April 01, 2021
By John Felsher
Professional anglers spend considerable time on the road and commonly acquire enough fishing and boating equipment over the years to rival small sporting goods stores. Gerald Swindle, a top professional bass angler from Guntersville, Ala., likes to make custom storage devices and other projects for his home, vehicle and boat.
"I'm a redneck," he quipped. "My family members were carpenters and tradesmen. Growing up, I just watched them. A lot of stuff fishermen need are hard to find so I build what I need."
First, Swindle built himself an L-shaped workbench for his shop and made shelves out of white pine to store tackle and equipment. The shelf widths correspond to what he wants to put on them. At a cost of $100 to $150 for materials, the shelves are a long-term storage solution Swindle can utilize as long as he lives in that house.
"I want everything neat," he said. "I don't like clutter. The shelves come up about 36 inches from the floor. I use the top shelf for more storage to keep everything organized."
Above the shelves, Swindle placed "slatwall," a type of grooved paneling, in which he can insert metal clips between the slats to hang assorted bait bags and other tackle, all organized according to type, size and color like in a sporting goods store.
Some people nail or screw in hooks to their basement rafters or other places and hang individual rods horizontally. Swindle cuts the bottoms out of 5-gallon plastic buckets and attaches the buckets to the shelves. The buckets hold many rods together vertically.
"Being more organized at the shop helps the packing experience," Swindle said. "People can always put what they need in a truck, but finding it when they need it becomes the issue."
Professional bass anglers often compete in several tournaments in a row, meaning they have to be geared up for different needs at each lake. They might need different baits and rods for each event, for example. And in between tournaments, pros regularly attend sponsor events, like filming shows, participating in media opportunities or appearing at outdoors expos.
Before leaving home, every pro must carefully pack for each stop on a trip. Even the largest vehicles can only carry so much cargo.
"When we leave home for weeks at a time, we have to do hours of preparation that most people have no idea professional anglers do," Swindle said. "I've spent so many hours trying to figure out the best way to pack a truck. My wife says I tear it apart every time I come home because I'm constantly seeking the best way to pack where I can find things easily."
Swindle drives a Toyota Tundra CrewMax pickup with a 5.5-foot bed. Sometimes, he pulls a camper when taking extended trips to make lodging more economical.
"When I'm getting ready to go on a trip, I try to pack on a schedule," Swindle said. "I plan what I'll need for each stop so I'll first pack the last things I need to take out. I'll put them against the cab. What I'll need first, I put in the most easily accessible part of the truck. I also take some things I might need at any time, like my tools, extra flashlights, chords and things like that and put them where I can easily reach them."
In the truck, he has built a shelf made from plastic-injected wood so it won't rot if it gets wet. He fit it across the top where the bed meets the cab and screwed it down to the top of the truck bed. He measured the plastic boxes that would go on the shelf and cut the wood so everything fits securely. He also labeled each box so he can easily see what it contains.
"In the past, I've built two or three shelves against the back of my truck, but I learned that it's better just to have one at the top," he said. "I spent about $30 on the shelf and installed it in 30 minutes. I can stack 20 or 30 boxes across the shelf to keep them above everything."
Finally, he added a piece of angle iron an inch high to the front of the shelf to make a lip. This holds the boxes in tight. The iron also stiffens the wood so it won't flex and remain stable.
"I bought a bunch of heavy-duty plastic storage totes that click down together," he said. "I can stack two or three totes on top of each other and slide them under the shelf. I put a couple clear totes on top with things. I call these my ‘collect-all' boxes. I try to maximize storage, but still have a quick ability to glance in there and pull out what I need. I even turned one of the camper bunkbeds into tackle storage."
Boxes can carry many baits and other small items, but not long fishing rods. To transport his rods, Swindle bought a 9-foot-long Rod Coffin rooftop container. Made of lightweight aluminum, the locking container provides watertight security. With rods secured atop the vehicle, nothing falls on them or otherwise damages them.
"Rods break easily," Swindle said. "I learned long ago that the more accessible rods are, the more likely they will break. By storing them at the top of the truck, they are better protected. I can put 60 to 70 rods in the Rod Coffin and another eight to 10 with reels on top of the others. I added a little section where I keep my hats and other stuff."
For a specific tournament, Swindle takes out the rods he needs and loads them in his boat. Whatever he doesn't think he'll need in the boat that day goes back into the Rod Coffin or other storage. Many anglers keep multiple rods on their fishing decks, but Swindle only keeps handy what he plans to use at that time. He sometimes stops in the middle of fishing a tournament to put gear back in its place.
"I want my stuff organized so I know where everything is," he said. "I do as much prep work as I can before I ever get to the tournament. Sometimes, I might walk around just looking and thinking before I start packing to figure out what I'll need and where it goes and then start loading it. It's a comfort factor just to put my eyes on it so I know it's packed."
On the Boat
Most bass boats come with adequate storage for rods and tackle, but on his Phoenix, Swindle customizes the factory-installed rod storage system for added storage and protection. He adds foam rubber matting to the locker bottoms to better protect the rods and reels, and encloses the rods with Rod Gloves (www.therodglove.com) to keep them from entangling each other.
"I do not like my rods beating around in a plastic tube," Swindle said. "I can store rods in Rod Gloves and they won't tangle as bad. Also, if a lure falls on the foam rubber mat, it won't snag as easily. I can just reach down and pick it up."
Notorious for accumulating and hoarding tackle, most fishermen don't like to part with anything. However, Swindle recommends that people get rid of whatever they never use by selling it or giving it away. This reduces clutter and makes room for what anglers use regularly – or where they can put new stuff.
People can search the internet and find instructive videos detailing practically anything they want to do or make. When building a project, if a person messes up, that angler can start over. People habitually learn more from their mistakes than their successes.