The Right Tackle For The Gulf

Aerial view GulfI thought it would be a good idea to help everybody fill their tackle boxes with the right stuff to catch fish on the gulf side of Florida, in the Fort Myers area. I realize that there are soooo (I could go on forever with this one) many items that are sold at the local bait and tackle stores, many of which are designed to catch the angler not the fish, but I will touch on what I feel is necessary to fill your tackle box. 

First of all, let’s take a closer look at the tackle box itself. With the many options available, I’m a firm believer in the soft-side version with stowaways or plastic Plano boxes. These tackle bags have more storage compartments and can accommodate multiple shapes and sizes of the plastic boxes. 

One word of caution: Go with the anti-rust type or purchase the anti-rust shields; you will be happy you did. If you don’t rinse off your tackle after you have used it in the salt water, it will start to pit and rust, which will cause everything in that box to pit and rust as well. I know; I have experience regarding this problem. I have had an entire Plano box of hooks rust because I put a used one back in without rinsing. 

In addition to being more lightweight, the soft-side tackle bags have less metal and don’t have latches that can break or rust. They do, however, have zippers, which need to be rinsed daily to prevent salt build up. There are some tackle bags that have a rain cover, which can be pulled over the bag to help decrease salt spray exposure. 

The storage boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and take advantage of this. I have separate storage boxes for all my gear. I have all my hooks, weights, floats, soft plastics, hard baits, leader material, spoons, etc., all in their own box and all are labeled on the ends for easy identification. The labels make it easier to find what I am looking for without digging through every box. 

Another idea is to color-code your boxes for identification reasons. You can also separate your boxes by fish species, if you like. When I snook fish from the beach for example, I have two boxes that I use with all the necessary tackle for that day. This way, I don’t have to carry multiple boxes that I will never use. Fly fisherman have used this idea for generations, and why not use it for all other fishing applications, as well. 

Let’s take a look at terminal tackle first: hooks, jig heads, weights, floats and leader material. When loading your box with hooks, variety is best. Multiple sizes of circle and “j” hooks from #1 through 8/0 will do the trick. Go with some smaller sizes i.e. #1 or 1/0 or sheepshead and snapper, and then change to 2/0 – 4/0 for larger species like snook and redfish. When chasing tarpon, I use 7/0 or 8/0. I utilize mostly circle hooks for all my fishing needs these days because of the ease on the fish and the angler. They take all the guesswork from the hook set. 

I also use weighted screw-in type hooks for my soft plastics, so you will want some of those, as well. Using 1/16 oz. to 3/8 oz. will be fine. 

Switching to jig heads -- again, variety seems to be best. Choose 1/16 oz. – 1 oz.; depending on the application, these will cover all your bases. Don’t get too caught up in colors, but some variation may be beneficial. Weights come in all shapes and sizes, and a little of each would suit your needs. Some pinch-ons for easy on and easy off are great. Egg sinkers work best for deeper water and knocker rig application and, therefore, should be a part of your tackle. I sometimes use worm weights for soft plastics, so add a few sizes. 

Floats are used for many applications, but a few need mentioned. Popping corks should be a staple item in every tackle bag -- just make sure and get the ones with the titanium shaft; they won’t get all bent up after a few fish. Also go with the ones that have a concave front as opposed to oval. They make more noise in the water, which will lead to more strikes. I also have a variety of other common floats when I use live bait around mangroves or over the grass flats. Use the weighted floats ... you will get further casts. 

Finally, let’s take a look at leader material. Fluorocarbon has been the big deal for quite some time, and I feel strongly about it, as well. Have a few different strengths -- 15 lb. to 30 lb. for smaller species and 70 lb. to 100 lb. for larger. You can cut pre-length leaders and put them in ziplock bags; it will save you time later. 

Moving on to soft plastics ... I could go on for days and probably not mention everything, but I will touch on what I have in mine. At this point, I should probably have a disclaimer about no guarantees on these soft plastics and the following hard baits catching fish, but then again, that is why it is called “fishing” and not “catching.” 

Walk into any bait and tackle store, and you will see just how many options there are when it comes to soft plastics. Every color of the rainbow and many you could never imagine are available. Some are better catching the angler as opposed to the fish, but what works for one angler should work for others. First and foremost is Berkley Gulp shrimp, crabs and jerk baits. These should be one of the first soft plastics you reach for in any situation. There are times and I have been a witness to them when these will out-fish live baits. Natural, molting, sugar and spice, and white are the colors that I carry. 

Looking at other soft plastics, I have a variety of Zoom flukes in various colors, but my favorites are white, baby bass, lemon shad and watermelon red. I have Bass Assassin Sea Shads and Shad Assassins in root beer and white. I carry multiple colors of paddle tails and curly tail grubs in various sizes, as well. Let’s not forget DOA shrimp, TerrorEyz and Tough Guys. Theses have caught many fish and can be used for numerous applications. 

Let’s take a look at hard baits. These, like soft plastics, come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, which can be used for so many applications. I will focus on what has worked for me, and hopefully will do the same for you. 

A key thing to think about with regards to hard baits is covering all portions of the water column. What I mean here is that you should have hard baits for all depths you might be fishing. Being able to work the entire water column will definitely increase your chances of first locating fish and then catching them. The surface baits that I carry are: Rapala Skitterwalks, Heddon Super Spooks and Super Spooks Jr.’s, Mirror Lure Top Pup and Top Dog, Storm Chug Bugs and the new Bomber Bonk-A-Donk lure. I try and match the color with what is around live bait-wise, but my favorite colors are olive green, white and mullet.

Moving down into deeper water, I like the Rapala Subwalk, X-rap and Twitchin’ Rap. The Mirror Lure Mirrodine, Mirror Mullet, and Mirror Minnow are right beside them. Something else that should be in every tackle box that kind of falls into the hard bait category is spoons. I carry both gold and silver spoons in ¼-oz. and ½-oz. sizes. I do carry some larger ones for king mackerel time in the 1-oz. to 1.5-oz. size. I prefer Bagley’s Chat’r B Rattling Weedless spoons and good old reliable Johnson Silver Minnow. One bait that need mentioned in this category is the CW Crab, which is available in a variety of sizes, colors and sink rates. They can be used for snook, redfish and are a favorite of mine for tarpon. 

Finally, let’s take a look at what accessories your tackle bag should contain. With the new reef species regulations, every angler needs to have a de-hooking device and venting tool. There are many types and sizes of both, so get the one that best matches your type of fishing. You will probably never use the venting tool, but it is a must have. You also need a quality pair of pliers -- don’t skimp on this purchase. Cheap ones will rust quickly and the cutting blades will dull. I also carry a pair of braided line scissors, which come in very handy. If you are a live bait fisherman or fisherwoman, then a live bait knife is a must for cutting ladyfish or mullet. For all you fish eaters -- don’t forget your fillet knife. Also make sure you have a good sharpener for both your knives. A sharp knife makes your life much easier when cleaning multiple fish or the ever-tough sheepshead. 

Well, hopefully I have provided you with all the tackle, tools and gadgets necessary to put together a tackle bag for all your fishing needs. There will be some things that I left out or don’t use that others do, but that is a list of what is in my bag. And as the old saying goes: “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.” That is what has worked for me, so that is what I have provided for you. If you would like to see what I carry on my boat or are interested in a half day of full day of fishing, contact me at 239-229-4705 or on the web at This is Captain Jon, signing off until next month. Until then, I hope everyone enjoys the fishing as much as I do. Screaming Drags!!!!

by Capt. Jon Fetter