May 5, 2014 Share

Utility Boxes Not Created Equal

Article published 04/19/12 on “From The Dock” on NBC Sports

If memory serves, modular tackle storage system became popular about 13-14 years ago, with companies like Flambeau and Plano offering customizable clear plastic utility boxes in various sizes. These boxes were then carried in hard boxes or soft bags designed specifically for the purpose. I was a fan of the trend from the beginning because it allowed me to organize tackle and then bring only what I needed for that day on the water. In the past, I’d end up lugging a giant 10-tray box that weighed as much as a good-sized Texas buck.

Now that I have the benefit of looking back over years of use, I realized the early tackle systems had a few major flaws. The biggest was the utility boxes themselves. I found the hinges and latches of the early models would last just a week or two of regular use before breaking, and while the adjustable compartments were good in theory, they tended to fall out too easily. Within days, my tackle, cranks and jigs would form a big mess, always hooks out for some reason.

The great news is, the tackle storage companies have continued to address the problems of old and there are some really great boxes now available. During a review of boxes for North American Fisherman magazine, I found myself gravitating to three of Plano’s utility boxes including the Waterproof, Hydro-Flo and FTO Elite Models.

All feature solid latches and hinges (as do most quality boxes today), and each addressed other specific needs. The Hydro-Flo models for example have hundreds of holes in each box to not only allow water to easily flow through the box (ideal for rinsing baits after a day of saltwater fishing), they also promote air circulation for drying wet gear.

I tested this the other day by wetting down a few muskie baits and then storing them in a Hydro-Flo box set in the sun. All baits were bone dry within a little more than an hour. I still have some reservations on these boxes for regular everyday use as they also allow moisture in as well as out, which may mean they are not the best choice for bait stored regularly in the tackle compartments of a boat, for example. I can’t say as I have not yet tested this.

Plano also offers well-built Waterproof boxes complete with a silicone-type sealing ring around the cover. They also come with large latches on three side for secure closure. The boxes did hold out all moisture in my testing. They also held all moisture in. For anglers who like fishing out of kayaks, canoes and float tubes, these boxes are a great option. And three are several other uses for them. Yes, I am a big fan of the product.

But I am an even bigger fan of the various boxes in the FTO Elite Series because they address my biggest beef with most utility boxes—they are not specifically designed to handle key tackle types like spinnerbaits or cranks. By design, these boxes provide general storage, and while they are customizable to a point, the truth is even then they remain marginally suited for the job.

Plano has addressed this with the FTO series, which offers boxes specifically designed to store spinner and/or buzzbaits, small cranks, large cranks, terminal tackle and more.

Most spinnerbait boxes I have used the past stored a ton of baits in compact boxes that looked like what my mom used to use to hold her recipes. The problem was, when it came time to select a bait or two I found myself taking out several just to find the right skirt and blade combination because the box design hid both. The new Plano box hold up to 26 spinnerbaits and 13 buzzbaits at a time, and not only does it keep them securely in place it keeps both the blades and skirts easily viewable.

The terminal tackle model is even more exciting because the box comes redesigned to hold a wide variety of hooks, swivels, sinkers and other gear in labeled compartments. You’ll know immediately when you start running on say, 4/0 offset hooks or 3/16-ounce sinkers. More importantly, because each compartment is molded in you won’t find the dividers sliding up and down and allowing your tackle to find its way into places it doesn’t belong. Cool!

These Plano boxes at around $13-$14 each are more expensive than standard utility boxes, yet in my view the extra investment is worth the added benefits.–Steve