I don’t leave home without my little bottle of meat tenderizer.

Of course, I have a small first-aid kit in the recovery kit.


You Need a Kit to Save the Trip, too.

All of the supplies and tools noted in this article are easy to obtain and available locally. And none of the stuff spoils quickly or easily. A kit put together today should be usable years from now. Also, none of this recovery stuff is expensive. A kit built from scratch with all new materials and tools shouldn’t cost fifty dollars.

Many of the things are probably already on hand and just need to be put in a case. There’s no reason we can’t assemble a trip recovery kit, safely store it, then forget it until it’s needed. And when it is needed, you will need it badly to save a fishing trip.

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