Does Santa Claus know anything about fishing or the outdoors? If the stories have any basis he knows a bit about handling reindeer, but when it comes to buying gifts for the person-who-loves-the-outdoors it can be quite challenging.

When you walk into a tackle shop, for example, the array of rods, reels, lures and accessories is overwhelming.

And the stuff that outdoors types use and cherish is very personal. They have their favourite hats, their favourite old gumboots and they are seriously attached to certain rods; which means it would be quite easy to buy something in the fond belief that it will be well received, only to have the whole Christmas thing backfire.

So just what does one look for to put a smile on the face of a loved one?


Books are always a pretty safe option, but you have to check to make sure the choice is not already sitting on the bookshelf or by the bed. Also, the right subject helps. Not much use buying a trout fishing book for a snapper-crazy fisho.

But there are plenty to choose from, and we are one of the world's best producers of fishing books when population numbers are taken into account.

There is always the option of going for something that benefits the giver as well. One of those stainless steel 20-minute fish smokers can be picked up for around a hundred bucks and they do a great job. They are really smoke-cookers rather than true smokers, but the need to preserve fish by smoking disappeared a hundred years ago and a side of trout or snapper or kahawai fresh from the cooker, dropping moisture and shining brown from the smoke, is hard to beat when slapped on to a thick slice of fresh bread slathered with butter.

You can also do sausages, mussels in the half-shell, chickens split and opened like a book - in fact anything can be cooked in the smoky metal boxes. And flavour varies with the sawdust used, from the standard manuka to fruit trees or grapevine clippings and it has been suggested that tea leaves make an interesting variation. English breakfast kippers, anyone?

Knives are always welcomed on the boat, mainly because most models don't float and most models are put to the float-test from time to time, particularly when left on the gunwale in a choppy sea.

And if the favourite knives aren't washed and carefully oiled after each outing they develop a nice thick coat of rust. So a quality fillet knife made from carbon steel will go down well in the Christmas stocking. A good one will extract $80-$100 from the budget. Wrap it carefully, though, or a probing hand quivering with excitement might find the sharp edge instead of the handle.

Which leads to something really useful, but not very glamorous, like a first-aid kit. These are often at the bottom of the boat-owner's list as the afore-mentioned person probably thinks "it will never happen to me". Such kits can be picked up at auto shops or online.

For the keen fisho you can't go wrong with a bulk pack of lures or flasher rigs. It helps to have an idea of where the loved one actually goes fishing and how it is done. No point in wrapping a bunch of packets of soft baits if there is no soft-bait outfit on the boat.

So back to playing it safe. Flasher rigs are pretty safe, and all tackle stores seem to have special deals where for $20 or $30 you get three or four packets. You can't have too many of them on the boat.

If a little style is needed then sunglasses will do just fine. Not the cheapo types on a wire stand by the counter in the gas station. They won't do much for the eyes when the glare is bouncing off the sparkling waves.

Quality sunglasses mean they will have polaroid lenses both for protection and for cutting through the surface when searching for fish shadows, and they will have little side panels for beating off the scorching rays that attack laterally. They will also have exotic brand names and are just as useful for driving the car as when at the helm of the boat. But like most things in life, quality comes with a high price tag.

But if it all gets too hard, then ask the person behind the counter. A few probing questions and they should be able to offer some useful suggestions. That is why you go to a specialist tackle shop, and not a discount department store.