Must-haves for the Perfect Tackle Box
What is in the "Perfect" tackle box?
If you fish only once every couple of weeks, it makes you think about carrying only as much tackle as you need, or at least carrying the right tackle for the right fish. Do you think about the Perfect Tackle Box? What would it have in it? This article could come in two flavors – one for saltwater enthusiasts and one for those fishing in the sweet freshwater of our beautiful nation – but there are basics you need to consider for both.
This is Jason Micheals whose image we are using here. Check out his site. If you are into old fishing reels and lures, he's one the most intense collectors out there.
Some of the best fishermen I ever met had three or four rods and reels, carry two or three lures with them, a pack of hooks, a bit of leader, and a vast store of knowledge on when and where to fish – and with what weapons to use from their limited arsenals. Others have entire rooms dedicated to their tackle. I remember Mel Berman's house in Northern Tampa. His wife had a sewing room. Or she thought she did. The years of people giving free stuff to Mel had carried over from the small garage, through Mel's room, the hallway, and well into Ginnie's sewing room.
Serious collectors of tackle have dozens of rods, in every imaginable weight, line strength, and application. They have a light tackle section, a medium tackle section, and a heavy tackle section. They're collectively as passionate by the selection, care, and maintenance of tackle as they are by the fish we target and catch. Even the least-tackle-minded among us loves a beautiful new custom rod. I know. I own a few.
Whiskey Bottles, Handlines, and Big Rainbows
I remember being in the Andes Mountains once, in a town called Silvia, Colombia. I refer to this period of my life as the "Roaming Days." Walking down the street early one morning, me and my friends noticed a sign in the window of a normal looking house that said Trucha Fresca. Fascinated with the idea that some housewife was selling fresh trout, and being both hungry and interested in what kind of trout frequented the many small streams running through the region, I knocked on the door and was ushered into the lady's humble home. After serving us wonderful, rich coffee laced with raw sugar, the lady called her son from the back of the house indicating that there were some gringos in the kitchen who wanted trout for breakfast. In came the boy, carrying two incredible rainbow trout. Both were too big for him to hold without their tails dragging on the ground. They were big, strong, healthy fish: state records in many places in the U.S. where I've fished for trout. Four of us ate one fish, though I had bought them both for 3 dollars.
From paleolithic times to modern, people have lived in the beautiful Andean town of Silvia. So, too have the five-plus pound rainbow trout that the author watched smack a handlined bug in a stream decades ago. It ate well, and probably has grand-fish swimming around as you're reading this article.
After the incredible and rich meal I asked the kid to take me to where he caught the trout. We walked out the back of the house, and about a mile up (all up – and I mean up) a rocky, weed-covered trail. At the top was a pond – maybe two acres at the most – nestled in between two steep rocky walls.
"Ayer," he said. "There. That's where I catch my trout."
"What do you use for bait?" I asked.
The kid sort of smiled, and said, "Worms, bugs, and sometimes corn, senor. Watch."
He dug around by a boulder and came up with a small pint liquor bottle with some mason cord wrapped around it. No leader; just thick, old, stinky mason cord as thick around and as fat as spaghetti. On the end he had tied an old rusty hook; about the same size and style I would use for grouper. He moved a few rocks around, caught a couple of nasty looking bugs, and we sat there for an hour before he had a hit from a fish that sounded like a bowling ball dropped from a step ladder. I spent the good part of the morning with him, and he told me that he knew dozens of ponds and streams where these big fish lived. Very cool experience, and a story I keep in my mind whenever I get the fever to buy just one more spinning rod, or to build just one more fly rod.
The point is that this kid was as effective a fisherman as many people with thousands invested in custom rods, the latest colors in jig tails, and the newest smell-o-lure collection being offered this week on the Fishing Network. He had no tackle. Just mason cord. What he had was a sense of where the fish where, knowledge of what they ate as part of their natural diet (with the exception, I guess, of the corn thing, which I've since learned is common knowledge among trout fishermen the world over), and what time of day to fish. He was one of the coolest commercial fishermen I've ever met in my life.
You don't need to spend thousands on tackle or talk your significant other into giving up the second bedroom to make room for walls full of rods and special cabinets for your reels and fourteen different tackle boxes. I admit that I'm somewhat of a toy nut and am among those with two walls full of rods, but in reality you could be a fully functional fisherman with two or three rods matched to the type of fishing you do the most. If you're a backwater fisherman, two or three rods is probably all you really need. Buy as many as you want, but if you're just starting out, you should consider buying the best quality gear that you can afford and making damn sure that you maintain the equipment so it lasts. Keeping good stuff working properly is more important than being able to replace them when they break. A well-maintained and conservative collection of the right tackle will serve you for years.
How much tackle is too much tackle? Thirty boxes so thick they crush each other? Maybe, but this was done in Photoshop. Some of my friends over the years have had rooms set aside. Rooms full. Imagine that (!).
Minimal Needs in the Perfect Tackle Box
So what three rods could you get away with? Which artificials? Which rigs, leader materials, hooks, leads, swivels, rubber bands, floats, or gadgets do you really need? We're going to provide you with a list of things you might consider under several different circumstances. We'll even give you the "what if I want it all?" list, just in case you're dying to spend a bunch of money.
There are tons – thousands, millions if you add them together and hire a scientist to provide actual variables of options when considering what gear to have with you when you go fishing. We're going to give you the 'short list' of what you need to take with you (remember: it's fishing, so there are no promises that you'll ever catch fish).
- At least one fishing rod: You pick the make, model, style, what it costs you to buy and everything else. Having two is better. If you're addicted like us you'll end up with dozens (and dozens). Part of the reason we built this website is to get more rods. We need more rods like we need an additional and useless leg; but we sure make an argument for needing more to our spouses.
- Leader material: Historically, fishing wisdom dictates that leaders should be twice the diameter of the line you're using. If you're using monofilament, that's easy to do; 20-lb. on the reel, 40-lb. as leader. With braided lines this isn't as easy, since 20-lb. braid has the diameter of 2-lb. test. We feel that 15-20# leaders are the lightest practical size; start there. You'll lose leaders if you find fish or not, so bring plenty leader material.
- Clippers: Clippers have to be able to cut braid as well as mono leader material. Some anglers fake it and use regular clippers all the time. But recently a company named Boomerang – a supporter of our site – added a set of clippers to our tackle boxes that has become the standard way to clip braided lines. You can get away with regular clippers, but they will never snip the clean edges the Boomerang tool does. It comes in a version that has a light on it, so if you fish at night it's almost as important as your fishing rod.
Not clippers, but "Snippers." Designed specifically to snip braided fishing line, they cut like a razor and are as safe as baby powder. One of them comes with a light, so the night anglers can clip braid without holding a flashlight under their arm to get it done.
- Pliers: "Needle Nose" pliers. They're perfect for releasing fish. Again, the company Boomerang comes into play with a pair of beautiful pliers that have that same cutting edge for clipping braid as their smaller, specialized counterpart device. The pliers do not have lights, but they cut as well. Either way, pliers do things they were not designed to do exactly when you need them to. Short of duct tape on shore, they are the best all-around thing you can have with you. Good, sharp, needle-nose pliers.
Boomerang Tools pliers are great and the cutter is as sharp as the snippers that have become so popular among our readers.
- Fake bait: Even if you hate and never admit to using it, you need at least one silver spoon to throw at ladyfish, mackerel, or anything oily that kills baitfish just for the sake of killing it. They're very visible, major fun to catch, and they're best caught with a silver spoon. A gold spoon, a few mirrodines, a topwater and some jigs with soft tails, and you could feed a fishing village for the rest of time.
- Live bait and hooks: Are you going to pass by a tackle shop? You should. Despite the bragging-rights of people dedicated to catching fish solely on fake artifacts, more fish are caught with live bait than fake lures. So one of the critical things you need to be the best you can be at this wonderful sport is a bucket that is designed to carry live bait.
- A Smartphone or Tablet: With software like the Navionics application we wrote about for the iPhone, Android, and tablets, carrying your phone or smart device is the equivalent of carrying the world's topographic maps in something the size of a deck of cards. Until you are about six miles offshore on our coast, they're unreal navigational and fishing devices.
- Sunglasses: Keep them in or close by your tackle box, even if you fish at night. You never know when you're going to need them, and not having them can be crippling on a bright day.
- A hat: A hat not only protects your brain from heat, but it also helps you see into the water. You can't see into the water without good glasses and a hat with a properly-curved brim.
More to Come about The Perfect Tackle Box
There are plenty of toys that can enrich the fighting kit of an avid angler. When we say you can throw a lot of money at the sport, you can believe us. Boaters, for example, do, indeed live in a hole in the water that requires a continual flow of money to keep it from sucking in the energy that drives the sun. But even without boats, flyrods, and the need to go to Africa to catch some weird fish with golden teeth, you are going to find a lot of things that can cost you money. We are dedicated to showing you the cheapest and most effective ways to do things, while sliding in the ten thousand dollar flyrods once in a while just for the heck of it, and to help you define your wish list should you be the one that wins the next $500,000,000 prize in a seven eleven while you're looking for a split shot.
Hey. You never know, do you? It's like saltwater fishing: unless you try it you will never know what it's like to have something alive, and very, very angry that you stuck a hook in its mouth roll noisily but unidentified over the surface of the water before stealing every inch of that expensive braided line you love so much.
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