CLAYTON, Ill.

Blake Calvert stoked the fire smoldering inside his wood-burning stove, hoping to stir the heat and take the chill out of the air.

Temperatures began falling into the 20s about the time he decided to head to his workshop, and although the fire had been burning for roughly 30 minutes, Calvert wasn't ready to ditch his coat just yet.

"Normally, it gets pretty toasty in here," he said. "But I haven't been out here for a few days, and it's been pretty cold. It'll warm up soon and then I won't want to leave."

Why would he? A small refrigerator is situated in the corner, stocked full with bottles of water, a few cans of Pepsi and a case of Budweiser. A radio hangs over his workbench, already tuned to his favorite country music station. A bag of sunflower seeds he purchased that day lays on the bench next to a small plastic container filled with Christmas candy his grandkids hadn't eaten.

And all around him was the fishing gear he wanted to inventory.

"This is my comfort zone if you want to call it that," said Calvert, a 63-year-old Adams County resident whose sole passion as he nears retirement is fishing. "I don't have a man cave. I have a shed. It's where I get everything accomplished without anyone bothering me. I could sit out here all day and fiddle around.

"It gets me in the right frame of mind for those warm days ahead when all I want to do is get my line wet."

Those days are closer than the 20-degree weather would have you believe.

To be ready when the weather breaks, Calvert and other anglers are spending the long winter days prepping their gear, restocking their tackle boxes and making sure nothing will be amiss the first time they go out.

"You can't pull your equipment off the shelf, clip a lure on the line and think you're ready," said Peyton Thomas, a 36-year-old Quincy angler who takes a week vacation each March and travels south to do some fishing. "If you don't check everything over, you're doing yourself a disservice.

"What if your line is weak? What if you reel is rusty? What if you lost some lures or any piece of equipment and didn't replace it at the time? You can't afford to open your tackle box and realize you aren't prepared."

That's what drove Calvert to spend an afternoon in his chilly shed.

One of the Christmas presents from his wife, Valerie, was a box full of new lures. She didn't know what to buy, but she knew he liked to fish for largemouth bass. So she went to a local outdoors retail store, explained to the clerk what her husband liked to catch and asked him to pick out a batch of new lures.

"Look at some of these lures," Calvert said, opening the top of a shoebox full of lures. "If you can't catch fish with high-quality gear like this, you're doing something wrong. I'm going to want to try them all, but I have to figure out if I have room in my tackle box for everything."

He reached up to the shelf above his workbench where three tackle boxes sat. The first contained everything Calvert needed for a bass fishing trip. The second was filled with nothing but weights, swivels, hooks and line. The third was a vintage metal tackle box showing the wear and tear from years of use, but it was the first tackle box he was given by his grandfather.

"It's sentimental," Calvert said. "I keep lures and stuff in it, but I never use it. It's a memory more than anything."

He pulled the vintage tackle box down with the others, assuming he might need to store some older lures in it.

When he opened his main tackle box, he laughed.

"Yep, I'm going to need the old one," Calvert said. "I don't have an empty compartment in this one."

With that, he started rifling through the lures already filling his tackle box. He plucked a couple he hadn't used in years and set them aside.

He found two crankbaits that were cracked and shouldn't be used any longer. A couple others had bent hooks. One even had a smashed hook.

"I think I stepped on that one," Calvert said sheepishly.

He found a couple of topwater poppers he never liked and a couple of jerkbaits he swears never caught a fish.

"So why waste my time keeping them in here?" he said.

By the time he checked every compartment, Calvert had created a pile of 10 or 12 lures he no longer needed.

"I'll hold onto a couple of them," Calvert said. "You know, for sentimental purposes."

He opened the vintage tackle box, tossed them inside and moved on.

He never explained the sentimental part of it.

"Let's see what's in the Christmas box," he said, deftly changing the subject.

There was a Strike King red eye shad crankbait, a Berkeley crankbait, a Rapala shadow rap, a Rippin' Rap lipless crankbait and several others that looked similar to each other but had different attributes.

"That's why you need so many," Calvert said. "Every one does a different job."

Getting them organized for easy to access is important.

"You need to know where everything is," Thomas said. "It might not seem vital, but if you know what you want and where to reach for it, you don't have to spend a lot of time fumbling around. It means you get to keep your line in the water more."

In the end, that's the ultimate goal.

It's why cold winter days are spent in small wooden sheds where the wood-burning stove takes a while to warm things up.

"But where else would rather be other than on a lake dipping your line?" Calvert said. "This is the next best thing."

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