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A Pocketful of Tackle

Article & Photos by Scott Sommerlatte

There are a few essentials for every fishing trip.

I still get overwhelmed when I walk through a sporting goods store to the fishing tackle department, looking for the one or two items I need for an upcoming trip. Searching through the hundreds of possibilities arrayed on those shelves, I’m distracted by the latest and greatest fish-slaying lure that has come out since the last time I was shopping, which was only the week before. Years ago, some old salts taught me that there are certain essentials for a trip to the water and everything else is just fluff. They rarely left the house with more than a pocketful of tackle.

Now, as a fishing guide, I’ve developed my own list of must-haves whenever I leave the dock. The list varies, of course, according to where I’m fishing, when I’m fishing and, most importantly, what I’m fishing for.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve added something to my list, but it does happen. On a trip about four years ago, I watched photographer and friend David Sams as he tied on an artificial shrimp by D.O.A., chunked it out and started reeling it in real slow. I sat back, thinking that he was plumb kooky. “How do you expect to catch anything with that?” I asked. “It doesn’t have any action.”

“Just wait and see,” he said in a voice that let me know that he knew something I didn’t.

At the end of the drift Sams had caught and released five redfish to my one. It didn’t take me long to add D.O.A. shrimp to my standard repertoire. Now I don’t leave the dock without them. They are one of the most effective lures for sight-casting to redfish and trophy trout in skinny water. As for the rest of my tackle, I carry it all in a small bag or, on some days, just in my pocket.

Saltwater Tackle

For a trip to the bay, I load up my boat with two or three Waterloo HP Lite, 7-foot spinning rods rigged with Shimano Stradic reels. The reels are spooled with 8-pound-test Berkley Big Game Inshore line. At the end of the line I tie a 3-foot-long, 12- to-16-pound-test, fluorocarbon leader. The leader protects against abrasions that might cause the loss of a trophy fish. These rigs are perfect for tossing small lures such as spoons and jigs into shallow water and will handle any trout and redfish up to about 32 inches.

As for lures, I carry three essentials: Johnson Silver Minnow spoons with ball bearing swivels attached with split-rings in eighth- and quarter-ounce sizes; D.O.A. shrimp in chartreuse and root-beer colors; and Oldham’s screw-lock jig heads with Norton Bull Minnow bait tails in red/white and pumpkinseed/chartreuse, in eighth-ounce and quarter-ounce sizes. The eighth-ounce lures are for water less than a foot deep, and the quarter-ouncers are for deeper water. Because of their erratic action on the retrieve, I also carry some Texas Trout Killers in assorted colors for fishing over reefs.

This is my standard tackle pack, which varies little unless I’m targeting trout. Then I toss another small tackle pouch into the boat. It contains some MirrOlure 51MRs in gold/chartreuse, and Top Pups in a bone/flash color. I also pack a couple of B&L Corky Devils and Fat Boy plugs in a pearl/chartreuse color, which are essential if I’m going wade-fishing.

When I know that I will be fishing Fat Boy plugs, I change rods. Because plugs require quite a bit of rod manipulation to impart action, I switch to a level-wind outfit. Level-winds, also known as bait-casters, handle the slack line created by the up-down motion of the rod tip better than spinning rods. Because I prefer to fish the smaller plugs, I can get away with lighter tackle than most people would choose. For this kind of fishing I use a Waterloo HP Lite rod with a Shimano Calcutta 150 reel spooled up with 12-pound-test line.

Freshwater Tackle

While I spend most of my time fishing in salt water, I still love to fish fresh water and I do it with even less tackle than I bring to the bay. With a couple of exceptions, my rods and reels vary little from salt to fresh water. When fishing lakes or reservoirs for large bass in heavy cover, I break out the tackle that I grew up fishing with in East Texas lakes and ponds. I’ve fished with an old All-Star rod for so long that the model number is worn off the blank, so I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I cannot imagine flipping a plastic worm or a jig with anything else. It has had many reels over the years, but now sports a Shimano Calcutta spooled up with 14-pound-test line.

I also carry one of the spinning outfits that I use for sight-casting to reds, but I switch to a spool with a 10-pound-test line on it. The spinning rod is for throwing shallow-running crankbaits and small top-water plugs.

As for the lures, for the bigger waters I keep it simple. I will always have 6- to 8-inch-long plastic worms in black, electric blue with a fire tail and tequila sunrise, along with quarter- and eighth-ounce weights and Gamakatsu worm hooks. I like to have a couple of black and a couple of white, single-bladed spinner baits, some black-and-chrome Tiny Torpedoes, and some slender, shallow-running crankbaits in natural colors. I’m also a big fan of soft-plastic jerkbaits. These lures are highly effective when the big fish are in the shallows. Oh yeah, I can’t forget the Rat-L-Trap. These are great for schooling fish in open water.

I know some bass-fishing fanatics will look at this list and think it isn’t nearly long enough, but I like to keep things simple. I can carry all of my worms and single-hooked lures in a soft, notebook-like pouch and all of my top-water lures and crankbaits in one slender box. Since I’m not a tournament fisherman, I have rarely found a situation where I need anything more.

When I fish the small creeks and rivers in the Hill Country or go for crappie or white bass, I scale down my spinning tackle and go ultra-light. I’ve got an old Penn spinning reel that I bought in a garage sale for five bucks, spooled up with 6-pound line. It’s mounted on a custom rod built by Ryan Seiders of Waterloo Rod Company to match the reel. (It is important that rods and reels are balanced.)

For the streams and rivers, life gets easy. I carry a box that will fit in the pocket of any fishing shirt. It has a couple of Tiny Torpedoes and Teeny Torpedoes, some small spinner baits, a few floating Rapala shallow-diving crankbaits, and sixteenth- and eighth-ounce jig heads. For the jigs I carry an assortment of curly tailed grubs.

A few other accessories have to be mentioned. A pair of high-quality polarized sunglasses is essential. The polarization helps the angler see below the surface of the water, and the tint affords eye protection. I wear a pair of Kaenon UPD sunglasses with dark copper 12 lenses and bring a second pair with a lighter copper tint. Copper seems to me to be the most versatile lens tint because it enhances colors.

Whether I’m fishing from the casting deck of a flats skiff (my preference), wade-fishing, fishing for bass on a farm pond, or walking the bank of a small creek, I always carry two items on my belt: a pair of good fishing pliers and a multi-tool. For pliers, my choice is a pair of Van Staal titanium pliers with side-cutters. These are not only for removing hooks, but also for pinching down barbs and cutting line. As for the multi-tool, I own several brands, including Gerber, Buck, Kershaw and Leatherman. My favorite is the Leatherman Wave. It has all of the features I want, including one-handed knife operation, a pair of small scissors for cutting line and, most importantly, a diamond hone on one side of the file that is great for sharpening hooks. If I’m fishing where I might encounter smaller fish, I bring a good pair of hemostats for removing hooks.

I also pack a few other things that might not be considered essential, at least not until they’re needed. I put together a small tool kit that contains a variety of reel lubricants, some small screwdrivers and a tiny pair of pliers. Combined with a multi-tool, this kit will handle just about any on-the-water reel maintenance job.

I always bring a small first aid kit with two very important items: iodine and Neosporin. Nothing is more annoying than going to the doctor for an infection that grew from a little nick or cut incurred while fishing. I’m speaking from experience. Treat every little wound as soon as you get it.

My preference in brands changes from time to time, but these choices have served me well for more than 15 years of serious fishing and seven years of guiding anglers on the coast. Maybe they’ll help you with a problem I still have, despite all that I’ve learned. When I visit the tackle shop, I still find myself buying tackle that was designed to catch fishermen rather than fish. O

Scott Sommerlatte of Lake Jackson is a writer, photographer, fishing guide and waterfowl guide.

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