BY MIKE STEVENS
Never get caught on the road and near water without gear again
SAN CLEMENTE – A little over a decade ago, I entered the world of the married and suddenly found myself traveling for other than self-serving reasons: birthdays, weddings, reunions and various other trips that non-singles take. When there’s an angler in the equation, there will almost always be a moment where a body of water is spotted followed by that instant, “Man, if I only had a rod and reel on me.” After having that scenario play out about half-a-dozen times, I decided to put an end to it and create a “go everywhere” fishing kit consisting of a travel rod, durable reel suited for fresh and salt and I limited myself to one utility box for all tackle and accessories. It all had to not only fit in at least some combination of checked and carry-on baggage, but it also had to take up very little space therein.
We all love our fishing tackle arsenal. That forest of rods in the garage, enough reels to make you run across some you forgot you owned, and holy smokes, the lure collection. While our mini on-site tackle shops should always be held in high regard, there’s something to be said about being in a position where you’re limited to a minimalist kit. Cover as many bases as possible with the fewest amount of items taking up the least amount of space. Everything has a role. Dead weight is the enemy.
I had to find a rod and reel combo that was fit the “Jack of all trades, master of none” bill. It had to be light enough to handle most warm-water stuff on the fresh side: bass, stripers, catfish — you know, stuff that swims everywhere — but I wanted it to be a step above say a finesse spinning setup you might use for drop-shot fishing. It had to also be up to the task when it comes to bigger reaction baits, topwater, jerkbaits, heavier bait rigs, who knows? I wanted at least a 7-footer for versatility, so, it had to be at least a 3-piece stick in a case with some rigidity to it.
The reel had to be a smooth operator so it didn’t feel like a clunky overkill in freshwater, but it had to be able to hang in saltwater. I wasn’t thinking big game or even offshore as far as deploying this rig in salt, but definitely inshore, surf, dock fishing and maybe off a rented kayak, pontoon or smaller boat.
Rod and Reel Procurement:
I settled on a Daiwa Ardito 3- piece travel rod 7-foot, medium power, fast action rated for 8- to 17-pound line and 1⁄4- to 3⁄4- ounce lures. While the lure weight was pretty spot on (although I have used 1-ounce lures in a pinch, and it was fine), it feels and fishes stiffer than most sticks rated down to 8-pound line. I think it’s ideally suited for 10 or 12, and it does come in a sturdy enough case to shrug off anything a baggage handler might put it through.
Originally, I matched it up with a Daiwa Exceler 2500 spinner I already owned, and while it was a balanced fit that fished well, I wanted something I was more comfortable about using in saltwater. I upgraded to Daiwa’s workhorse BG series in that same 2500 size and completed the outfit.
The Lure Thought Process:
This is where things get tricky but in a fun way. Fishing line was actually easy because I knew I wanted to spool up with 20-pound braid, that way, if I needed to go straight braid, it wouldn’t overpower the rod and the reel could still hold a decent amount (170 yards) of it. The braid also brings with it a lot of versatility, since I can always swap out fluorocarbon leader for different weights as needed. Generally, I hit the water with 10- or 12-pound fluoro on the business end, but I have everything from 8- to 20-pound Seaguar and HI-SEAS spools (that take up barely any space) on hand.
I didn’t start losing my mind until I needed to decide what lures to bring. There’s no reason I can’t add or subtract stuff specific to my next trip, but my goal was to come up with stuff that works anywhere and never leaves the box, and take it from there.
First in were easy choices: Krocodiles (3/8 to 3/4 ounce) and Kastmasters (1⁄4 and 1⁄2 ounce). Next came a variety of 3- to 4-inch swimbaits which, for this kit, I basically grabbed a few odd colors of grubs and paddletails I don’t use much in SoCal. Next came jerkbaits, and I tried to stick to those built with saltwater-friendly hardware like Rapala Saltwater X-Raps and Daiwa TD Minnows and just use those same baits in freshwater if it came down to it. After that, I went outside of my comfort zone and ordered some inshore bucktail jigs from a shop on the East Coast. They have a very Florida feel to them (pink, white, natural colors, weird shaped heads). I seem to remember thinking, “bucktails have always been a go-to for just about anything anywhere, right? Might as well have some fun with it and get something that looks like it would be at home in clear, shallow water like the flats off the Keys or something.”
It seems pretty cut and dry, but my head starts spinning when I start thinking any one of those lures could be the hot one for the trip, and it would really suck if I only had one of them and it broke off. On that note, I’d pack extra of each if space permitted, and I was basically stuffing soft plastics wherever they could fit in case they were getting torn up at a one-bait-per-fish clip.
Terminal Tackle and accessories:
This is where I really kept it simple. Gamakatsu Octopus hooks in sizes 6 through 2/0, sliding egg sinkers from 1/4- to 1-ounce, Carolina Keepers and swivels, and I’m set for anything Carolina-rig related and whatever the local flavor of live or cut bait may be. I always have a couple packs of Berkley Gulp! stuff on hand (usually Gulp! Shrimp) in case bait is the way to go but it’s not available on a hyper-local level. The only tools in the mix is something
for hook removal and some- thing that cuts braid. Ideally, it’s something small with a built in cutter, so it’s only one tool taking up space. Braid scissors are a bit of an overkill in this situation, but if you already have compact pliers or forceps, nail clippers will cut braid and don’t eat up space.
The final straw was when I attended a bachelor party in an RV resort along the bank of the Colorado River where it flows past the Parker Strip. We all stayed in neighboring RVs mere feet from the water, and the days were spent entirely in the water (to beat the heat), chairs, EZ-Up shelters, coolers, everything, in the water. I had no fishing gear, and any angler knows how that feels. I could have had a beer around my neck (coozie, paracord, two holes, two knots, done. Do it.) and a rod in my hand the whole time.
We dug the resort so much, we returned with wives and kids for a family version of that trip, and this time I was ready. Right in front of our beach area, I was able to catch my first smallmouth bass on the Berkley Flicker Shad I was casting while standing in knee deep water. Later, I got each kid hooked up on small bluegills on Berkley Earthworms under a bobber.
The kit was never heavier than when I went to Grand Cayman. I had no idea what I was getting into, so I packed the one box as diverse and tight as I could. If we were at a beach, I was surf casting with a Krocodile, and I got the party started with a small, forearm-sized barracuda. After that, it was a mixed bag of snapper near dock pilings, rocks, even in the surf, but the highlight of that trip was being hooked to a tarpon for about 10 seconds. I was throwing the lone Waxwing I tossed in the box and had something rip line off on about a 25-yard sideways run. It jumped four feet out of the water a second after the hook pulled out, which was the only reason I knew it was a (small) tarpon.
There was an element of comedic irony involved in that trip. While it was the adventure I hauled the most gear on, all my fish were caught on the same Krocodile, with that tarpon hookup the only near exception.
A couple years ago, I was staying in some nauseating, white washed all-inclusive nightmare on the beach in Cabo with about 25 other people for everyone’s 40th birthday. It was a nice hotel if you’re into that kind of thing (you know, the opposite of real Baja), but I’d sneak off down the beach every morning to fish around this half-in-the-water rock that stood as the only visible feature along the beach.
The most common catch were pompano and a wacky-looking fish called a lookdown, which I’d only ever seen in aquariums. The best catch of that trip was a small jack crevalle (the locals call them “toros” for reasons that became obvious) that scorched line off the reel and had me jogging up and down the beach a bit. Oh, the Krocodile was the only lure used for all of those, too. There were some pinkie-sized baitfish washing up on shore (I honestly think they were getting pummeled by the booming shore break at that spot) that worked when sent out on the Carolina rig, but artificials were working too well to not use.
These success stories can really pile up, so, I’ll wrap up with a couple quick mentions: I brought the gear to Michigan while visiting in-laws, and I was able to put in work on a small in-town lake where I landed largemouth, smallmouth, big bluegill and whatever the heck a “rock bass” is.
Then, on a work trip to the Stuart, Florida area, I had a dock right outside my hotel room where I could sneak out and fish at the end of each day. It was pretty much fishing in a barrel thanks to the constant chum being flung into the water by offshore anglers processing their catch at the cleaning station on the dock. They were probably all junk fish by inshore Florida standards, but they ate everything in the box.
Upgrades and adjustments:
Like any tackle box or rod-and-reel arsenal or garage tackle shop, there’s always room for improvement, and each trip tends to result in some kind of adjustment. For one, the realization that Krocodiles, plastics and jerkbaits pretty much work everywhere has made me a lot less mental about what to bring. That’s also created more room in the box, which has also been upgraded from the standard Plano 3700 size tray to a roomier, deeper Flambeau box with cooked in rust inhibitors.
In Cabo, I didn’t bring pliers or cutters with the gear because I figured I’d just use the Leatherman tool I take everywhere. That was a big mistake, as I quickly realized it didn’t play well with saltwater. A kit-specific tool(s) is the better option, and if they corrode, at least it’s not a $60 multi-tool.
I only want the rod and reel in my hands, not the box, so rather than having an actual tackle bag slung over my shoulder, I just put a canvas Trader Joe’s shopping bag into play (it also goes wherever I travel because it comes in handy and folds down to almost nothing) and throw in the box, sunscreen, a bottle of water and maybe some grub. If I’m in a non-beach situation and might need to hump more than that (rain gear, etc), I empty my everyday backpack and put it into play.
So there you have it. Oh if I’m invited to your outdoor wedding at Mission Bay and the reception is on the waterfront (also happened), I’ll be there! Just don’t be surprised if you don’t see much of me.