One of the most difficult decisions a co-angler can make is what tackle to pack for a day of fishing with a pro. Although many co-anglers have a penchant for bringing the better part of a tackle store with them to a tournament, tackle must be scaled down to a manageable amount when riding in another angler's boat.
Exactly how much tackle to bring for each day changes dramatically, depending on a multitude of factors. For example, one pro may tell a co-angler to only bring a couple of flipping sticks and a handful of jigs. Another pro may say, “Well, I am catching them on Carolina rigs, topwater baits, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and, oh yeah, we may flip some, too.” Suddenly, bringing the whole tackle store sounds necessary.
Even veteran co-anglers admit that scaling tackle down is hard. You want enough of your own tackle to feel comfortable and versatile, yet you do not want to be wheeling your tackle down to the pro's boat in a shopping cart.
Basic tackle strategy
Standard operating procedure for a co-angler on FLW Outdoors tournament circuits is to carry one soft tackle bag that holds several pull-out utility boxes. Soft tackle bags come in a variety of sizes, but most are designed to hold three to six flat, durable utility boxes like the Plano 3600 or 3700 series boxes. Each slender utility box has a multitude of compartments that can hold dozens of bass lures.
FLW touring pro Bernie Schultz suggests that co-anglers try to segregate a majority of their tackle into seven or eight of the flat utility boxes.
“Put all your jerkbaits into one box, all your crankbaits in another, all your jigs in another, etc,” suggests Schultz. “Then, when your pro says the plan is jerkbaits and floating worms, you just select those two boxes and put them into one soft-sided tackle bag. It is like a rotational or interchangeable tackle system where you take only what you need for that day.”
FLW Tour pro Mike Wurm agrees.
“I recommend co-anglers bring one tackle bag only,” says Wurm. “More than one and things get cumbersome. A co-angler may consider bringing another small tote bag that can be stored in a compartment to hold a rainsuit, sunglasses, sunscreen, and snacks.”
Most pros carry a tremendous amount of tackle in their boat, and many are more than happy to help out when it comes to sharing baits with co-anglers.
“Don't pack every lure you own just because you are bashful about asking for a bait,” says Schultz. “I would rather a co-angler borrow a bait from me than bring the kitchen sink.”
One of the most common mistakes Schultz and Wurm observe with co-anglers is packing too much tackle for the sake of having different colored baits.
“You don't need the whole rainbow of colors for every bait you bring,” says Schultz.
“This is especially true with soft plastics,” adds Wurm. “I see amateurs who will bring fifty bags of worms to have ten different colors of five types of worms. Stick with the basics when it comes to colors – blue, purple, or black in dark water; smoke, pumpkin, or watermelon in clear water.”
If you have to cull tackle to make it all fit into one bag, consider sacrificing soft plastics to lighten the load. Of all the bass baits, pros are likely to have a bigger variety of soft plastics available for a co-angler to use than anything else.
One box that should have a permanent place in the soft tackle bag is a box with terminal tackle – hooks, weights and swivels of differing size for Texas rigs and Carolina rigs. While pros do not mind occasionally digging out a bag of soft plastics for a co-angler's use, constantly badgering a pro for weights and hooks every time a snagged Carolina rig breaks off is distracting.
Follow similar guidelines for fishing rods
When it comes to rods and reels, both Wurm and Schultz say six is the maximum number of rods most co-anglers can manage.
“I think four rods is probably the optimum number, but any more than six and the co-angler really just spends his day fighting tackle given the amount of space he has to use,” says Wurm.
Schultz adds, “I would recommend that co-anglers always carry one flipping rod and one spinning rod. The flipping rod can always double as a Carolina-rig rod, and a spinning rod is just an excellent tool for co-anglers to make different presentations than their pro.”
Schultz also suggests co-anglers carry a spare filler spool of line in an appropriate size.
“One bad backlash or wind knot can ruin a rod and reel combo for the day. If a co-angler has a small spool of line in his bag, he can re-spool and be back in business in just a few minutes.”
One piece of personal advice I can add about packing tackle is to really scale down when long runs are in your pro's plans. Runs of an hour or more mean having to streamline tackle selection to a minimum. Long, rough boat rides are even worse when holding down a tackle bag and rods.
If you bring a minimum amount of tackle, you can usually convince your pro to allow you to store your tackle and rods in his compartments making for a much smoother, worry free ride. Moreover, long runs usually mean limited fishing time and there won't be much time to experiment with different baits.
Learning how to pack tackle for each day comes with experience. With time, every co-angler develops his own tackle system for back deck fishing.
In the next installment of the Co-anglers' Clinic, readers will learn proper net handling techniques.
Rob Newell is a freelance outdoor writer from Tallahassee, Fla. He has competed in over 30 Operation Bass events as a co-angler on all levels – BFL, Everstart and FLW. He won an FLW as a co-angler in 1999 at Lake Okeechobee. He finds the Co-angler Division to be one of the most enjoyable and enriching opportunities available to FLW Outdoors members who want to become more involved in competitive angling.
The Co-angler's Clinic: The importance of the pre-tournament meeting
The Co-angler's Clinic: Arriving at the tournament site
The Co-angler's Clinic: Packing for a fishing tournament means careful planning
The Co-angler's Clinic: Analyzing the amateur experience