Minimalist Fishing Tackle

Minimalist tackle pack

When it comes to activities where I need to be mobile – fishing, camping, music, photography  I'm a minimalist. For example as a musician, when I'm playing in a band I like to assemble a "minimum viable rig" for whatever music I'm doing. I take a careful look at what is really indispensable for the music and try to eliminate anything I can do without. I'll carry back-ups, but only for stuff that is actually likely to need it (guitar strings, tubes, picks, cable, etc.) I also put a lot of thought into coming up with the ideal transport system (cases, bags, etc.) that minimizes size, weight, and set-up/tear-down time.

The goal is to be nimble and efficient. But more than that, I'm trying to minimize "overhead". I hate dead weight – stuff that takes more energy to deal with than value received. Not just carrying it, but managing it – keeping track of it, organizing it, not letting it clutter my working environment, maintaining it, and repairing it. All that stuff takes time and effort that keeps me from doing whatever main activity I'm actually trying to do.

I also just like the aesthetic of having exactly what is required and no more. There's a real satisfaction and freedom to paring down to the essentials.

So I'm not the kind of guy who lugs a dozen rods and three tackle boxes to the water on the off-chance that I might need some obscure special-purpose rig. I spend a little time planning my trips and knowing in advance what I'm going to target, where I'm going to fish, and what tackle I'm going to use. And then I bring just enough to execute the plan. If I end up needing something else when I get on the water, then I make do with what I have and maybe that's a lesson in better planning for the future. Or maybe not. More often than not, "making do" is fine and reducing a tiny amount of "make do" to zero is not worth the hassle of managing more stuff.

Generally, all my tackle for a fishing trip fits into a small (and cheap!) hydration backpack that I use as a tackle pack. It is genuinely compact – just enough room to fit a small Plano box, a water bladder, and maybe a half dozen small items like prepared bait, a knife, pliers, energy bars, a hand towel, etc. I like it because it practically disappears on my back and doesn't get hung up on brush if I'm hiking through the woods to my spot. And it leaves my hands free. If I forego the water bladder, it will carry an additional Plano box.

I have 3 Plano boxes, one for each major type of fish that I target – catfish, crappie/sunfish/bass, and trout. For a given fishing trip, I load the appropriate box in the backpack and leave the rest at home.  In general I try to limit my tackle to what will fit in the Plano boxes. I like this arrangement because it forces me to abandon tackle that isn't working or that I don't use very much, and focus on the stuff that is the most productive. In the future, I could see breaking out, say, my crappie/sunfish/bass box into 3 individual boxes, but so far I haven't needed to. 

Fish-specific tackle boxes. The labels are old – both of these boxes actually cover more species than the labels say.

As a result, if I'm, say, bank fishing for channel cats, I can get away with just a rod, the backpack, a camp chair (a recently acquired luxury!), and a bucket that I leave in the car in case I want to take some fish home.

A fishing bug-out bag, ready in one minute

There are several benefits to this approach:
  • I can be ready to fish at a moments notice. And that means more time on the water.
  • I can use the same tackle for bank, kayak, or boat fishing and it's no hassle to do so.
  • I can carry everything between the car and the water in one trip. I can even bicycle to the lake and have everything I need!
  • I can easily keep my kayak tidy, which is safer and makes things easy to find.
  • I'm forced to evaluate what tackle is really working and jettison anything that isn't because I don't have room in my tackle pack for stuff that isn't providing value.
Of course, things get more complicated when you kayak fish because you have to worry about the paddling gear in addition to fishing gear. But I applied the same principles to how I outfitted my kayak, how I carry gear on my kayak, and my anchoring system. I still feel like I'm having to carry too much paddling stuff, but for now I don't have any great ideas on how to reduce the load. There are a number of safety items that I consider non-negotiable and I haven't yet figured out a significantly better system.

But it's a work in progress. I expect to always be evaluating what I have, whether I really need it, and what I can do to make it easier to use, lighter to carry, and less hassle to deal with.