Tackling Tackle

Cabin 14

While buying fishing tackle can be a very enjoyable experience, it can also be darn frustrating at times. The selections are mind numbing, everyone claims that their stuff will out fish and out last everyone else’s, and prices range from downright cheap, to the ridiculously expensive.

More often than not your set budget amount becomes a rather broadly defined guideline once your hand caresses that new reel the clerk has removed from the glass display case, or after you balance that high-end rod on the tip of your finger, which just happens to be a perfect match for that reel you have pretty much decided you can’t live without. 

When it comes time to check out, you are either dragging along a basket you can barely lift, or struggling to push an over loaded shopping cart up to the counter, even though you only dropped by the store to pick up a couple of things.

People are very much like crows, because like them, we covet shinny objects, and don’t think for a moment the tackle manufacturers haven’t figured this out. I’ve yet to meet a fish that cares if your reel is gold, silver or brushed stainless, and as for lures, while colour and flash do matter to a point, no one will convince me that producing a crank bait in over twenty five different colour patters is all about catching fish. 

So here are a few thoughts and suggestions that will hopefully get you thinking about how you fish, and what you are going to need to catch them as you contemplate your next tackle-buying excursion. To keep you focused while walking between the display racks, salivating as you prepare to fill your basket to the brim, try humming this pearl of wisdom from the Rolling Stones:

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well - you might find you get what you need.”

Going, Going - Gone Fishin’

Before you go shopping with the intention of seeing just how far the bank is willing to extend the limit on your credit card, take a few moments and ask your self the following questions:

  • How often do you go fishing each year?
  • What type of fish will you be targeting and how big are they likely to run? 
  • What time of year do you do most of your fishing? If you are a hard water fisherman or a late fall steelheader, your tackle selections have to be capable of performing under those conditions.
  • Where does most of your fishing take place? Lakes, rivers or streams?
  • What are the water conditions? Will you be fishing in clear or stained water? Are there a lot of weeds or other types of cover? Is there any current and if so how strong will it be?
  • How do you fish? Do you normally cast, troll, jig, flip or all of the above?
  • Will you be fishing out of a boat, wadding or standing on shore or a pier?
  • What type of presentation are you likely to be using? Will you be spending most of your time vertical   jigging in deep water or pulling bass out of heavy cover and from around stumps? 

R & D 

Smart companies spend millions of dollars on research and development so they can stay ahead of the competition, and keep the shareholders happy by ensuring a good return on their investment.

Therefore, unless you want to find yourself tying to explain to your spouse and kids why it’s perfectly acceptable to have KD or peanut butter and jam sandwiches for dinner most nights, it makes sense to do some research before you head off with the intention of spending your hard earned money, or heaven help you your spouses, on fishing tackle.

While the research component is relatively straightforward, when it comes to development, that’s an entirely different ballgame. I would suggest it’s worth investing some time developing a few excuses that can be hauled out as you attempt explain why you just spend the weeks grocery money on tackle. A good excuse is much like a trusted and effective lure, it may not always work but it can’t hurt to keep several of them handy – just in case.

On your next fishing trip remember to take along a small notepad and pen. At the end of the day write down what you caught, when and how you caught it, and what you were using at the time. 

This can be an invaluable tool when it comes time to restock your tackle box. Remember to bring it along on your next shopping trip, and you just might buy the stuff you need, rather than loading yourself down with all those impulse purchases that take up valuable space, and add weight to a tackle box you probably can barely lift as it is.

Go on line and read what other folks have to say. Many on line stores publish customer reviews, and these can be a very good source of information. Because fisherman, not manufacturers or someone else who is trying to sell something write them, you are likely to get a no nonsense unbiased review.

While it can be tempting, don’t rely exclusively on pro endorsements. These guys fish a lot more than we do, and have at least fifty rod and reel combos, together with more lures than they can count. Using the best of the best probably makes sense for them, but remember; the top pros rarely, if ever, buy their own equipment, and are being paid to convince you to buy what they use. Don’t get me wrong, they know their stuff, but as you have probably noticed, many of them endorse different products that they invariably say are better than what the other guy is fishing with.

Talk to people who fish the same water you normally do or are planning on fishing. On line chat sites are a good place to start, because they not only publish comments from occasional visitors, but from the locals who fish the water on a regular basis. Don’t forget to have a word with the store clerk at your favorite store, because many of them are fishermen themselves, and they have access to product information that you and I don’t.

Last, and certainly not least, if you know someone who does rod and reel repairs for a living, take them out for a beer and pump them for information, because no one knows what lurks behind those shinny exteriors better than they do. Needless to say, they will be able tell you which rods and reels perform well under various conditions, are durable, and those you should not touch with a ten-foot pole.

Snobs “R” Us

DO NOT be a brand snob. Just because it’s not made by one of the big manufacturers with all manner of pro endorsements, that doesn’t mean it won’t do the job for you.

Take reels for example. There are more labels on today’s reel boxes than there are on a NASCAR team jacket, and I‘m willing to bet, that like me, unless you are a real “techno weenie,” you won’t have the first clue what most of that stuff really means. Try and resist being seduced by the fact that the new reel you have in your cross hairs has 200 ball bearings, and the matching rod is made out of the same stuff that covers the space shuttle.

I admit to being a total brand snob when I first got into fishing, but that all changed the day my local rod and reel repair guy taught me a very valuable lesson.

He had a little glass display case in his shop that contained some acknowledged classics such as the original Swedish made Cardinals, and much to my surprise, several spinning reels made by Penn, who I thought only made trolling reels.

Being a brand snob, I felt compelled to ask why they had been given a place of honor among the true classics. It was like taking a mutt to the Westminster Dog Show. Being a patient man, he removed the side plate from one of them, and showed me the inner workings of a reel that was built along the lines of an M1 Battle Tank. Most everything was made of solid brass or forged steel, and the oversized drag washers could stop a run away train. 

He went on to explain that while not very pretty, they were virtually impossible to break, regardless of how much abuse you heaped on them.

I bought two of them, and twenty years later they are still in service.

So don’t settle for what may seem to be the obvious choice, do your research, and if you come across a rod and reel repair guy who is willing to share his knowledge and experience, maybe you should buy him two beers.

In a Pinch One Size Can Fit All

Assuming that you are at least going to try and stay within your budget, I would encourage you to start thinking in terms of versatility.

Most of us don’t have the resources, or the courage to go out and buy a rod and reel combo, or lure for every conceivable fishing situation. 

When faced with this dilemma, just remember that in this case, less is more. When preparing to make your selections, think back to the questions I suggested you ask yourself, and choose tackle that can be used regardless of how, where, or what you are fishing for. Here are a few suggestions for you to consider.

Nothing is more versatile than a jig. You can swim, rip, bounce, or drag them along at a snails pace. You can tip them with live bait or scented plastics, and they come in every conceivable size, and more colours than you will find in the paint section of your local building centre. They are not all that expensive, and you can catch virtually any species of fish on them.

Spinner and buzz baits can be used for both Bass and Pike, and in-line spinners are great multi species lures as well.

Stick baits, crank baits and spoons can be used in a variety of situations, and fished in a various ways, so it makes sense to keep a few of those on hand.

The tackle box I use when fishing in the Arctic has a few small spinners and jigs, assorted spoons in several colours, and sizes and some big flatfish. Everything fits into two 14x9x3 ¼ inch utility boxes, and I have caught Lake Trout, Arctic Char, Pike, Whitefish and Arctic Grayling using this very modest and versatile selection.

With a little bit of planning and some common sense, you can fill you tackle box with a good selection of multi purpose lures without breaking the bank in the process. 

The same applies to rod and reel combos. Unless you win the lottery and can then afford to purchase a combo for every fishing situation, and type of lure being used, put together one or two that will do the job under a variety of circumstances. 

I would recommend purchasing a quality 7-foot medium action spinning rod such as a St. Croix Premier PS70MF, paired up with a reliable medium weight reel like a Team Daiwa Tierra, TDTR2500, or Quantum Catalyst PT, CT10PTiB. With this combo you can cast, troll or jig under various conditions, and it will handle most freshwater fish.

Add a 6 foot 6 inch medium/heavy weight-casting rod like a St. Croix Premier PC66MHF to your arsenal, and once you have combined it with an Ambassadeur 6500C Classic or Shimano Cardiff CDF400A - look out fish!

The total cost for both outfits will run you about $500, and with a little TLC should last a very long time. There are also a number of less expensive but quality alternatives available if $500 does not fit within your budget, or for that matter you can spend a great deal more.

Cheap, Cheap, Cheap 

Don’t fall for the line that the cheap alternatives are just as good as the more expensive brands, because after all there is a reason why they call them cheap alternatives. 

Generally speaking, the cheaper the product, the higher the failure rate, and there are few things in the life of a fisherman that are more frustrating than having your tackle break down while you are out in the middle of nowhere, or when fighting that fish of a lifetime.

There is absolutely no substitute for buying quality, and by quality I don’t mean the most expensive item on the market, but rather a product that your research shows has a proven track record, and the company who makes it has been in business for more than a month or two, and does not list an off shore post office box as their business address. 

In my experience as tackle goes up in price, particularly when it comes to rods and reels, the overall difference in performance becomes very incremental. A Shimano Sustain will run you about $300 before taxes, and a Stella $750. I have fished with both, and to be truthful there is not $450 difference between them. For the same money I could by two Sustains, and one or two decent rods.

Casting/trolling spoons are one of the best examples of where the market has been flooded with no end of cheap alternatives. You can buy all manner of spoons for as little as fifty cents a piece, but none of them hold a candle to either the Eppinger or Len Thompson brands. These companies have been around since 1906 and 1929 respectively, and for good reason.

They use quality materials, the action when being retrieved or trolled is unique, and they stand behind what they make. So dig a little deeper into your pocket and buy the real thing, because you will catch more fish, and they will last a lot longer than any of the knock offs. The only down side is that unlike the cheapies, you tend to shed a tear when you loose one.

While it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so, try and avoid tackle that is made in China like the plague. The quality is generally very poor, and who knows what kinds of materials, and/or paint they use, and what the environmental consequences may be as a result. 

If You Build It, They Will…

Have you ever considered making your own rods and lures?

There are no shortage of retailers that will sell you all the components you will ever need to make whatever kind of tackle you can imagine, and not unlike the store bought stuff, you can spend a little or a whole lot.

Depending on what you plan on making, and how sophisticated a manufacturing operation you intend to set up, the start up costs can be rather high.

Go on line and check out the offerings from the Mud Hole Custom Tackle. They sell a mind boggling array of rod building components, from very basic handle kits, guides and blanks, to power wrapping laths and unique custom building materials and tools. There are also a number of retailers that specialize in lure making, who carry everything from jig molds, to air brushes for adding that custom paint job to your hand made crank baits. As a matter of fact, the Mud Hole now carries lure building equipment and materials. 

Unlike the big manufactures, you will not be producing thousands of units, so their cost per unit is going to be considerably less than yours. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you don’t realize huge savings at the end of the day. That said, and being a rod builder myself, I like having the option of customizing and adding a unique personal touch to what I fish with.

While all of the guides on the first rod I built flew right off the blank during my first cast, I kept at it, and have reached the point where I rarely buy off the shelf any longer.

Time to Stock Up 

Have you ever asked yourself what the well stocked tackle box for the average angler that fishes for Bass, Pike and Walleye contains?

In my opinion it looks something like this.


  • One pair of 8” needle nose pliers with a lanyard that you can put around your wrist, because you WILL drop them in the water at some point, and the lanyard will save you from having to buy a new pair.
  • A 10 - inch hemostat for smaller fish, or to remove a hook that has been swallowed.
  • Lure retriever. There are several on the market to choose from, they are not expensive, don’t take up much space, and usually will pay for themselves with the first couple of lures you retrieve.
  • Fillet knife and sharpening stone. Rapala makes a perfectly good fillet knife that is reasonably priced.
  • A hook file, jig eye buster and line nipper. To keep them within easy reach, put the eye buster and line nipper on a lanyard, and hang it around your neck. 

Hard Baits

Having a modest but comprehensive selection of hard baits is a must for any tackle box. Like most lures, there are no end of choices in terms of style and colou,r so select ones that can be fished in a variety of ways. For example the Rapala Original Floating Minnow can be fished top water or at various depths, depending on the amount of weight you use.

I would start off with:

  • 2 – Rapala Shad Raps either 2 ¾ or 3 1/8 inches in length.
  • 2 – Rapala Shad RS – they can dive up to 15 feet depending on your trolling or retrieval speed.
  • 3 – 4 3/8-inch Original Rapala Floating Minnows.
  • 2 – 3 ½ inch Rapala Count Downs.
  • 2 – 2 inch Rapala DT Crank Baits.

As for colours, go with the basics such as silver, gold and yellow perch, although the Shad RS does come in a very effective Crawdad colour. 


Keep some spoons on hand for trolling and casting. A good selection would include:

  • 3 – 1 oz. classic Dardevle spoons. One each in Red/White Stripe with chrome back, Yellow with Red Diamonds, and Hot Mackerel. 
  • 2 – Johnson Original Silver Minnows in either ¾ or 1- 1/8 inch size. They are great for working through the weeds for Bass or Pike, particularly when tipped with a ribbon tail grub.
  • 1 – Lucky Strike Half Wave – 3 or 4 ½ inch.
  • 2 – Williams Wabler’s – 3 ¼ or 4 inch. One each in gold and silver.
  • 1 – 3 inch Jitterbug Original in black. Although it’s been around for over 50 years, it remains a very effective top water bait to this day.
  • 1- 2 inch Frog pattern Hula Popper.

Spinner Baits and In Line Spinners

Fishermen have been using spinners of various kinds for years, because they are effective, and can be fished in a variety of different ways. 

  • Mepps Basser Kit – contains six assorted in line spinners, and is less expensive than if you were to by them individually. 
  • 1 - Blue Fox Spinner – Chrome/Blue – 7/16 oz. size.
  •  2 – Strike King Burner Spinner Baits – they have dual blades for churning up the water, quality Gamakatsu hooks, and come in large selection of colors.


Nothing is more versatile. While you can buy them individually in some stores, most sell them in packages of 15 to 25, depending on the style, make and size. Although there is no end of different styles available, I would recommend starting off with classic round head jigs. 

  • 1 package each of 1/8, ¼, 3/8 and ½ ounce round head jigs in various colors. Black, white, chartreuse and orange are as good as any.
  • 1 package of 3/8 ounce, Northland Fire-Ball jigs with stinger hooks.
  • 4 – Skirted or Bass jigs in various sizes and colors.

Live Bait Rigs

They are inexpensive and can be deadly on walleye, particularly when a low and slow presentation is required.

  •  4 - Lindy Floating Rigs, two each for both minnow and crawlers.
  • 2 – Lindy Walleye Drift Rigs, one in chartreuse and the other black/orange. 

Soft Baits

There are hundreds of shapes, styles and colors to choose from. You can get them scented or unscented, in Lizards, Leeches, Frogs and Craws to name just a few. They can be fished weedless, or used to add that extra bit of attraction that can make the difference between triggering a strike, or having Spam for shore lunch. 

My personal favorites are scented ribbon tail grubs in either white or chartreuse, that have a bit of sparkle embedded in them.

  •   2 packages of 3 inch Berkley Power Grubs. 
  • 2 packages of 3 inch Kalin’s Lunker Grubs. One each in Pumpkin/Green, and Salt and Pepper.

Hooks, Sinkers, Swivels and Leaders 

An absolute must for every tackle box is a good selection of replacement hooks, sinkers, swivels and leaders.

There is a significant difference in the quality and performance of swivels, particularly the ball bearing type. 

If you are casting or trolling in line spinners, jigs or spoons, they can twist you line into knots, so to prevent this from happening, you are going to need a quality ball bearing swivel. Sampo make the absolute finest, but in this case quality comes at a price. Sampo swivels are going to cost you at least twice as much as any other swivel on the market, and believe me, if you loose one, you will be tempted to jump in after it.

There are other quality ball bearing swivels available, such as those made by Spro and Berkley, so unless you want to blow your budget on swivels, grab a package of the less expensive ones. But if you want a swivel that will ensure your line will not twist under any circumstances, then take out a loan, and pick up some Sampo’s.

Replacement hooks are not all that expensive, so don’t go on the cheap. I would recommend you stock up on Gamakatsu hooks. They are strong, razor sharp and come in every conceivable size and style.

If you are going to target Pike or Musky in a serious way, then invest in a couple of 100 - pound test fluorocarbon leaders. They are virtually invisible in the water, but cost about 10 times more than a conventional steel leader, but then again are much easier on the fish. You can also use them as a shock tippet if you regularly drag your lure through rocks or gravel.

Another other option is to buy some 100-pound test monofilament leader material, such as Berkley Big Game, and make your own. You can also buy fluorocarbon leader material, but it’s 3 times the price of mono, so if you’re not worried if the fish see your leader, there is no need to go to the extra expense. 

  • 1 package Gamakatsu replacement trebles.
  • Gamakatsu assorted Walleye Kit. There are 25 assorted hooks in this package and it’s a great value. 
  • 1 package assorted removable split shot. If you can find some that are not made out of lead – think green and buy them.
  • 1 package assorted rubber grip sinkers. You can mount them directly on to your line, and they are easy to install and remove.
  • Lindy “No Snags” Bottom Walker Sinkers. Pick up the Rig Kit as it contains 10 no snag sinkers, 8 Lindy Rig Snells and 12 barrel swivels.
  • 1 package Bullet Weight Bottom Walkers. Choose the weight according to the depth you will be fishing, and the speed you may be drifting or trolling. 
  • 1 package ball bearing swivels.
  • 1 package #2 Fast Lock, or Duolock Snaps. They are excellent for making quick lure changes, and unlike bearing or barrel swivels; they do not significantly impede your lures natural action.
  • 3 – 50 pound test 12-inch nylon coated leaders with a bearing swivel. 


Many lures, sinkers and other types of terminal tackle are often sold in kits. They are well worth a look because you can potentially save a great deal of money, and because they usually come in a plastic utility box; it’s easy to keep everything organized. 

Tackle Boxes

Now that you have bought all this tackle it’s time to figure out what you’re going to put it in.

Sorry, but it doesn’t get any easier, because like lures, rods and reels, there are a zillion different kinds of tackle boxes, or as some like to call them – tackle management systems. There are tray types, tackle bags, satchel types, hip roof, flipsides, drawer type, utility boxes, “fanny” packs and vests.

They range in price from $10 for a traditional tray type box, to over $100 for a waterproof soft-sided tackle bag, so the issue really becomes one of affordability, and what will work best for you.

Personally, I prefer a tackle bag with utility boxes. This gives me the flexibility to take only the lures I am going to need on any given trip, rather than dragging along everything I own. They are relatively light, and because the majority have shoulder straps, easy to carry. Most have external pockets that are good for small utility boxes or accessories, like a lure retriever and pliers.

On the down side, most are not waterproof, although the utility boxes will usually keep your tackle fairly dry. If you decide to buy a tackle bag, make sure that it comes with the utility boxes, because many of them don’t. If you have to buy the boxes separately, your “tackle management system” will likely cost you more than if they were included. 

Paying the Piper

The overall price that I am going to give you is in US dollars, and does not include taxes. The reason for doing it this way is that it was much easier to price most of the tackle on US web sites. Even though the Canadian dollar was just at or above par when I wrote this, strangely, in some cases, you will pay a lot less for the same item in the US, even though that same retailer has a Canadian retail outlet. 

In any event if you are starting from scratch, it will give you a pretty good idea of what it’s going to cost to stock your tackle box.

The total cost for all of the above, including a $50 tackle bag with utility boxes included is – drum roll please - approximately: 


Now that you have picked yourself off the floor, not to worry because you can significantly reduce this amount by purchasing one of each kind of lure, instead of several as suggested.

The same applies to rod and reel combos. If you only fish for one particular species, then there is no need for two or more combos, or for that matter such a wide variety of lures.

For example, if you are strictly into perch and crappie fishing, you can completely outfit yourself with a rod, reel and tackle, for no more than $100. 

Realistically you can put together a quality multi species outfit, with a single rod and reel combo, and a scaled back amount of tackle for around $250. 

In Summary 

If at all possible try and stay within shouting distance of your budget, but every once in a while, just forget about what the Rolling Stones said, and go to your favorite store and buy yourself something new and shinny, because tackle buying should be fun, and if you think about it, there really is a little crow in each of us.

Last modified onTuesday, 17 March 2015 13:10
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