Article - Hall of Fame

The Stewart Tackle Box

By Ian, added on 17/04/2009

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Back in the sepia Seventies, that cigarette smoke-filled era of endless strikes, the three-day week (how familiar is that likely to become in credit crunch Britain?), inflation, Pan’s People, the Morris Marina and patronising Public Information films, there was one constant: the Stewart Tackle Box. Nowadays, every tackle emporium is festooned with boxes in all makes, sizes and interior permutations. There are removable dividers, boxes within boxes, even boxes within boxes within boxes, all in subtle shades or usefully transparent and some even, God forbid, camouflaged. Companies such as Korum (whose kit I like a lot, I have to say) now promote their Intelligent Tackle Management systems so that you have to buy the bag and the tackle boxes and all are cleverly designed and inter-related to appeal to the collector and maximise the fishing bits’n’bobs storage experience.

But, despite being revolutionary at the time, the Stewart Tackle Box was none of these things. It was grey. If you’ve ever been to Portsmouth on a rainy day in February, that is the colour – where buildings, sea and battleships meld into one nondescript, depressing hue. It was reassuringly, unfussily solid. It didn’t ponce around with user-friendly dividers; the partitions provided were those you got, so get used to it and buy tackle that fitted them. I’m surprised there wasn’t a Public Information film that exhorted the viewer to do just that. In truth, some of the compartments were just too narrow and too deep, meaning that people with normal-sized fingers required tweezers to extract items. However, since there was room for a pair of tweezers in another slot, who cared?

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The Stewart Box wasn’t just a toolbox that had been cannibalised to be used for angling (useful though these were), it was specifically designed for fishing (it had to be, there was a big label on the lid pronouncing this fact). It was, by today’s standards, quite large and was, of course, designed to fit inside a wicker basket, leaving room for your bait box, a flask and sandwiches, a plastic mac and a reel or two. And that was all you needed to take, apart from a rod and a net, really. When I look now at the profusion of tackle and widgets available, I wonder how we ever managed to catch any fish. We must have been so under-prepared.

I tried to find out something about the history of the box for this HOF proposal, but, as with many of my fishing trips, I blanked. Perhaps the company I found, now styled (horribly) with a nod to the Dot.Com boom as “Stewart – Solutions in Plastic”, is where the box originated. It is as though Stewart Tackle Boxes arrived unannounced and disappeared in similar fashion, no doubt in parallel with, or as a result of, the explosive expansion of the tackle industry from the mid 80s onwards.

My own Stewart experience went through several phases. First, I bought the aforementioned large, grey box. This was just the canine’s testicles as far as I was concerned – I could keep all my extraneous bit’n’pieces in one place instead of a collection of wooden boxes, old tobacco tins and film canisters. Everything could be on hand when needed at the bankside. There is something strangely satisfying about sitting on your basket on a riverbank, Stewart Box on your lap and sun on your back, sorting through various permutations of float, hook, shot and leger – perhaps it’s the misleading impression it gives the passer-by that the fisherman actually knows what he is doing and is seriously organised.

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Another 70s invention was the Dymo labeller. Here I am talking about the old fashioned type with the rotating dial which punched words, letter by letter and very laboriously, onto a roll of coloured PVC tape. In true Blue Peter fashion (another 70s institution), the backing was then removed to reveal a sticky surface and the label could be applied. This was a Godsend for cataloguing types and obsessives, ie anglers, and meant one could label tackle boxes, including the Stewart. Mine was no exception.

This first phase lasted a couple of years. Then, as funds became more readily available due to holiday work, I got a couple of the smaller boxes for storing more esoteric tackle items and could kid myself that I had joined the realm of the Specimen Hunter. This khaki-clad, floppy-hatted individual was the epitome of angling at that time, about 1978 BC (Before Carp) and any self-respecting Dick Walker/Jim Gibbinson/John Bailey wannabee had to have the right kit. But nothing outlandish - in those days, a pole was for dancing round on MayDay and a rig was something dropped in the North Sea to extract the increasingly expensive petrol we used to go fishing.

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Then, wonder of wonders, a new Stewart Box appeared in my tackle shop. This comprised the same basic design and layout of partitions (still fixed, not for pansies) but had a transparent lid. What’s more, it was a sort of bright, yellow colour. What a revelation. Now the user could see what he had in his box without opening it to the elements. I still managed to affix Dymo labels to mine – a severe case of have the technology, must use it. I could try to fool you into believing that I could read the labels, Braille-like, when night fishing, but you are too smart for that to work. Anglers awash with money could now have several boxes, each kitted out with different tackle for different situations, and select the appropriate box from the shed on the day of fishing, as opposed to the usual practice of grabbing the basket in a rush and getting a nasty surprise as dawn broke over the perfect tench pond only to find they had a selection of Mepps spoons and some mackerel traces.

I see now that this was the start of the Stewart Box’s demise. Other tackle manufacturers clearly saw the market for Designer Storage and the rest, as they say, is History. The Stewart Box diminished and passed into legend. I still use mine from time to time, and when I open the lid I can smell the riverbanks of my youth and hear the Sounds of the Seventies. On vinyl, obviously.

For all these reasons I offer The Stewart Tackle Box to the PP Hall of Fame.

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