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Tackle Box Checklist

Before fishing season starts, it’s time to decide what to pack in your tackle box. If you don't have one already, your first order of business will be to buy a high quality fishing tackle box.

Your choices are a traditional plastic or metal hard tackle box or a newer style of soft tackle box. Your exact needs will vary depending on the type of fish you’re planning to catch. For example, the gear to catch freshwater trout is going to be different from what you need to go offshore marlin fishing.

There are some items that should be in your tackle box regardless of the type of fishing. In this article, we’ll go over our top picks for must-have tackle box items.

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Hooks come in a wide variety of styles. There are standard fishing hooks with just a loop on the end and a barbed, or barbless sharp, curved point on the other. There are snelled hooks that are already tied with durable monofilament, usually 10-pound test line, and there are treble hooks, which are three hooks arranged at 120 degrees from each other. There are two naming systems to size hooks, the standard, and the aught systems. In the aught system the higher the number the larger the hook. The much more popular standard system is the inverse. A 00 hook is huge, while a #24 hook is used to tie tiny mosquito and gnat flies. The most popular hook is the #6 snelled.

One size fits all doesn’t work when it comes to hooks and specific fish species. The type, style, size, length of shaft, aggressiveness of the curve and hook design are all features to look at for specific game fish. We’ll break down a few examples for the most popular fish.

Largemouth bass – Many anglers use moderately large hooks in sizes #2 to #6 for bass. The wide mouth that gives them their name can gulp or spit out large bait quickly on a strike. The larger hooks have a better chance of gripping during one of these vicious strikes.

Walleye - Walleye are nibblers, they don’t strike hard and require a sensitive touch to feel their light hits. A size #6 hook is ideal for all sizes of walleye with smaller minnows. Your timing in setting the hook is more important with this species than any other. If you’re fishing with larger minnows a size #2 works well for enticing walleye and getting a good hook surface for the strike.

Trout – Depending on the species, smaller hooks work best with live bait. Cheese or Powerbait packed onto a #6 is a starting point. A #8 with a worm is a good choice, and a #10 baited with a leech or waxworm will work as well.

Northern Pike – Big fish, big hooks is the thought with these freshwater predators. A 00 on a large minnow, with steel leader attached to avoid their shark teeth from cutting the line is a reliable method of hooking pike.

Crappie – Think small bait, as in worms, leeches, waxworms when fishing for crappie with live bait. A #8 or #10 hook works well.

Perch – Perch are a smaller game fish, with a smaller mouth than a largemouth bass, but they strike and fight harder than walleye for their size. A long shanked #8 or #10 hook with worms, or waxworms is a good method.

Bluegill – A #10 hook, a can of worms, a bobber and some patience, this is how to start a youngster on a lifetime of fishing and a great way to catch the panfish.

Musky – The same rules as a Northern Pike apply to musky. Steel leader, large 00 hooks and you’re all set to make those 10,000 casts it is estimated on average to get a musky strike.

Catfish – Doughballs, blood bait, liver and worms off the bottom will get a blue, channel or flathead’s attention. Wrap or hook that bait into a big ball on a 00, 0 or #2 hook with a weight set a couple of feet above the bait and let them come to you.

There are three main types of fishing line: monofilament, fluorocarbon, and braided. They all come in different strengths as measured by “pound test.” Pound test is the pressure it takes to break the line. For ultralight fishing, a two-pound test line is light, but easily broken. On the other extreme deep-sea angler often use braided line rated at 150 pounds or more. You should carry an extra spool of the line you intend to use on your fishing trips in your tackle box. Never expose line to direct sunlight while storing it since UV radiation weakens monofilament quickly. Additional line of different styles and weight can be used as a leader in many applications.

Buying line can be overwhelming if you’re new to the sport with hundreds of weights, styles and colors available in all three categories. It’s best to check the specifications on your reel before purchasing extra line. Six-pound to 10-pound test is the most popular, but it doesn’t work the best with all reels. It takes a little research to find the best size line, and when you do, it’s time to select a color that will match the color of the water you’re going to fish.

When you’re on the water, you want to have everything you need. Fishing rigs can take time to tie, so it’s nice to have pre-tied rigs on hand. You can tie your own rigs before taking off, or purchase pre-tied rigs from tackle manufacturers.
Adding weight to your line to get it to greater depth is as old as the sport of fishing. Modern anglers replaced the rocks and bits of cast iron used for centuries with lead in spilt-shot, curled crimp-on, and pyramid-shaped weights with eye hooks. Lead remains the primary material for sinkers, but environmental concerns have brought tungsten, brass, steel, and other composite material weights to the market.

Swivels come in two styles, the barrel swivel which is tied with line on both ends, or the snap swivel which has an eye to tie to the line and an open “Safety pin” style snap that makes switching lures quick and easy. Both styles are used to prevent line twisting as lures, especially spinners work in the water. A swivel makes the lure spin more naturally as well.

Don’t jump at the lowest prices bag of swivels. Many anglers have lost “the big one” on a cheap broken swivel. Paying the extra couple of cents for better quality swivels is always worth it. Swivels come in several sizes. The larger swivels work best with braided line and larger lures and are easier to tie line to. The smaller swivels are best for ultralight rods and lighter two to six-pound test line.

Bobbers come in an array of colors designed to be spotted easily on the water, even in the sun’s glare. Bobbers suspend live bait below the surface and when a fish strikes, the bobber dips underwater giving the angler the message to set the hook. There are clear bobbers as well that allow a spinning or spin casting rod to work with dry flies. The clear bobber is tied to the line and a long lightweight leader with the fly attached is tied to the other side.

Red and white bobbers have been the standard for a long time, but fluorescent orange bobbers are sometimes easier to spot on the water.

Lures are the essence of modern angling. There are buzzbaits, crankbaits, spinners, poppers, jerkbaits, jigs, and plugs. Each one of them has a purpose and is the best way of catching specific species. You could write volumes of books on the various types of lures on the market today and how they work to generate strikes from game fish.

Flies fall into the same wide array of options. You have dry flies, nymphs, wet flies, egg sacks, and streamers. Each one of these works for specific fish and they are all seasonal, meaning they have to match the hatch or the nymph offerings naturally floating in the water.

Lures and flies that are specific to weather and water conditions work better than a simple lure tossed into the water no matter the season. The ripples on the surface, color of the sky, turbidity of the water, and the angle of sunlight are all factors in determining which fly or lure works the best.

There is no advice on purchasing the best flies for a specific day on the water except to “match the hatch.” Most sporting goods stores, and many lake, reservoir and fishing websites have up to date information on the hatch in session. A mayfly may look just like a caddisfly to the untrained eye, but the fish know the difference. Do a little research before you hit the water for the best results.

A good multi-tool will come in handy for a number of different jobs while fishing. It can be used to remove hooks, cut line, or even aid with minor boat repairs. No good tackle box is complete without a multi-tool.
A knife is essential. There will be many times when you have no choice but to cut your line. That is when a small pocketknife is easier to use than a multi-tool. Some anglers keep a set of nail clippers in their pocket for quickly cutting their line. Nail clippers are the best choice for “non-breakable” line such as Spider Wire, which are hard to cut with a knife. Having a a good fishing knife onhand for filleting your catch is also important.
Leaders are the last part of your line before the hook, and can help disguise your line if it is a very different color from the water. Leaders are more necessary for fly fishing, when you’re using heavy colored fly line. They can also help prevent line twisting when baitcasting. While leaders are not used by all anglers, they can be helpful to keep in the box just in case.

Not every fish is hooked cleanly. Some take the bait deep and the hook can be dangerously snagged in their gills. If you’re catching and keeping these fish, it’s not a problem, but if you’re angling catch and release style you want to remove hooks with minimal damage. A pair of needle-nosed fishing pliers can remove hooks with minimal injury to a fish. For larger species, longer pliers work the best.

If you happen to spot a pair of fishing pliers with a braided heavy duty line, or small chain attached with a clasp on the other end, it’s a great piece of equipment. The clasp can hook through your vest, onto a loop in your pants or around your belt and will always be in easy reach when you need it.

A stringer is a great way to carry your catches—and it’s always good to be prepared for a successful day on the water. You can get a single line stringer, which connects all your fish on one line, or a chain stringer that allows you to clasp each fish individually. The single line stringer will likely take up less space in your tackle box.
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Personal Items

They might call you a Boy Scout, but being prepared is always a better option. First aid supplies you should keep on hand include bandages, Band-Aids, Benadryl, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, Neosporin, Dramamine, butterfly bandages, and super glue in a waterproof container in your tackle box. A zip-lock plastic bag works great.

Being out in the sun for hours unprotected is asking for a sunburn. Pack a tube of sunblock, SPF 30 or higher to prevent exposure to harsh UV rays. There’s nothing fun about going home with a sunburn. You should apply sunscreen before you go out on the water, and then re-apply it throughout your day.
Lakes and rivers often attract many bugs. Insect repellant or even a hat with mosquito netting can keep you more comfortable not only when you’re fishing, but for the next few days as well.
Sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun, but they also reduce the reflective glare coming off the water. Polarized, blue tint sunglasses can help you see deeper into the water on sunny days, allowing you to spot fish as they strike. A good pair of sunglasses can improve your chance of setting the hook.
If you’re having a good day out, you’ll probably want to stay until sunset. When night fishing you need compact flashight to work with bait, and having both hands free to work is a good idea. A headlamp illuminates your work while leaving both hands free. If you’re landing a boat on a dark dock, a headlamp makes the process safer and easier. A small flashlight can also help when you’re rooting through your bag for supplies.

A poncho is a great addition to carry on your boat, but waterproof outerwear is a much better option if you’re shore fishing and in close proximity to your vehicle. It works to repel rain and is a great windbreaker as well.

Many anglers buy a cheap poncho that is packed into a small plastic bag. In our experience, these sit in the bottom of large tackle boxes or are shoved into a compartment on a boat and are rarely used. If they sit long enough they begin to crack from UV light and become brittle. It’s better to have a quality rain jacket that you can use for other activities during wet weather than just a fishing poncho. You’ll take better care of it, and it’s easy to toss into the back seat when you head out on the water.

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Compliance/Post Fishing Items

There are very few places that won’t require a fishing license. To avoid fines, you’ll need to have that fishing license with you. Fishing licenses are generally much cheaper than the fine you will pay for not having one. In addition to keeping your fishing license in your tackle box, we suggest taking a picture of the license and storing it on your phone as a backup.
Creel limits, size limits, restricted areas, and legal times to fish are all included in regulations provided by the governing fish and wildlife agency in your area. It’s easier to learn the rules before you’re taught them by a warden with an open citation book. Carry regulations with you as a reference, and understand that rules can change depending on your location, even on the same body of water.
For conservation purposes, you often cannot keep fish that are too large or too small. Although sometimes an annoyance, this law conserves species for future fishermen. To be sure that you can legally keep your catch, pack some measuring tape in your tackle box. It's also a good idea to carry a fish scale with you for weighing your fish. Having the right fishing accessories will keep you in compliance and provide a more enjoyable fishing experience.
If you want to clean your fish while you wait for your next catch, a fillet knife is a must. Bleeding a fish is easier in the water, and a fillet knife can be used for that purpose. Choose the size of your fillet knife based on the fish you’ll be targeting.