A Place For Your Stuff...
By Nick Ruiz
Truth be known; many partners and friends that I have fished with have sometimes accused me of being a little "fussy" over the way I organize my gear. Some have gone as far as to compare me to an espresso laden Martha Stewart with an obsessive compulsive disorder. A venerable "neat freak" with a flipping stick if you will. With this in mind, lest we wonder where I stand on the organization of tackle and gear, as well as the condition in which it is kept.
If there is any confusion on what I consider "gear", lets clear it up right now. I consider gear, everything that even remotely pertains to a trip or tournament. Rods, reels, tackleboxes, coolers, truck, boat, rain gear, first aid kit, and even clothing fall under the heading of "stuff-that-needs-to-be-working-flawlessly-to-make-for-a-successful-trip".
Those who have fished with me have learned to work around this habit of mine. But a good habit it is. Contrary to popular belief, organization is directly related to safety on the water, successful fishing, as well as your overall satisfaction level at the end of a trip. I think we have all had that day when we needed "those green worms", and we had no clue where they were. All the while your partner, who knew exactly where his were, is picking up fish like he's in a South Street fish market. Fact of the matter is, there is certainly something to be said for the proper storage and organization of your gear.
We'll start with the basics. Every angler on the face of mother earth has a tackle storage system. That's right, tackle storage system is the latest marketing euphemism for "tackle box". Basically this falls under the genre of "what you're comfortable with". There is no right tackle storage system that should be used over the other. Lord knows there are enough choices to drive one to the brink of habitual prozak use. Plano, Flambeu, Woodstream, as well as a host of others have flooded the market with choices in which we can store our tackle with. With this in mind, it may be time to evaluate your own tackle storage, and if not replace, at least upgrade to a more appropriate system.
As previously mentioned, there is no one "right" system to use, so for the sake of demonstration, I will list the one I use, as well as some of the ones that I feel could be effective.
First off, I greatly prefer the soft side, denier bags over the hard boxes for a number of reasons. The greatest being the ability to modify it. Under normal circumstances, once the hard box is bought, there is little one could do to modify it. I use a Plano Tournament Bag. This is a larger "duffel" type bag that is designed to hold many of Plano's modular tackle storage units such as the smaller Stow Away boxes and tackle wraps. In this bag I have the center compartment, holding everything but hard baits and accessories.
I have managed to turn Plano's zipper wraps into a modular storage system in and of themselves. They have wraps designed to hold everything from worms to jars of pork. I like these for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is they are expandable. By adding bags to the binder like wrap, you are rarely left with a lack of storage. I compare it to "rolodex-ing" your baits. Also, the wraps keep the baits separated and air tight, which makes for a far less odor-offensive tackle box, which is sure to be a big hit around the house.
Another advantage of the soft wraps is they allow you to make a modular tackle system, which I consider a godsend. It allows you to have many wraps loaded with baits of similar size or style, and depending on the day or the water you're fishing, gives you the opportunity to assemble your bag from a large storage pile. I call this little system "custom tackle management", which is a two dollar euphemism for "buildable bags".
As far as topwater and crankbaits, which certainly don't get along well with wraps, I still like to use Plano's 3700 and 3701 plastic storage boxes. I actually prefer the 3701 as such it is far thinner than the original 3700 and if you can stretch the bag a little from use, you can actually get four of them where only two normal 3700's would fit. A great advantage if you ask me.
Unlike the wraps, which I keep color-coded, (Plano offers them in a rainbow of something like 14 colors), I use computer-generated labels to label the contents of each box. (Ed. Note: If by some chance you happen to have a file cabinet you're not using, that would make the mother of all storage units for the large pile of tackle that doesn't make the trip. It would be a virtual "bait file". I have done this, and by the way, Plano 3700's are very similar to legal size documents, and fit excellent in file cabinets. I managed to squeeze twenty-plus boxes in a drawer. Wraps will work similar when placed side by side.)
If you choose to use this system, you needn't use the exact same bag. Plano produces a host of bags that will fit your storage system on the boat, as well as your personal preference.
One final point, sometimes less is more. Take less on a trip. Possibly make your system more specialized. It's hard, but we can all get over the fear of "what-if-they-are-hitting-on-X-and-I-left-it-at-home" syndrome.
Now that we have our "stuff" organized, it has to go somewhere when we head out on a trip. Usually first to the truck, then into the boat. This process can be as easy as loading stuff from place A to place B, or as difficult as getting an overweight Saint Bernard in the house through the cat door.
I think the tackle bags and rain gear bags as well as the cooler can go without saying, provided you don't plan to make your trip in a Miata. A simple pack-em'-tight-so-they-don't-roll-around-in-the-turns method will surface here. Possibly the addition of some sort of floor protector could prove a worthwhile investment in the advent of a spill or leak.
On the other hand, rods, more specifically, one-piece rods, that are all ready rigged can pose a problem even for the largest sport utility vehicles. Laying them side-by-side will sometimes work, but more often than not, some sort of rod storage and transportation is needed. Rod Saver produces a product that will keep rods of any length hung from the ceiling, side-by-side. The system consists of two straps, one with small loops on it, and the other with Velcro fasteners, which span across the width of the vehicle. They are placed about three feet apart and will keep up to 10 rods and reels, that are rigged, neat and undamaged through a trip. I recommend these for only larger sport utility vehicles and vans as such longer rods will take up a pretty good portion of the length of the vehicle, and having rod tips interfering with driving could pose a safety hazard. Also, this system will work with pick-ups with or without caps. For a pick up without a cap though, I recommend a hard tauno cover with a lock, as such your stuff is at great risk of damage or theft under the soft variety.
Also, while on the subject of rod storage, if you plan to make a very long trip, where you won't need the rods rigged right away, there are several hard plastic "bazooka tube"-type rod cases that work extremly well. Even though they have a habit of being a real pain in the derriere to store, as well as having the propensity to roll around. I would normally only recommend these types of cases for air travel. Though you should check with your carrier in advance as to their policies on luggage like that, as such I don't feel air carriers would be very friendly towards someone traveling with a fair representation of a surface-to-air missile launcher.
Ok, so we've managed to get our stuff organized, from the house to the truck, now...we need to get our stuff in the boat. I like to think of the boat as an anglers' office, our workplace. I think it goes without saying that a neat, organized workplace makes for better work. Whether it be a doctor or an angler, a well organized work place is a safe and productive workplace, there is no difference...except for possibly the salary.
Depending on the boat you own, this will determine how you organize your gear. Chances are that if you own a smaller, tin style, Long Island type lake boat you already have a way of setting stuff up that makes the construction of Stone Hedge look like play time with Legos. I have seen the way some anglers set up smaller boats, and how they do it is still way beyond me. So, for the sake of argument and demonstration, we'll assume we're working with a standard, generic, run of the mill bass boat with rod lockers and dry storage boxes and such.
First the basics. If your boat doesn't have running rod straps to keep a few rods strapped down on the deck at all times...GET THEM!! They are invaluable and make life a whole lot easier. Also, if your "dry" storage isn't exactly that, there are many marine retail stores that sell inserts that run relatively cheap, that can remedy this problem, just by inserting them. Also, rod lockers on larger boats usually just consist of a long empty box. There are several "rod locker organizers" on the market that resemble a board with many small PVC inserts in it. They usually come in pairs, and will do a fair job of keeping rods from smashing into each other when running at full tilt boogie down the lake. They also do a great job of letting you "file" rods according to action, length, bait they are designed for use with, or what ever system you prefer.
As far as storing the actual tackle, again, this depends on the layout of your boat. If you have two rod lockers, use one for the storage of rods, and the other to store your tackle and the like. An interesting way of storage I have seen on a friend's boat uses a spring-loaded pole-type device that allows you to stand up Stow Away boxes and Tackle Logic wraps in the locker. The pole holds the boxes firm in place and yet still allows the insertion and removal of all components. I am not sure of the maker of this product, and as a matter of fact, if anyone knows what it is called, or where I can get one, please contact me. I do however, know for a fact that it is very effective at what it does.
Another important point about storage and organization is to be absolutely sure your "gotta haves" are in locations that make them accessible in an emergency. Life jackets, first aide kits, flare and signal kits, as well as tool kits are all within some degree of easy reach. Also, the boat paddle falls under this heading, and may not be the most needed piece of equipment on the boat, but it still should be within some sort of easy reach. Trust me when I say there are more uses for that paddle than anyone can imagine. I have seen it used as a lure retriever, an attitude adjuster, as well as a snake defense weapon.
With that said, I pray that this article sounded more like a "clean up your room Johnny" public service announcement, and illustrated the importance of having a clean work space. Because lest I mention it again, a clean workspace makes for a happier worker as well as more productive work. If you'd like more information on any of the products I have mentioned in this article, feel free to mail me for details.