Photo by Adriane E. Gray
Do you remember your first tackle box? I remember mine. It was a battered, old, Army-green metal box passed down from my father. It had a single metal latch on the lid, a thin, bent-wire handle and three rickety, fold-out trays. It wasn’t pretty — but it served me well, toting what few lures I owned safely back and forth to the water.
Things have a way of changing over time, though. Today, metal boxes are a thing of the past. And while the hard-shell, molded-plastic tackle box that took its place is still used by many anglers, fishermen are turning more often to soft-sided tackle-storage systems.
There are many compelling reasons why.
Soft and Pliable
Soft-sided tackle systems emerged about 20 years ago, almost by accident, says Jesse Simpkins, vice president of sales and marketing at Plano.
| |The heart of a soft-sided tackle storage system is the utility box, such as this Hydro-Flo StowAway box from Plano. |
“People were using duffle bags back then and simply throwing in utility boxes,” he says. “It was good in one sense because these bags could be more easily stuffed into boat compartments. But they were loose, with no structure and no specialized room for anything else. So we started devising more-structured bags to hold tackle.”
It didn’t take long for manufacturers to discover that the very nature of these soft bags allowed for great creativity. Whether the tackle “box” was constructed of Cordura or other pliable material, features such as exterior pockets, cords that could attach to pliers, innovative built-in handles and shoulder straps were much easier to engineer.
“There was much more allowance for design creativity,” Simpkins says, “but you had to be more technically savvy when working with these materials.”
More than anything, soft tackle bags greatly enhanced storage capacity, says Greg Stotesbury, sales manager at AFTCO, which began selling its popular Angler’s Bag several years back. “Hard boxes have a fixed amount of capacity, but soft bags allow some over-stuffing,” he says.
That’s because of the AFTCO product’s flexible, yet durable, 600-denier Cordura construction. The bag features a molded, waterproof EVA base and rustproof zippers, and it is designed to hold three 3700-size utility boxes — yet there’s still extra room for spare reels or a rain jacket.
And although the waterproof characteristics of a hard-shell tackle box are tough to beat, manufacturers have made great strides with soft-sided products. Plano uses a patented process in the dying of the exterior fabric of its Hydro-Flo line of bags that renders them 100 percent waterproof, Simpkins says.
“But if water does get in for whatever reason, the base is cored with drainage holes, so the water pours out,” he says. What’s more, that base is built up and actually keeps your belongings three inches off the ground. “So if there’s any water in the bottom of the boat, the gear in your bag will stay dry.”
The Core: Utility Boxes
Virtually every soft-sided tackle system is designed the same way in that they’re engineered around clear-plastic utility boxes that are stored either vertically or horizontally within a bag, depending on the size and shape of the bag. It’s there that lures, hooks and weights are kept.
Unlike the built-in, fixed format of a traditional tackle tray in a hard-shelled box, these utility boxes are completely removable. Not only do they provide a place to hold tackle, but they also serve as a source of additional structure for a soft bag, helping to keep it upright. When they’re full of goodies, the utility boxes offer the additional support of weight, so the bags are not easily knocked over.
You might think there wasn’t much technology incorporated into these utility boxes — but guess again.
Flambeau, one of the industry’s oldest tackle-box brands, has been using Zerust technology in its boxes for six years. Zerust is a polymer that emits a harmless vapor that forms a protective coating around metal surfaces, eliminating corrosion and rust.
“It covers all the products inside the box,” says David Faulkner, Flambeau’s group vice president for retail markets. “You’re often talking about plugs that cost $20 these days. That’s a big investment, and it only makes sense to take care of them.”
Plano, too, offers a specialized Hydro-Flo StowAway utility box, which has holes in the base and lid that allow air to circulate and dry lures. “These pores naturally prevent corrosion,” Simpkins says.
For an Afternoon or a Week
In the world of soft tackle bags, huge variety exists in terms of both size and shape — and, of course, function.
Some of the smallest bags actually are wearable, such as Simms’ Dry Creek Flats Pack, a simple, weatherproof waist pack that’s extremely popular for wading flats anglers. Then there’s Shimano’s Blackmoon series, a larger, backpack-design tackle system.
But for a more traditional soft‑sided system, the Shimano Borona is a good example in the mid-size range. It features several exterior pockets, three Plano boxes and a handy shoulder strap.
It’s these portability characteristics that have elevated today’s tackle systems to new heights.
“Think about it,” says John Mazurkiewicz, a Shimano marketing representative. “You’re walking down the pier, and you’ve probably got rods in one hand and something else in your other hand. It sure helps when you can throw your tackle bag over your shoulder. It’s a simple thing, but something that for years wasn’t really possible.”
The same holds true for soft bags designed for lengthy trips, such as those on West Coast long-range boats. Calcutta released its Rolling Tackle Bag this year, and it features five removable utility boxes, ample interior storage and exterior pockets as well as a pull-out telescopic handle with wheels built into the base, similar to airport luggage. And these bags are plenty strong.
“We reinforced the key stress points because they’ll be maxed out with weight,” says Chris Pardue, director of product development at Big Rock Sports LLC, which owns the Calcutta brand.
“With as much lead and jigs as these guys put in there, that bag will weigh 30 pounds or more.”
So what does the future hold in soft‑sided tackle systems?
“I think you’ll see more species-specific products,” Simpkins says. “That said, it’s always been our challenge as manufacturers to develop products that have a narrow-enough focus to give anglers what they need but a broad-enough design that it can serve other purposes as well.
“It’s like fishing techniques — they evolve, and we have to evolve with them.”