It's In the Box

By Joel Vance | May 2, 1997
From Missouri Conservationist: May 1997

So, what kind of box do you choose and what do you put in it?

Every good angler has his or her opinion. Boyd Pfeiffer is the former outdoor editor of the Washington Post and author of several books on fishing. He has nearly 20 customized tackle boxes.

But if he could only have one tackle box . . .

"Okay," Pfeiffer says, "I prefer a satchel-type box with adjustable dividers so I can customize it for my lures. My philosophy is that a tackle box is for tackle. I carry reels, stringers, fillet knives, extra line or spools, color selectors and all that stuff in a separate satchel.

"I experiment to see how I can get the maximum number of lures in the minimum space by moving the dividers around. I arrange the box so the heavy lures - spoons and jigs for example - are toward the bottom. On one side, the topwater lures come first, then shallow runners like the minnow lures, then medium runners, then the deep running ones and finally plastic worms and spoons.

"On the other side, the top compartment holds spinners and spinnerbaits and trailer hooks, along with rubber tubing to stabilize trailer hooks, maybe some skirts or rubber filament for jigs and spinners.

"Then maybe a long compartment for plastic worms, and if I have different colors, I bag them so they don't color-bleed. Along with the worms, I have worm hooks and jigs. Jars of pork rind go toward the bottom in case they leak. Never put soft plastic near hard plastic.

"Any scents or liquids go in the bottom, in case they leak.

"Now, for extras, I like compound action jaw pliers, about four-inch size. I wear one on my belt, but keep a spare handy. I have a scale for weighing fish. I carry a tube of grease for level-wind reels and a tube of oil for the rollers on a spinning reel. A little nail clipper is good for clipping line. Snap a fishing towel to the handle of the tackle box to dry your hands.

"Hook sharpeners are important. Plastic film cans hold split shot, bullet heads, split rings or extra spinner blades. Label them so you know what's in what. They also hold aspirin for a headache if you lose a big fish.

"And don't forget to put your name, address and phone number on the box. You actually may run into a disciple of Diogenes and get it back if you lose it."

Homer Circle, longtime angling editor of Sports Afield Magazine is among the best-known names in fishing writing. He says, "Buy a durable plastic box with movable compartments so you can tailor it to hold no more than a couple dozen lures.

"There should be space in the bottom for hook-cutter pliers, sun screen, first aid kit, bug dope, polarized glasses, spare hooks, snap swivels, a sharpening file and a spare cap to replace the one that always blows off and sinks.

"Begin with these six lure types (which catch most of the bass in Sports Afield's state fishing awards program): blue, purple, red and pumpkinseed colors in a 6 1/4-inch plastic worm (and a dozen 4/0 worm hooks and six each 1/4- and 3/8-ounce slip sinkers); three crankbaits in 1/4-, 3/8- and 1/2-ounce size and assorted colors; two 3/8-ounce slim minnow lures in metallic finishes; two overhead spinner lures in 1/4- and 3/8-ounce sizes, yellow and black; surface spinner lure in 3/8-ounce size and a weedless silver spoon with a forward spinner and a rear skirt.

"Learn to use these well and buy more only when you lose one (or see a buddy catch a mess of fish on a lure you haven't got). Sooner than you think you'll need a bigger tackle box, but by then you'll know better how big a box you need, so you can overstuff it."

Babe Winkelman is a one-man fishing industry, with videos, articles, lectures and fishing tackle. If Babe Ruth was the Sultan of Swat, Babe Winkelman is the Caliph of Crankbaits.

"I'd go for a large box," he says. He would start filling the tackle box with plastic baits, including six-inch action type worms in black-grape, transparent, ice blue, black, chocolate, shad and salt-and-pepper colors. Then he'd include some 4-inch swirltail grubs in black-grape and black-and-blue to go on mushroom jig heads from 1/16-ounce up to 1/4-ounce, along with slip sinkers from 1/8- to 1/2-ounce. Include worm hooks and a handful of round toothpicks for fastening slip sinkers.

Next, spinnerbaits: "My favorite is a 3/8-ounce single spin with a No. 6 Colorado blade," Winkelman says. "But also include 1/4-ounce single spins and tandem spins in each size and a few willowleaf and Colorado blades."

His favorite skirt and body colors are white and white, blue and chartreuse, lime and chartreuse, yellow and orange and black and black, with various colored blades. "I use hammered copper in low light and clear water, hammered nickel or pure white in bright light and clear water, and the fluorescent colors in murky water," he says.

Carry extra skirts and trailer hooks.

Spoons are a minor category, but Winkelman uses them in heavy cover, especially weedless ones. He advises a wide crankbait color selection. "Have a couple of crawfish colors. I'd want baits in various styles that reach different depths with different actions. Have a few short, fat plugs, some that are longer and skinnier and some even longer and slimmer. Carry minnow lures with both deep and shallow-running lips."

Winkelman uses marking pens, usually orange and yellow, to doctor the colors of crankbaits. His topwater lures include floating crankbaits, plus larger and noisier lures, such as chuggers. Jigs include a rubber weedless type for jig-and-pig fishing (a jig with a pork trailer). He uses a grub-type jig, tipped with a leech or piece of night crawler for fishing on a cold-front day.

His live rubber jigs are from 1/4- to 3/8-ounce in black, purple and brown. The grubs are chartreuse, orange/brown, orange/chartreuse, blue/white and black in 1/8- and 3/8-ounce sizes.

"And I'd have rigs for night crawlers and leeches, plus spinner-type rigs and weedless hooks for frogs, along with a selection of sinker sizes and types," he says.

His accessories include a tool kit with hook file, pliers, clippers, a no-scent soap, possibly fish attractant, a small flashlight (with batteries stored in a plastic bag) polarized sunglasses, a scale and a small camera. "I'd take extra line, about two dozen extra rods and reels and about four more tackle boxes, but I guess I'm a bit of a fanatic," he says.

Herb Allen thinks small. Allen is in the Fishing Hall of Fame and writes for several fishing magazines. He believes in going light. "When I'm on the road, I keep a big tackle box in the van and work out of it the same way I work out of a chest of drawers and storage shelves at home.

"Too often anglers carry everything but the kitchen sink on a one-day outing. Anything that doesn't fit in my tiny box just doesn't go and never is missed.

"The box probably includes three surface plugs, three diving plugs and a small selection of 1/4-, 3/8-, 5/8- and 1-ounce jig heads, plus plastic grub tails in a variety of colors (or plastic worms for bass). With these basics, I've found that I can catch just about anything that swims."

Finally, Jerry McKinnis, veteran of nearly 30 years as a television angler, also is an advocate of going light. "My tackle box would be smaller than most," he says. "I'm not into loads of baits. I think every angler should concentrate on basic lures and a minimum of proven colors. I would have six- or seven-inch plastic worms in blue, black and red with hooks and weights for a slip-sinker rig."

McKinnis would add about eight different crankbaits, six spinnerbaits (mostly white), three topwater lures, jigs and pork rinds and two minnow-type lures.

"Throw in a small pliers and screwdriver, a pocketknife and a spare spool of monofilament," he says.

There are the opinions of some of the country's best anglers on tackle boxes and what to put in them. There are differences, but the lure types are remarkably constant.

And, considering that each of these anglers has caught more fish than any dozen average anglers, it's wise to resist the hype of fishing product advertising and listen instead to their voices of experience.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Director - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer