Stash and Carry

Stash and Carry

Gear bags for shore storage or boat stowage.

  • By: Ted Leeson
Orvis Gear Bag

Perhaps the only common denominator among all the guides I’ve ever known or fished with, on rivers or lakes, flats or inshore waters, is that every last one of them relied on some kind of gear or tackle bag. Experience teaches, often harshly, the two fundamental, equipment-related precepts of an angling life: first, if you don’t have something, you’ll end up needing it; second, if you don’t keep it packed and ready to go, you’re going to forget it.

Having a tackle bag permanently stocked with the extras, spares, conveniences, and contingencies that you may require on the water is one of the better ways to ensure a smooth fishing trip. In the modern multi-multi-compartment gear bag, you might still forget where you put things, but that is a smaller and solvable problem.

Beyond serving as a physical substitute for memory, tackle bags warehouse your stuff, get it from place to place and protect fragile equipment in the field. And finding a bag that meets your needs starts with an assessment of how you’ll use it.

Will you throw it in the car for a day trip, take out what you need in the morning and lock it in the rig until you return? Will you pack it for destination angling, unload it in a lodge or motel and kick it under the bed until departure? Under these circumstances, a tackle bag functions primarily as a piece of luggage; extreme ruggedness and weather protection are not high priorities and you can live with less-than-optimum convenience in the zip, buckle and strap closures.

On the other hand, if you take it on the water in a boat and fish out of it, frequently accessing the compartments for flies or tippet or flotant, a tackle bag is more like a piece of angling equipment. It should offer convenient storage for frequently used items and have closures that are quick and easy to operate. A waterproof bottom—preferably a one-piece, molded, “bathtub” style—is a must for protection against the bilge and slurry in a boat’s bottom. Furthermore, for saltwater use, non-corrosive snaps and hardware are essential.

Another question to ask before choosing a bag is, Will you carry fragile items—reels, fly boxes, cameras, phone, GPS? A bag with padded sides and cushioned internal dividers offers the best protection. Will you use the bag for air travel? Carrying comfort can be promoted or inhibited by the shape of the bag and shoulder-strap configuration. (All of the bags you’ll see here, by the way, come with detachable shoulder straps.)

If, most often, you carry a large number of smaller items, a bag with pockets, sleeves, and internal compartments is useful in keeping contents sorted out and organized. But to haul mostly bulky stuff—rain gear, fleece jacket, thermos, lunch—bags with a single interior compartment and a wide-opening top are significantly more convenient and protective padding isn’t crucial.

I field-tested a variety of tackle bags that purported to be angling-specific in some way. Here’s how they played out.

Cabela’s Deluxe Gear Bag

The Specs: 18”W x 10”D x 11.5”H; (about 1,384 cu. in.)
Price: $39.99
Organizational Flexibility: Exterior—good, with five pockets, including one full-width with interior sleeves. Interior—fair, with four pockets.
Ease of Access: The three flat exterior pockets are easily accessed; the larger end pockets have excessively tight storm flaps that make zippers difficult to operate. Getting inside the bag is slow and cumbersome; it requires unbuckling a fold-over flap-style top and opening a zippered lid inside.
Bottom Line: The bottom of this bag isn’t waterproof and has exposed stitching, which make it, in my estimation, unsuitable for boat use, as does the inconvenient access. And the flap-over top must be buckled before the bag can be carried or moved. What this bag has going for it is a fairly compact but useful size and big, open interior for bulky gear, at a fairly low price. For an angler seeking basic tackle storage in a car or at camp, where convenient access and weather protection aren’t high priorities, this bag does the job.

L.L. Bean Kennebec River Boat Bag

The Specs: 18"W x 11"D x 10"H (1,980 cu. in.); 1,000-denier nylon canvas, reinforced with synthetic leather
Price: $99. (Larger size is also available, $119.)
Organizational Flexibility: Exterior—high with 10 pockets and sleeves. Interior—high, with eight pockets and two removable padded dividers that make up to three compartments.
Ease of Access: Uncrowded exterior layout and pockets with three-sided zip openings and big, easy-to-see zipper-pulls make contents exceptionally convenient to access. A big, three-sided top flap, and foam sides that hold the bag upright and open, give unobstructed entry to the interior space and a good view of what’s inside.
Bottom Line: Aptly named, this is a highly functional boat bag, with a rigid bathtub bottom and a waterproof storm cover (stored in a zippered exterior pocket). Easily accessed exterior storage and fishing specific features—foam fly panel in one pocket, tippet-dispenser pocket that holds five spools, pliers/hemostat holster, accessory sleeves—rank this bag among the best I’ve seen. A transparent top sleeve holds maps or charts, and generous padding protects fragile gear. The size I tested (small) won’t hold a lot of bulky gear (consider the larger size for that application) but comfortably contains rain gear and plenty of tackle. Ruggedly built with non-corrosive hardware, and not frighteningly expensive, this is a very good value.

Fishpond Storm Mountain Gear Bag

The Specs: 21”W x 11.5”D x 10”H (2,415 cu. in.); 420 denier ripstop nylon and 1,680 ballistic nylon
Price: $195
Organizational Flexibility: Exterior—fair, with four pockets. Interior—high, with 12 pockets and sleeves and five removable cushioned dividers that make up to six compartments.
Ease of Access: Narrow, deep, wedge-shaped exterior pockets are somewhat difficult to access through restricted openings. But the three-sided perimeter zipper on the lid folds back for excellent interior access, while stiffened sides keep the bag from collapsing.
Bottom Line: In general, a nicely executed boat bag. The rigid bathtub bottom and waterproof storm cover (stored in an extemrior pocket) that snugs over the bag afford solid weather protection. While the bag has some angling-specific features like external tippet-spool cords, because of tight openings on exterior storage, it wouldn’t be my first choice to fish out of. But for bringing everything I want in a boat or car and keeping it organized, this a highly practical choice, as it is for anglers seeking larger-capacity storage. I do, however, find the bag a little large and unwieldy as a carry-on for destination travel. There’s good interior versatility here; remove the dividers and you have a capacious, uncluttered space inside for bulkier gear. Ample padding and saltwater corrosion-resistant hardware score high marks for protecting gear.

Orvis Safe Passage Kit Bag

The Specs: 14.5”W x 9”D x 9”H (1,175 cu. in.); coated Velocity nylon
Price: $129
Organizational Flexibility: Exterior—good, especially for its smaller size, with six pockets, including a useful hardshell sunglasses pocket and a waterproof security pocket. Interior—good, with six pockets.
Ease of Access: The long zipper tracks and flexible fabric and outside pockets offer quick, handy access. The perimeter top-zipper, fold-back top, and padded sides make interior contents readily available. Interior mesh pockets give easy view of contents.
Bottom Line: This fairly compact bag is high in organizational features and has good cushioned protection for items inside, though exterior pockets are unpadded. Even with the pull-out rain cover (stored in an exterior pocket) and water-resistant lid zipper, this is not a bag I’d choose primarily for boat use. The wrap-around bottom, while made of a heavier fabric, isn’t waterproof, and with bulkier loads the exterior pockets can sag enough to expose seams to standing water in a boat bottom. The fabric is also fairly absorbent and slow to dry. I found the bag most useful for organizing and hauling tackle in a car and as a carry-on gear bag for destination travel—it’s nicely sized, carries comfortably and the rod-tube straps on top are a convenient touch.

Simms Headwaters Tackle Bag

The Specs: 20"W x 8"D x 11"H; (1,282 cu. in.)
Price: $139.95
Organizational Flexibility: Exterior—excellent, with nine pockets and sleeves. Interior—excellent, with eight pockets and sleeves.
Ease of Access: Four large exterior pockets offer easy, unencumbered access and pockets are stiff enough that zips can be operated with one hand. The foldover, buckling, flap top, which can make some bags clumsy to get into, has a boxtop design that laps over the edges of the main compartment and shields it from drizzle and spray; you can leave the compartment unzipped, for ready access, but protected beneath the overlapping lid.
Bottom Line: A useful layout of pockets, particularly on the exterior, puts a lot of gear conveniently at your fingertips. This bag has some well-designed features—comfortable rubberized carry handle, tabs for pin-on accessories, generous padding that protects gear and holds the bag open for easy use, a pullout rain cover that stores in an exterior pocket. The flap top, however, is a bit inconvenient when it comes to moving the bag, since the flap must be buckled first. And I have some reservations about the wrap-around, waterproof bottom, which is made of folded, polyurethane-coated fabric. Folding the material leaves sharp points at the corners, producing abrasion points that can wear in time. It’s a handy bag to fish from, but I wouldn’t trust the bottom waterproof-ness for long-term use, especially in gritty boat bottoms. For camp or car or air-travel purposes, though, it’s a nice piece of equipment.

William Joseph MAG Gear Bag

The Specs: 16"W x 12.5"D x 15"H (about 3,000 cu. in.)
Price: $249
Organizational Flexibility: Exterior—excellent, six pockets all with additional sleeves inside. Interior—excellent, with five pockets and sleeves in main compartment and three movable/removable dividers to make up to three compartments; a separate zip-open bottom (like you see on some wader bags) has five removable dividers to make up to 12 compartments.
Ease of Access: Frankly, unparalleled. Magnetic closures around the perimeter of exterior pockets can be opened and closed quickly with one hand for superior speed and convenience.
Bottom Line: Rigid, molded, waterproof bottom; water-shedding exterior fabric; surprisingly effective water-resistant seal on magnetic closures; and padded, semi-rigid shell construction make for very good weather and impact protection. The convenient closures and angling-specific features—built-in zinger, foam fly tray in two external pockets, multiple attachment points for pin-on accessories—make this one my first choice for using in a boat. This is, however, a big bag with a large, squarish footprint; it’s a little heavy and takes up a fair amount of deck room in a smaller craft. And I consider this bag impractical for airline travel. But the bag is top-quality, with excellent versatility and state-of-the-art closures—and priced like it.

Wind River Black Canyon Gear Bag

The Specs: 15"W x 9"D x 10"H (1,700 cu. in.)
Price: $124.95
Organizational Flexibility: Exterior—fair, with three pockets (some with interior sleeves) and a small, detachable waist pack. Interior—good, with two pockets and four removable dividers to make up to five compartments; a 10" x 15" removable fly tray, half ripple foam and half magnetic sheet, rests atop the interior dividers.
Ease of Access: Zippered exterior pockets open wide for easy access. Interior access is somewhat awkward, as numerous buckles and straps obstruct the zipper track on box-top-style lid; under the box-top is another zip-opening lid and, beneath that, the fly tray complicates accessing the space beneath it.
Bottom Line: Easy access to exterior pockets, pigtail retractors and plenty of handy fly storage make this a workable boat bag to fish from. Padded sides offer solid protection. The detachable waist pack—just large enough for flies and a few accessories—is a useful feature if you exit a boat to fish. The waterproof bottom, however, is made of folded PVC fabric, producing sharp, abrasion-prone corners. I find the box-top design a bit clumsy to use, especially with the fly tray in place, but in general the bag is conveniently laid out for fishing and has good interior volume.

into Leeson’s Bag

The contents of a gear bag tend to be a mix of the proactive and reactive; they represent both anticipated, potential needs, and those based on various angling-related tragedies you’d rather not repeat. Here’s a partial list of what I keep permanently stashed in my tackle bag, which goes with me wherever and whenever I fish:

Extra tippet material, extra strike indicators and split shot, extra fly flotant and desiccant. Spare leaders, spare sunglasses and reading glasses, spare contact lenses and saline solution, spare wading-boot laces and hat. Sunscreen, bug dope, fly-line cleaner and dressing, wader-repair kit, multi-tool, fingerless gloves, flashlight, eyeglass repair kit with screws and screwdriver, folding scissors, ibuprofen, Rolaids, Vicodin, two butane lighters, five feet of duct tape, lightweight rain jacket, stick of ferrule cement, about $25 in small bills.

All of this takes up surprisingly little space and leaves room for destination specific items—flies, spare reels or spools and all manner of things I want available on a trip, but don’t want to carry on my person because of the bulk or weight or inconvenience.—T. L.

Ted Leeson has tested and reviewed products in our pages for several decades.