Ask fishermen how they started, and odds are the answer will be on a Zebco 202 combo. This push-button reel design has been around for the last 50-odd years. It’s virtually backlash-proof, handles enough line to cast a country mile, and is tough enough to take a hard bounce if dropped on the dock.

Pick a full-size combo with a light or ultra-light action for panfish and medium-action for everything from bass to carp. Price around $15.

For the little kids, the venerable Zebco spin-cast combo comes in shorter versions with a dozen different cartoon themes. Despite the Goofy (literally) decals, these rod/reel combos are the same rod/reel as the one sold to big kids. They will catch fish. And the smaller size is usually easier for little ones to handle when first learning to cast. Around $20 if you buy a combo that comes with tackle: an assortment of hooks, sinkers, bobbers, and a colorful collection of rubber worms. It also comes with a plastic “casting plug” so you can have that first casting lesson in the backyard — a good idea.

Bob Butz writes from Lake Ann. His recent book, Beast of Never, Cat of God, about a possible remnant cougar population in Michigan, is available in bookstores and on the Web.

Note: This article was first published in July 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.