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 say I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. I suppose you could say I'm a "neat freak" with a flipping stick. 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," let's clear it up right now. I consider gear, everything that even remotely pertains to a trip or tournament. Rods, reels, tackle boxes, coolers, truck, boat, rain gear, first aid kits, 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, the 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 precisely where he was, is picking up fish like he's in a South Street fish market. The fact of the matter is that there is certainly something to be said for your gear's proper storage and organization.
We'll start with the basics. Every angler on the face of mother earth has a tackle storage system. That's right. A tackle storage system is the latest marketing euphemism for "tackle box." 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 chronic Prozac use. Plano, Flambeau, Woodstream, and a host of others, have flooded the market with choices with which we can store our tackle. With this in mind, it may be time to evaluate your tackle storage, and if not replace, at least upgrade to a more appropriate system.
There is no one "right" system to use, so for the sake of demonstration, I will list the one I use and some of the ones that I feel could be effective.
First off, I vastly prefer the soft side, denier bags over the rigid boxes for several reasons. The greatest is the ability to modify it. Under normal circumstances, there could be little to modify it once the rigid box is bought. I use a Plano Tournament Bag. This is a larger "duffel" type bag designed to hold many of Plano's modular tackle storage units, such as the smaller Stow Away boxes and tackle wraps. The center compartment in this bag holds 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 several reasons. Not the least of which is they are expandable. By adding bags to the binder like a 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 airtight, 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 lets you have many wraps loaded with baits of similar size or style, depending on the day or the water you're fishing. It allows you to assemble your bag from a large storage pile. I call this minor system "custom tackle management," 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 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 get four of them where only two regular 3700s 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 3700s 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 similarly when placed side by side.)
If you choose to use this system, you needn't use the 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. The addition of some floor protectors 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 already rigged, can pose a problem even for the largest sport utility vehicles. Laying them side-by-side will sometimes work, but some rod storage and transportation are needed more often than not. 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 tiny loops and the other with Velcro fasteners, which span across the vehicle's width. They are placed about three feet apart and will keep up to 10 rods and reels 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 significant 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 plastics "bazooka tube"-type rod cases that work exceptionally well. Even though they have a habit of being a real pain in the derriere to store and tend to roll around, I would typically only recommend these types of cases for air travel. Though you should check with your carrier in advance about their policies on luggage like that, 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 a neat, organized workplace makes for better work. Whether a doctor or an angler, a well-organized workplace is safe and productive. There is no difference...except for possibly the salary.
Depending on the boat you own, this will determine how you organize your gear. The 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 playtime 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 consist of a long empty box. Several "rod locker organizers" on the market resemble a board with many small PVC inserts. 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 whatever 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 to store rods and the other to store your tackle and the like. An exciting 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 yet still allows the insertion and removal of all components. I am not sure of the maker of this product, and if anyone knows what it is called or where I can get one, please get in touch with me. I do, however, know for a fact that it is very effective at what it does.
Another critical point about storage and organization is to ensure your "gotta haves" are in locations that make them accessible in an emergency. Life jackets, first aid 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 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 workspace. 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 mentioned in this article, feel free to mail me for details.