It was 23 degrees below zero here this morning. I quickly fired up the wood stove, which was just as quickly taken over by our old cat. Too cold for chasing mice, I guess. Too cold for fishing, too. At least as far as I’m concerned, although I know some hardy souls who will go ice-fishing no matter how cold it is.

So I did the next best thing, which was to go online and order a new rod. This was made at least somewhat easy by the price: less than $100. And that in turn is indicative of a relatively new trend in tackle that seems to be peaking for the 2011 season. There’s more good, inexpensive fishing gear available than ever before.

Whether you flyfish for trout, throw a Jitterbug for bass, or troll for walleyes, you can get into the game this year for less. And that doesn’t mean with the crummy, budget fall-apart tackle you might remember from a decade ago. Although prices are down, quality in general is up.

For example, I have an arsenal of fly rods accumulated over many years. What I did not have, however, was a short, light rod especially for throwing little poppers at bluegills. So I ordered a light fiberglass rod (3-pc., 4-wt., 7-foot) from Cabela’s, which for $99 I thought was a pretty good deal. I could have spent as much as $700 for a high-end equivalent, but that would have been way beyond budget and–more to the point–I didn’t need to.

The same reasoning pertains to my baitcast and spinning rods, too. I have more than enough to get by. But there’s probably a hole somewhere in my baitcast-rod line up, and maybe I need a rod specifically for flipping, or maybe a different one specifically for the light topwaters I like to throw for smallmouth bass.

Because there’s so much quality gear now at fairly reasonable prices, I can afford to expand the line-up. For a baitcaster, it’ll probably be one of the new St. Croix Mojo Bass series, but there are also many other examples. Here again, there are other rods costing hundreds more, but I no longer feel compelled to break the bank to get acceptable results.

We have finally arrived at a time when even a novice can buy a credible outfit–fly, spin, or baitcast–for less than $100. For the sake of fishing as a whole–and for each of us–that’s a very good thing.