Tackle Box Building Blocks

Every fishermen needs a tackle box and tackle to fill it. Although each type of fishing requires a few specific items, there are plenty of basics that should be in every box whether an angler is looking to fish fresh water, salt water or a little bit of both. But, how does a novice fishermen - or even an experienced angler looking to delve into different types of fishing - stock a tackle box without breaking the bank?

A key to piecing together a cost-effective tackle box is versatility. Rather than focus on a few very specific lures or rigs, anglers should opt for proven lure types that can work for a variety of species under a wide array of conditions. Additionally, it is important to include both terminal tackle for fishing natural baits, as well as an assortment of artificial lures. Once the foundation of a tackle selection is laid, a few specialty items can be added.

Hooks: A hook is the most basic piece of fishing tackle. Hooks come in a wide array of sizes, colors and styles. For a basic tackle box it is best to be broad and general.

Before purchasing hooks, it is important to understand how hooks are sized. Hooks are sized along an odd, two-sided scale. Standard numbers are on one side of the scale. Larger numbers designate smaller hooks (i.e.: a size 10 hook is smaller than a size 4). On the other side of the scale, numbers are represented in a two-number manner, similar to a math fraction, but with the second number always being zero (or, 'ought,' as it is pronounced in the fishing world). The scale goes the other way on this side, meaning the larger the number, the larger the hook. Therefore, a 2/0 hook is smaller than a 10/0.

An assortment of bronze `j' hooks ranging in size from 12 to 2 will cover most general freshwater applications where natural baits are used, although a handful of 2/0 hooks are handy for 'big game' such as large catfish. `Worm hooks,' which are essentially j-hooks with modified necks for rigging soft-plastic baits 'weedless,' in sizes 2/0 and 4/0 will cover most artificial lure rigging situations.

For saltwater fishing, tinned or stainless steel j-hooks in sizes 2/0 to 6 will handle most situations. In years past, treble hooks reigned supreme in many coastal regions. However, in recent years, more and more fishermen have switched to j-hooks or light wire circle hooks.

Weights: Split shot sinkers, round weights that are designed to be pinched onto the line, are the most versatile style of weight. An assortment of split shots in a wide range of sizes can cover everything from fishing beneath a bobber to holding a bait on the bottom.

However, as versatile as they are, split shots aren't the only type of weight a fisherman needs. Pyramid sinkers are great for holding baits on the bottom in areas of significant current. Anglers should stock up on 1 and 2 ounce pyramid sinkers and combine them together if more weight is necessary. An assortment of egg sinkers ranging in size from 1/8- to 3/4-ounce will serve for bottom fishing in still waters and for creating Carolina-rigs with soft-plastic lures. Bullet weights in the same sizes are good to have for fishing soft-plastic lures 'Texas-style.'

Floats: Floats are used to suspend lures or baits at a predetermined depth. Like most tackle items, floats come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, sizes and colors. However, freshwater fishermen can typically get by with a few sizes of traditional freshwater bobbers - those red and white spheres so often depicted in angling lore - certainly should be part of any basic tackle box.

Bobbers are not, however, appropriate for saltwater fishing - primarily because the metal clips used to attach the bobber to the line quickly rust and fail. Instead, saltwater fishermen typical use a `popping cork' - a conical-shaped float with a cupped face. A 4-inch, weighted popping cork is a good all-around choice. If a spherical float is preferred, go with a cork and peg style.

Swivels: Swivels are necessary for reducing line twists and creating various artificial lure and natural bait rigs. An assortment of barrel swivels, as well as 'three-way' swivels, will add to the versatility of any tackle box.

Jig Heads: Basically weighted hooks, jig heads are used to secure a variety of soft-plastic lure bodies. Jig heads come in a variety of sizes, but it's hard to go wrong with round heads when stocking a basic box. Bronze hook versions in 1/32, 1/16, 1/8 and 1/4 ounce will cover freshwater applications, while stainless hook models in 1/16, 1/8, 1/4 and 3/8 ounce will take care of most saltwater situations.

Before building a selection of artificial lures, it is important to consider a few things. To begin with, it is important to choose lures that can work on a variety of species under a wide range of conditions. And, despite the long-standing beliefs of many fishermen, a number of lures work equally well in both fresh and saltwater. In fact, an ever increasing number of lures are being fitted with corrosion resistant hardware. Baits that are factory fitted with bronze hooks can be easily converted for saltwater use by simply swapping hooks.

Finally, it is also important to pick easy-to-use lures, especially for novice and intermediate anglers. There are a number of popular lure styles that require a deft touch and skilled hand to be productive. Since most anglers aren't able to fish every day, they are much better off choosing a handful of easy to use lures as opposed to spending time trying to master a couple of specialized lure styles.

Soft-plastics: Perhaps the most versatile - not to mention least expensive - type of artificial lure is the soft-plastic bait. To cover all bases, anglers should stock up on a variety of styles. Worms and lizards in 4 and 6 inch lengths will cover most black bass needs. Curl tail grubs are extremely handy. Small 1 and 2 inch curl tails are great for freshwater panfish, while 3-, 4- and 5-inch versions are great for various fresh and saltwater applications. Additionally, a selection of paddletail plastics can cover a wide variety of salt and freshwater scenarios.

Of course, soft-plastics come in a dizzying array of colors. For freshwater purposes, black, purple, watermelon, white, and pumpkinseed are good starting points. Saltwater anglers should build a foundation around white/chartreuse, red/white, and chartreuse.

Spinnerbaits: Maybe the easiest of all artificial lures to use - simply cast and retrieve - spinnerbaits can tempt virtually any predatory freshwater fish. They can also be utilized for inshore saltwater duty, particularly for redfish. A set of 1/8, 1/4 and 3/8 ounce spinnerbaits in basic colors such as black and white/chartruese will handle most situations.

Floater/divers: Easy to use, yet versatile, floater/divers can be used as topwater plugs or to probe the first foot or so of the water column. Chrome baits with various color backs are the most common, although other color combinations work well also. A selection of baits ranging from 3 to 6 inches in size will take care of several scenarios.  

Lipless cranks: Often referred to as "idiot baits" because of their ease of use, lipless cranks are equally effective in both fresh and saltwater. Sizes ranging from 1/4 to 3/4 will cover most situations. Chrome and gold are the most popular colors, although red, black, and natural patterns are also good.

Crankbaits: Traditional lipped crankbaits are perhaps the easiest tools to use when probing depths beyond 6 feet. Crankbaits are rated for specific diving depths, so it's always good to have at least one model for shallow, medium and deep duty. Patterns that incorporate chartreuse, white or chrome are among the most versatile.

In-line spinners: A traditional freshwater favorite throughout the country, in-line spinners can be used for everything from panfish to bass to trout. Every box should have a handful of sizes in basic colors such as black, white and chartreuse.

Spoons: A spoon is another easy-to-use lure that can be used in both water types. Anglers should always have a selection of spoons ranging from 1/8 to 3/4 ounce in both silver and gold.  

Artificial shrimp: Obviously a bait limited mostly to salt or brackish water use, artificial shrimp are nonetheless a valuable tool. They can be used as a 'fish finder' when fish aren't hitting other artificial lures. Artificial shrimp are also a great confidence builder for anglers looking to make the leap from natural baits to artificial lures.

Using the basic guidelines above, anglers can build a functional and fairly extensive tackle box. But again, these are simply the building blocks. As anglers gain experience, they inevitably add to their tackle selection. So long as they've built a strong foundation of tackle, they can confidently fish across the United States for a variety of species in both fresh and saltwater.