World’s First Soft Tackle Management System?

April 1987 Field & Stream Article snippet

April 1987 Field & Stream Article snippet

OK, perhaps not the world’s first, as that might be hard to determine, but it’s certainly the earliest mention of such a tackle bag I’ve found in traditional bassin’ style magazines. First though, the context.

The year is 1987. Scrolling through the pages of my Bassmaster Classic Press Guide, I see Plano as one of the official Classic sponsors. In the nifty little center foldout are product ads from all the Classic sponsors. Plano’s is the 777RN drawer box, one of those big hip-proof beige and tan hard plastic cases that we all used to carry around. The ad touts this as “the angler’s dream tacklebox designed with convenient removable drawers, varied spacing and firm latching to hold any kind of tackle.”

Later inside the guide is a story on “Tools of the Trade” by H. Lea Lawrence. In it, he quips that Classic Champ Hank Parker “prefers tackleboxes with drawers for organizing crankbaits and other plugs.” The bassin’ world is still years away from the next big thing in tackleboxes, those semi-transparent lidded Magnums and Over-Unders with multiple adjustable dividers that you could argue are the precursors to the individual 3600/3700 style bag systems.

Yet there it is in an April 1987 edition of Field & Stream Magazine, a custom made soft tackle bag comprised of several 3700 style individual boxes, zippered top, shoulder harness – looking a little like an oversized lunch bag, but certainly no mistaking it as the grandfather of those various soft pack bags we all now lug around when out fishing.

The article is by Bob Stearns and is titled “An All-Season Tackle Bag.” It actually appears in his Saltwater Fishing section. The byline next to the picture states “No matter where you’re fishing – from boats to beaches – this bag can tackle every situation.” Bob had the idea of such a bag, and brought it to the attention of Don Stephens, a custom canvas shop owner down in Miami, Florida at the time. Don built the bag as a one-time deal for $75. Again, keep in mind that this is 1987, and the inflation adjusted cost for that bag would now be about $150.

It took about 2 weeks for Don to build the bag. The bags dimensions were approx. 9″ x13-1/4″x 18″. There is an adjustable shoulder strap, and two 9″x 13″x 5″ end pockets for carrying larger items like reels or folded up rain jackets. Inside, the bag can house up to 6 “yellow M8xx Flambeau utility lure boxes.” The article states that these can be had in most shops for around $5 each. They come in 2 popular versions, the M806 and the M824 (6 and 24 compartments accordingly). Bob used a plastic label tape gun to label each mini box accordingly. The bag is not waterproof.

Bob goes on to state, “This soft bag system will work just as well in freshwater fishing applications as in the salt, though in most cases it probably wouldn’t have to be near as large”, though I have to chuckle at that one. I don’t know if Bob ever tried to claim rights to the idea, or if anyone in the tackle industry noticed at the time. Perhaps it was just a natural evolution that had to play out. Regardless, these soft tackle management bags are now “the deal” in bassin’ circles, and this 25 year old story might have been the first look into the future of things to come.

  • Harold Sharp

    I was born in 1927, my dad taught me to Bass fish when I was about 8 years old and he always carried his tackle in a soft bag with a shoulder strap on it as did all the other Bass fishermen that he knew. This was in the days when everyone walked the banks and fished for bass, very few boats were around and they were used mostly by trot line fishermen. I started using a metal tackle box in the mid-60’s when I got my first Bass boat and later went back to the soft bag to carry my tackle to and from my boat. So soft tackle boxes have been around for many years.