Tips for organizing your tackle today

If you're like a lot of bass anglers, your boat is like a floating tackle shop with hundreds — probably thousands — of baits. How do you find the right lure quickly and efficiently? This Elite pro has some answers.

Sometimes the simplest things create challenges. Take tackle for instance. You’d think keeping fishing lures organized would be a simple task. Actually, it’s not — especially if you travel all over the place, fishing on all types of water.

Some anglers are better at keeping their tackle squared away, and those that are usually have a system to minimize the amount of tackle they require. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those anglers.

My tendency is to carry too much, probably out of fear — fear of not having what I need when a certain situation calls for it. Keeping a lot of tackle onboard adds to my confidence. I fish better knowing I’ve got what I need.

Whatever approach you choose, the important thing is being able to put your hands on exactly what you need, when you need it. That’s where organization pays off.

Degrees of Separation

The first thing I do is separate my lures into two main categories — hard baits and soft baits. From there I break them down even further.

In the case of soft plastics, I have two basic subgroups; those fished above bottom and those fished on bottom. That’s a broad stroke, I know, but at least it gets things headed in the right direction.

In the above-bottom group, I include flukes, frogs, floating worms, and other soft-plastics rigged weightless, or at least with minimal weight. The rest fall into the bottom-probing group, which includes craws, lizards, tubes, worms, etc.

Defining hard baits is a bit more tedious. My approach is to separate them into various types, like topwaters, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and so on. I classify crankbaits according to depth and profile. For instance, a Rapala DT-4 or DT-6 fits the small-profile, mid-diver group. A DT-14 or DT-16 on the other hand, belongs in the large-profile, deep-diver group. I do mix color variations, but depth and profile remain consistent.

Another category is jerkbaits. If you do a lot of jerkbait fishing like I do, you probably have way more than will fit into a single utility box. I group mine according to depth, and action. For instance, shallow erratic baits go in one group; deeper suspending models in another.

Granted, not everyone needs a pile of jerkbaits. A small selection may work fine for the water you fish. But for anyone planning to fish a variety of water bodies, I highly recommend a broad selection of these lures. Fish love them!

Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and jigs are other categories to consider. Like jerkbaits, I carry a lot of styles and sizes, and we’ll get to those. But first, let’s work on plugs and soft plastics.

Storage Wars

When it comes to soft baits, I figured out a simple system that works great. Basically, I start by separating the various body styles, lizards in one pile, craws in another, and so on. Once separated, I leave them in the manufacturer’s bags then pack them inside quart-size freezer bags. Freezer bags are tough and their dimensions are perfect for housing the slightly-smaller bags that soft plastics come in. You can get up to eight worm bags inside a one quart-size freezer bag with a snug, clean fit.

So if I’m bagging lizards for instance, I separate them into like colors and sizes, then pack them into a freezer bag — some upright, some upside down. Doing this distributes the contents more evenly while allowing better visual access. I can see what I have without ever opening the bag.

Besides helping to organize my soft plastics, freezer bags also do a great job of containing the lubricants and dyes that commonly leak from manufacturer’s bags. Anyone who fishes soft plastics knows what a mess they can make.

Once all of my soft plastics are in freezer bags, I put them into water-tight tote bags (the size of a small athletic bag). Above-bottom baits in one tote bag, bottom-probing baits in another.

For organizing hard baits, I like utility boxes. They’re cheap, handy, and they come in a variety of sizes and interior layouts. They stack like books and their contents are easy to read. They’ve become so popular even boat builders now define storage compartments to accommodate racks of utility boxes.

There are numerous brands to choose from and most work well. One in particular that I like is the Falcon brand (no, they’re not a sponsor. I buy them at retail prices like everyone else). Their utility boxes are custom designed for specific applications, like their Hook and Sinker Box for example. Not only are the hook compartments graduated in size, they feature a molded relief of the actual hook designated for each slot. There’s no way to screw up!

Flambeau and Plano do a nice job in other categories as well, like line dispensers and other specialty boxes. All these companies see the continued trend toward utility boxes, and they’re addressing the demand.

For small stuff, like swivels, beads, split rings, and other rigging components, I use old plastic film canisters. They hold a lot and their compact size lets them fit snugly within the defined compartments of a utility box. I suggest labeling them for quick identification.

Like jerkbaits, I also carry a lot of spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. I keep those in zippered canvas pouches that house individual Ziploc sleeves. The sleeves are bound by a ring binder so that they can be added to or replaced. I suggest buying different colored bags for quick identification. You can find them at most well-stocked tackle suppliers.

I separate my blade baits according to size, color, blade configuration and so on. I’m not saying this is the best way, it’s simply the method I like.

As for jigs, I use deep, oversized utility boxes with adjustable dividers. Flipping jigs in one box, casting jigs in another. Again, there may be a better way, but this works well for my needs.

And what about swimbaits? Actually, because swimbaits are so unique — some soft, some hard, some both — I keep them grouped together. I dedicate an entire box to just swimbaits, carrying the bulk of them in my tow vehicle unless I’m on a body of water where they’re likely to pay off.

Keeping it Real

While tacklebox companies try to accommodate the needs of every angler, the truth is, there’s no such thing as a perfect tacklebox. Some do a great job with specific lure groups, but no one box can do it all. Like life, it’s about compromise.

As for the methods I use in grouping hard and soft baits, I realize there’s considerable crossover. But the bottom line is organization. As long as I know where to find a specific bait when I need it, the rest will take care of itself.

Originally published December 2011