10 Basics Every Man Should Have in His Fishing Tackle Box

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 14, 2009 · 47 comments

in Manly Skills, Outdoors


Summer is almost here and that means it’s fishing time. Fishing is a fantastic, manly pastime. It’s a great way to relax and catch up with old buds or quiet your mind after a rough week of work. But before you head out to the old fishing hole, you need to have a well-stocked fishing tackle box. Like the contents of a man’s tool box , the contents of a man’s tackle box often comes down to personal preference. The contents will also change depending on the type of fish you’re angling to catch. But every fishing tackle box should have a few basic items. I went to the Bass Pro Shop in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to ask a few old timers for their opinion on what they thought should be in every man’s tackle box.

The following are the 10 things we came up with that every man’s fishing tackle box should contain:

1. Extra line


Whether it’s because you get a bite from the legendary monster fish that lurks in the depths of the old fishing hole or you just get your line caught on a log, it’s almost guaranteed that your fishing line will break or get tangled up during a fishing trip. Thus, it’s always good to have some extra line in your tackle box. The line you carry depends a great deal on where you’re fishing and what kind of fish you’re fishing for. If you’re fishing in rough conditions, you’ll want a heavier and more durable fishing line. This should help reduce the chances of snappage. If you’re fishing in a crystal clear lake, stealth is the key. So choose a thin, clear line to fake out the fish.

2. Extra hooks

Stock your tackle box with a variety of hooks so you’re ready for any sort of fish. I like to stick with the traditional J-hook, but many fishermen swear by the french hook. No matter what type of hook you carry, make sure you have them in different sizes. You don’t want to fish for river trout using a hook that’s sized for a 120-pound catfish. Sizes range from the very smallest at a number 32, to the very largest at 19/0.

Further reading: What You Need to Know About Fishing Hooks

3. Bobbers

Bobbers, or floaters as they’re sometimes called, help you know when you’re getting bites from a fish. When a fish bites, the bobber sinks. As soon as that happens, you know you’re ready to reel your catch in. Again, you have some choices when it comes to bobbers. The bobbers most people are familiar with are the round red and white plastic ones. The round bobbers are nice because you just have to clip them to the line in order to attach them. However, the round bobber does limit how deep you can cast a line.

Enter the slip bobber. A slip bobber lets you slide it up and down the line. Slip bobbers take a bit more time to rig, but many fishermen think the extra effort is worth it because you get your hook into deeper water.

You can always go old school style and use a piece of cork with a stick in it. Just tie one to your line and you’re good to go.

Further reading: How to Attach a Slip Bobber

4. Sinkers

A hook and worm alone are too light to sink very deeply. You’ll need to attach a weight or “sinker” to your fishing rig in order to compensate for that. I’ve lost plenty of sinkers on fishing expeditions so it’s good to have some extras on hand. Sinkers are traditionally made of lead, but some states are beginning to outlaw the use of lead sinkers for environmental reasons. It wouldn’t surprise me if the this trend continues. Other options for sinker materials are brass, tungsten, steel, and bismuth.

Further reading: An Introduction to Fishing Sinkers

5. Plastic worms

While I’m a big fan of using live bait, it’s always good to have a package of plastic worms in your tackle box, especially if you’re bass fishing. Plastic worms come in a variety of colors and sizes. The worms with the long tails are probably the easiest to use. Some fishermen swear that certain colors of plastic worms will increase the number of bites. It’s probably a superstitious belief, but if you’ve had luck with a certain color plastic worm, you might as well keep using it.

6. A couple of lures

The old hook and worm should be enough for most of your fishing needs. But sometimes you’ll want to bust out some of the more complex lures in order to up your game. There are literally hundreds of types of fishing lures to choose from: spinners and spoons, minnow imitations, and top water lures to name a few. Each type of lure is designed to behave a certain way in the water in order to attract fish. For example, the minnow imitations are lures that look like small swimming minnows. Many medium- and large-sized fish like to munch on minnows, so it can be an effective lure. Spinners have a blade attached to them that creates a spinning action to attract fish. The type of lure you use is a matter of personal preference. Experiment to find what works for you and keep a few extra in your tackle box.

7. Needle nose pliers

Needle nose pliers are needed for taking the hooks out of the fish after you catch them. They’re also sometimes needed to take the hooks out of you.

8. Small first aid kit

Hopefully you won’t have any major medical emergencies while you’re fishing. But small injuries are likely to happen, like getting a hook caught in your thumb or falling down and getting scraped up. For these sorts of things, it’s good to have a small first aid kit on hand. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just throw in some band-aids, Neosporin, a few small bandages, and some waterproof medical tape. That should take care of most fishing-related injuries.

9. Sunscreen

When you’re fishing, you’re going to be out in the sun all day. In order to keep your face from looking like an old catcher’s mitt and to prevent skin cancer, slather on some sunscreen. Face it. You’ll probably forget putting it on before you leave the house. Just keep it in your tackle box, so when you open it up, you’ll be reminded to put it on.

10. Line cutter (nail clippers or knife)


Sometimes you’ll get a snag that you can’t get out of and your only option is to cut the line. While a pocket knife can get the job done, one trick that an old timer at Bass Pro Shop shared with me is using nail clippers to cut your line. It’s quicker and more efficient than using a knife.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think should be in every tackle box? Did we leave anything out in our list? Drop a line in the comment box.

I’d like to thank the employees at the Bass Pro in Broken Arrow and the following Art of Manliness Twitter followers for their suggestions:

@jakefehr, @bbschafer, @mnwilhelm, @kgizzle, @To0n1

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hugh May 14, 2009 at 6:26 pm

You’re missing a stringer for the days bounty, but other than that it looks good.

2 Ethan May 14, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Don’t forget the camera! You wouldn’t want to land the big one and have nothing but a fish story to go along with it. Keeping a treasure like that would be stealing the opportunity from every other man. Catch and Release is a wonderful concept.

Another use for those nail clippers is when you really stick that hook into your thumb. If the barb is snagged on your flesh, the best idea is to push the hook all the way through and snip off the end. Nail clippers are hefty enough for this. That way, you have two smooth little puncture wounds rather than a mangled laceration from that ugly barb.

Love the article!

3 Perry Clease May 14, 2009 at 7:14 pm

In my tackle box I keep:

A small tool kit, in particular small screw drivers so that you can work on the reel if necessary. A Swiss Army knife with some screw driver blades will do.

Speaking of knives, you should always have a fishing knife in your tool box. You should always have a knife in your pocket for that matter, I like the Swiss Army Knife “Executive” or “Diplomat” model.

A roll of tape, electrical tape is fine, you can use it to tape a line guide or tip if the wrappings unravel. If you don’t have tape use a band aid from your first aid kit.

A small flashlight such as a MiniMag or one of those clip-on models with a flexible shaft.

A small packet of cleansing tissue such would be carried in a diaper bag.

4 Do You Dave Ramsey? May 15, 2009 at 4:47 am

Of course this is so very true as it relates to the specific topic at hand… .but it also speaks metaphorically for other aspects of our lives and our needs for being prepared to handle unanticipated events.

5 David May 15, 2009 at 5:35 am

sunblock and insect repellant

6 Ryan Duffy May 15, 2009 at 6:25 am

Don’t forget to bring bug repellent.

7 Pete May 15, 2009 at 6:40 am

#6 A couple of lures – is a little broad for me. I believe one or two top water lures (like the jitter bugs shown in the picture), a Rat-L Trap, and a spinner bait or two.

And my all time favorite the classic Beetle Spin.

The last thing that needs to be in all tackle boxes crackers and Vienna Sausages…

8 Jim Jorgensen May 15, 2009 at 7:46 am

I also keep one of the packages of baby wipes to clean the hands at the end of the trip, some electrical tape for rod repair, and skinning plyers for catfish

9 Will May 15, 2009 at 7:49 am

Now, Brett, let’s also get an article on how to do the fishing — or, maybe I should say, the catching!

10 Matt C. May 15, 2009 at 9:01 am

Suggestion: Pack a multi-tool. Needle nose pliers and line cutter in one.

11 louis May 15, 2009 at 10:14 am

swiss army knife for gutting the fish, and a thin rope for keeping the fish you’ve caught in water until you leave.

12 One Citizen Speaking May 15, 2009 at 10:16 am

You appear to have a fundamental flaw in your “kit” thinking: there is a big difference between freshwater and ocean (not off the pier) fishing in terms of tackle needs and tools. The amount of gear carried is proportional to the distance from a tackle shop when fishing.

For the freshwater kit, I would add a cheap plastic hook-remover (often beats using a needle-nose pliers) and extra line spools with different weight line for my spinning rig, a small spool of “leader,” and a fillet knife if I was planning to eat my catch. For larger hooks, perhaps a small hook hone to keep them sharp. Definitely a stringer and perhaps a small landing net and fish glove.

The best advice I can give about lures, jigs and other dodads is that they are often designed to hook fisherman at the point of purchase, not actual fish!

13 roadbelow May 15, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Gotta bring ibuprofen, Tylenol, aspirin, whatever your prefer. Nothing worse than getting a beautiful day of fishing ruined by a headache that could have been blasted by a couple Advil. Put ‘em in ziploc bag with the toilet paper.

14 Sommelier May 15, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I quit drowning worms when I was in my late teens and was fortunate enough to learn fly fishing from my Dad & his good friend Jack Montague. Jack was a student of Lee Wulff and had put himself through school by tying trout flies.

15 Eric Wright May 16, 2009 at 3:48 am

I would add a ruler or small tape measure to measure the length of the fish.

16 Eric May 16, 2009 at 8:02 am

A filet knife is a must so you can gut them at the lake. Seagulls like fish guts a lot more than wives do.

17 Alex G May 16, 2009 at 8:32 am

Every tackle box needs a fire souce, be it matches, lighter or flint. You might want to cook your catch on the banks.

I prefer hemostats to needle nose pliers, they have the locking ability and because they’re a little smaller, they’re easier to get down the gullet to retreive swallowed hooks.

I always have a few plastic bags to haul any trash I bring (or find) out.

18 Christopher Canova May 16, 2009 at 1:24 pm

I use a fishing tackle box for another reason entirely. My tackle box has:
1. Power supply tester
2. Extra RAM
3. Wrist static strap
4. Thermal paste
5. Processors, AMD and Intel
6. CDs with drivers, etc.
7. External hard drive for backups
8. Extra power supply
9. Screwdrivers, screws, jumpers
10. Canned air

For bonus, i put all the stickers of the computer manufacturers I get on the side. Currently I have Apple, Asus, Intel, AMD, Sapphire, Nvidia, …

19 Robert E. Lee May 16, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Why limit yourself to a box? I carry most of the tackle I use in a vest. The many pockets allow me to carry small boxes for lures, bait, line, hooks, sinkers, tape measure, etc. ready to hand. No need to dig through a tackle box for the things you use the most.

20 Santa May 18, 2009 at 9:01 am

I met a homeless man who once showed me how to fish with just a soda can and string. It was unbelievable. This guy caught 3 catfish in about a half hour. He used grasshoppers as bait.

21 Darin May 18, 2009 at 10:06 am

Watch your step people, or you too may accidently slip through that wormhole back to 1982.

\Worst. List. Ever.

I’m willing to bet that the person who wrote this has caught about 7 fish his entire life, 6 panfish and “HUGE I TELL YOU!!” bullhead.

22 Lee May 19, 2009 at 10:53 am

Can’t really argue on those basics. I would add leaders on to that, but then again I fish off of jetties.

Outside of the tacklebox necessity of sunscreen, don’t forget a good hat. I also highly recommend a cheap towel. I buy them in bulk.

23 The Wingnut May 20, 2009 at 6:56 am

I’ve never had to re-spool my reel while out on a fishing trip, so extra line might not make my list.

Perhaps replace that with snap swivels, for those of us who swap lures frequently, and don’t like cutting our line all the time.

Another thing I carry with me all the time is a stash of trash bags. Those little white grocery bags that every store has work perfect. It only took a few outings to realize that not every fisherman is manly enough to pick up after themselves. So I make it a habit on my way out to clear up any extra line or broken tackle or other trash I find laying around, in addition to any trash I created.


24 Samson May 20, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Paraffin helps too, if the fish aren’t attracted by the looks of your flies/lures. A small ball of paraffin wax on your hook can be a miracle bait. Works with most fish.

Agree with the knife, too. Helps if you gut your fish where you caught them.

25 Cutter May 20, 2009 at 10:29 pm

I agree with the aspirin suggestion, & the multitool instead of needlenose pliers. Just remember that if you keep your tackle box in the garage, those rubber lures might partially melt in a particularly hot summer. No fun scraping that out.

At a wilderness workshop, I learned how to make a hook out of deer bone & a line from the stalk of nettle plants (we also learned fire starting without matches and flint knapping). The next level included fish spears, but I moved away from the area & couldn’t continue the workshops. I really appreciated the concept, though; sonar units bolted to your Bass Tracker just takes the fun out of it.

“You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey…”

26 Jerry May 22, 2009 at 10:13 am

You can’t have a “kit” without a “kit gun”.

27 Jazzmaster May 27, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I still think a bottle of whiskey is a necessity.

28 SmoknJoe June 7, 2009 at 6:15 am

There was one small item I think you may have needed to add in your tacklebox. It could go with the hooks. The “older” fisherman in these parts of NC carry knitting needles with the eyes cut off at the top and a cork bobber slid on the other end. This makes a great panfish/bream hook remover cause you can pick the sizes of the needles for your quarry. Those baby panfish/bream that swallow hooks are a lot easier to let go rather than leaving the hook to rot out or pulling the hook free and letting a catfish or bass make a quick meal out of the damaged fish. I have used mine to remove hooks out of fish that are no longer than an 1 1/2 long that swallowed a #18 hook.

29 SmoknJoe June 7, 2009 at 6:19 am

I forgot to add that the cutoff needle tips will be forked and the edges of the fork will be jagged. You will need to sandpaper the rough edges so as not to injure the fish. Now when you slide this fishook remover into his mouth it will be easier to puish the hook down and up-n-out.

30 Chris L July 22, 2009 at 1:27 pm

In my humble opinion Flyfishing is the only true way to fish. So what you need are proper flies, extra leader, pocket nife or utility tool, a lighter and sunscreen/bug repellent (the sell them as one now-a-days).

31 Flippy Hambone August 13, 2009 at 3:06 pm

If I foul my reel to the point where I need extra line, I might as well go home. Hooks, weights and bobbers are for kids; and sunscreen causes skin cancer and blocks vitamin D uptake.

Here is what I like for an ultra light weight spin casting set up.

1. a lightweight popper
2. a life-like rubber minnow lure with embedded hook and loop tie
3. a rubber worm with embedded hook and loop tie

All can be carried embedded into your cork rod handle, so forget the tackle box all together. Also, without all the extra gear, you can slip in and out of the protected places where the big ones hide.

With lightweight gear and a good casting technique, no weights are required. And when you catch something, if you can’t remove the hook with your bare hands, you better go ahead put on a skirt!

(Actually, I’m joking – I might carry those needle nose in my back pocket just in case)

32 Brian August 13, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Add in a in some snap swivels so you can change your bait.
From lure to lure
or from hook to lure
so much easier than tying all those knots

33 jaden August 19, 2009 at 12:47 am

i use a back pack

34 eligha November 22, 2009 at 1:46 pm

and a gun

35 jon gersbach March 16, 2010 at 9:33 am

I fish for catfish on the river with a guy who uses a small coffee can for his tackle box. Has a rope on it to hang around his neck. Puts all the essentials inside – hooks in an empty tylenol bottle, sinkers at the bottom, skinning pliers, stringer, and that is all.

I have since abandoned the production tackle box and moved on to the tin can method. More durable, no frills, and no extra space to haul all the extra stuff that you “don’t need” but serves only to clutter. Leave the fully stocked tackle box at camp. Your trek to the fishing hole will be much more enjoyable.

36 Jon May 2, 2010 at 7:03 am

A small bottle of Germex comes in real handy too! Its a good way to disinfect those occasional “hand hooks”, AND after you have cleaned your catch, it will get rid of the fishy odor on your hands better than just about anything.

37 James May 20, 2010 at 1:05 am

I see one item that didn’t make the list. In the tackle box one may want to include a laminated card with your current photo, name, adress and phone number of person to contact in emergency. Never know when Mr. Sneaky Snake may decide to take a bite out of you and someone find you laying there not knowing what name to give the paramedics when they pick you up.

I came across a guy once who had a heart attack and was allegeric to a lot of meds…Made me think twice before my next outing what to include in my box.. Of course you have your ID in your wallet or where ever, but if that just happens to fall out when you get moved on the gurney…

38 George January 22, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I also keep a thing of Handi-Wipes to clean the hands and half-a-roll of paper towels just in case.

39 smith sarah March 3, 2013 at 8:09 am

a knife is also needed

40 Daniel April 3, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Multitool (aka Leatherman, aka Gerber) can be used for just about anything in a pinch.
Hand Sanitizer is nice to have if you bring a snack, or sandwich. It’s also great if you are a dipper and don’t want pond water germs/fish germs in your mouth, or if you get hooked, cut, etc.
Stringer…this is a no-brainer.
Although it probably ain’t gonna fit in the tackle box, something to kill your fish like a hatchet, long knife/machete, or a hammer.

That’s my 2 cents anyhow.

41 Cindy June 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm

A pair of worn in suede gloves. And a catfish grabber, for big catches. Definite necessities.

42 D July 18, 2013 at 12:46 am

A plastic bag for sure. Take yours, and some lazier angler’s, garbage with you when you’re done.

43 JOhn July 21, 2013 at 9:04 pm

A leatherman tool can take out hooks and cut lines. Good Deal!

44 dan September 2, 2013 at 11:57 am

u will always need a dis gauger and also bread puncher

45 Charles January 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Hello! For fresh water fishing, I would also include a syringe to slightly blow up the worm. This lets the worm float in the ‘feeding zone’.
A Stringer/laundry bag for the fish is cheap and useful too.
I gave all my tackle boxes away and use a backpack now. You can set up all sorts of different tackle in separate pouches to go inside depending on the types of fish you are targeting. A rag and a camera are helpful too.

46 Andrew January 21, 2014 at 1:59 am

Fishing License, Fishing Stamp. Fastest way to ruin a day is to get busted for not being in compliance and get a stupid fine. Attach it to the back of your hat and they wont even bother walking up to you unless they are hard-up for catching fakes and or checking out your hot wife or gf suntanning.

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