As a passenger you don’t have the luxury of carrying a literal boatload of tackle. That means you need to be wise with your planning and packing.
By Jeff Samsel
Modern bass boats are like giant tackle boxes—or more accurately, tackle closets. With all their compartments, you can store enormous numbers of lures, dozens of rods and reels and plenty of accessories, keeping everything well organized and amazingly handy.
That’s all fine and dandy as long as you have a boat—and as long as you are fishing from your own boat any given day. Sometimes that won’t be the case, though. Instead, you’ll be fishing from someone’s back deck, armed only with the stuff you can reasonably carry aboard and stow away, probably in one back compartment and on the rod-storage platform that’s normally next to the passenger seat. On such days, it’s important to have a good plan regarding what you bring aboard and how your tackle is organized.
Gary Dollahon of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma always welcomes the opportunity to spend time in the back of someone else’s boat. Although Dollahon owns a bass boat and often fishes from it, as a public relations specialist in the fishing industry, he spends a lot of time in the backs of pro anglers’ boats and on a lot of different rivers and lakes. Dollahon doesn’t mind forsaking the extra thinking that generally goes with running the trolling motor and keeping the boat positioned properly. That allows him to focus his attention on where he wants to aim his next cast and which lure he wants to throw.
“Tackle organization starts at the home,” Dollahon said. “Anglers who have a well thought out system as to how they arrange and store all of their gear, especially lures, have it easy when it comes time to adapting their tackle selection to an upcoming tournament. Plano’s StowAway boxes are the standard for shelf management, just like they are for in-the-boat tackle lockers.”
Dollahon suggested keeping StowAways sorted on shelves at home, either stacked or stored bookshelf-style, with the sides of the boxes clearly marked with labels or permanent markers. If you do own a bass boat and spend most of your fishing time in your own boat but some time in others, the boat compartments might be your primary storage place for your sorted boxes, replacing shelves in the basement or the garage.
“With everything at the fingertips and readily identifiable at home, it’s easy for an angler to build his ‘travel boxes’ for the need,” Dollahon said.
To a degree Dollahon will choose his tackle based on the waters he and his partner intend to fish, whether based on conversations they’ve had, past experience, suggestions from a local tackle shop or on-line research. More so, though, he loads his boxes with the types of lures that best suit the styles of fishing he likes to do and that he considers his strengths. He’s not one to carry one apiece of everything but the kitchen sink. Instead he wants to be well equipped for the techniques he expects to employ.
“I typically take four StowAways in my Plano soft bag system—or at the most, five,” Dollahon said. “I always have one dedicated to terminal tackle, one for hard baits, one for soft plastics and one for spinnerbaits/buzzbaits. If a fifth box goes, it’s usually because I’m expanding my crankbait selection.
“I’ve found the most success in keeping my selections very focused and strategic to my abilities,” he continued. “For my travel kit, I keep these same StowAways dedicated for my tackle bag, and I am constantly changing what’s in each—except the terminal tackle one—according to the outing ahead of me. I take one bag only in the boat, wanting everything together and knowing exactly what I have and where it is.”
Recognizing that the guy in the front is going to have first shot at everything, Dollahon makes tackle selections that allow him to capitalize on the wide expanse of room he has from the mid-point back. He also tries to avoid baits that are highly apt to get snagged when he’s not running the trolling motor.
“Good options are topwater baits, vibrating baits and/or jerkbaits, and weedless rigged soft plastics, including Carolina rigs,” Dollahon said.
The best baits to pack also depend on the nature of the tournament and the boat pairing relationship. If it’s a team tournament, planning needs to be shared and you have to pack stuff that fits in with your combined plan. Of course, if you’re competing with a regular partner on familiar waters, you probably know exactly what you’ll actually end up throwing and would be best off leaving a lot of other stuff at home.
On the other hand, if you’re competing against the person in the front of the boat in an individual tournament or even competing side-by-side in some sort of a boater/non-boater format, you need baits you can work behind someone else and still catch fish and that will produce in a broad range of conditions. No matter what else you pack, be sure to have shaky heads of some sort, terminal tackle for Carolina rigs and finesse worms to rig on both.
Rods, Reels & Extras
While many bass fishermen favor specialized rods for every application, when you’re fishing from the back deck, you typically don’t have the option of carrying a different rod for every technique you might employ. If you know you’ll be fishing shallow, pitching jigs and plastics for big bass around dense cover, it’s easy to carry only a few rods and have exactly what you’ll need for the day. It’s the basically the same story if you’ll be fishing a deep, clear lake and you pretty much know it will be a dropshot bite.
Usually the truth lies in between, though, and you have to select rod-and-reel combos that work for a broader range of applications. There’s no magic formula because the right mix really does depend on the lake, the season and how you expect to be fishing. Consider those factors and the baits you are carrying and narrow it down to about five rods that cover the range of situations you expect to encounter.
One good way to equip yourself for a broader range of situations without adding more rods to fumble with is to carry extra reels or spools that are spooled with different sizes of line. A medium-heavy 7-foot rod and a reel spooled with 12-pound test is a totally different tool than the same rod and a reel spooled with 20-pound-test.
Of course, while the fish-catching gear is the most fun to plan, it’s not the only stuff you need with you in the boat. You might want a lake map for your own reference and snacks of some sort, and you always want to carry pliers, line cutters, sunscreen, lip balm and some sort of raingear. If the weather is warm and no storms are in the forecast, a lightweight, packable raincoat should do the job, but don’t go out without some form of raingear. Depending on the season and the type of tackle bag you carry, your extras might fit in the same bag as your lure boxes. If you need heavier raingear, gloves, hats and other extras, you’ll probably have to carry one more bag.
Gary Dollahon considers Plano’s brand new Hydro-Flo rack system, which is part of their FTO Elite series, and ideal option for an angler who is fishing out of someone else’s boat.
“It has a rigid rack framework inside of a soft-bag design, combining the best of both worlds,” he explained. “What I like about this bag as a choice is its vertical format, meaning it has a smaller footprint than most tackle bags. The footprint is only 12 inches by 13 inches, but the bag stands 21 inches tall, so it holds a lot.”
The Hydro-Flo rack holds three ProLatch StowAway 3750s, one 3701 and one 3724 boxes, all of which are stored at a 15-degree angle in the rack to keep them in place. The bag’s base is rigid and skid-resistant. In addition to pockets and pouches, it has tie-down straps, which work nicely for holding raingear or a jacket.