FRABILL RUBBER REPLACEMENT NET

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

Over 90 percent of the fish that come aboard my boat are hauled aboard using rubber mesh landing nets, simply because they are about 10 times less prone to tangling with hooks than nets made of other materials.  I’ve tried “string” nets, plastic coated nets – both “store-bought” and DIY versions covered with spray-on products like Flex Seal. The coated nets are slightly better than non-coated versions but can’t compete with rubber nets.

Some net manufacturers offer rubber mesh models, some don’t and some of those that do don’t offer them in versions large enough for good-sized Great Lakes salmon and trout or with handle lengths suitable for most trolling boats. That’s why both of the “rubber” nets I use on my boat are hybrids. 

I retro-fitted replacement rubber nets from Frabill (model number 3070) onto net frames with suitably-sized handles and adequate hoop sizes made by other manufacturers. The 3070 is Frabill’s largest rubber replacement net, said to fit hoops 23 X 26 inches. One of my hoops is several inches larger, the other slightly smaller than this, but the basket is rubber. It stretches and will work just fine.

When I have fish approaching 20 pounds or larger, I drag out a bigger, string-basket net, but I regularly and easily scoop up fifteen pounders or larger with the 3070 hybrid. The largest fish ever boated with this net was a 26-pound king. 

If you can’t find them anywhere else, they can be ordered direct from http://www.frabill.com.

NORTHLAND RUMBLE LURES

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

Sometimes the old saw about everything old becoming new again makes sense. Before the first molds were made to make lures from plastic, various types of wood were carved to make fishing “plugs.” Once lure makers sprouted in the plastics industry and many existing brands “reimagined” their baits as plastic, lures crafted from wood, except in a few cases, became endangered species.

Millions of fish have fallen for plastic lures, but that doesn’t mean they were necessarily better. Plenty of fish still fall for the few brands of wooden lures still out there. Balsa ShadRaps and Rapala Jointed Minnows will be in my tackle box forever.

The fact is, the switch from wood to plastic wasn’t made to make lures more appealing to fish; it was an economic decision. The fish don’t care, in fact, my choice of balsa ShadRaps over say, plastic Flicker Shads is because the fish like them better – some of the time – maybe most of the time. So in the competitive fishing lure business, it’s no surprise that a few lure makers are going retro and producing lures made of balsa or other wood – to catch more fish as well as more fishermen.

Few companies know walleyes better than Northland Tackle so when this north woods company based in Bemidji, Minnesota rolled out their balsa wood Rumble Shads and Rumble Sticks last spring, I got some and put them to use and abuse on my early June trip to Lake Erie. My friends and I used them, the walleyes abused them.             My favorite color in the dirtier than usual water was the “Sneeze” color – yellow with green/black spots. We did well with the Rumble Shad in the Bubble Gum Tiger color, as well. Check these and other “Rumbles” out at retailers, big box outlets or on-line at http://www.northlandtackle.com 

MUDPAW SHOES – ROMEO

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

There are few things more uncomfortable than having wet feet whether you are walking, driving or sitting in a boat. That’s why boots were invented.

Much of the time, however, boots aren’t needed or wanted. You wouldn’t put on a pair of boots just to walk across a dew-laden grassy lawn to get in your car.  You wouldn’t carry a pair of boots with you just because you know the floor at the fish cleaning station is going to be wet. It’s easier to just be careful when walking through a parking lot if the asphalt is puddled with rainwater than to put on a pair of boots.

 All these places and more have had me enduring wet feet because I was too lazy to slip off my Chuck Taylors and put on something a bit more waterproof – whether it was a quick hike through the “danger zone” or a morning on the boat in damp weather. 

Irish Setter Mudpaws to the rescue. These are rubber shoes built to Irish Setter’s strict standards for quality footwear that made them the favorites of outdoorsmen for over 70 years.

They’ve kept my feet dry in each of the situations above and others. At first glance (and feel) I thought the Romeo model might be more “pull on” than “slip on.” I wasn’t able to insert my foot like I would in a Crocs or other clog-type rubberized shoe, but the stretchy neoprene upper and the handy finger pull tab at the heel makes donning the “paws” more of a tug-on operation.

Once on, the removable foot bed provides the underfoot comfort which has made Irish Setter boots an American favorite and what Irish Setter calls “TempSens” technology helps keep feet from becoming sweat-wet on the inside. Top it off by looking at the bottom. The soles have a relative aggressive tread to provide firm footing in wet conditions. See them or buy them online at http://www.irishsetterboots.com, Amazon as well as many big-box outdoor stores.      

MINI-KEEP KOOL WORM CONTAINER

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD    

        It’s a problem I discovered over 50 years ago when a digging a soup can full of garden worms was a precursor to every fishing trip. There was no problem catching the worms, the problem was keeping them alive and squirming.

            Soup cans had no insulation. I eventually graduated to insulated worm containers that were better, but even in a special cooler, a hot summer sun can easily kill more worms than you feed to the fish.

            The folks at Hagen’s Fishing have come up with a worm container that will keep worms cool and comfortable all day or all weekend. The concept is simple. Start with a specially shaped, reusable, ice-pack which can be used over and again. The ice-pack slides into a soft, insulated jacket to slow the thawing and warming of the frozen liquid inside and a special container, slides into a special recess in the freezer block. The worms go into the container and stay comfortably cool all day. At the end of the day, the worm container can be slid into a cooler or fridge; the ice-pack can be refrozen in a freezer in a few hours. 

            First, let me say the thing worked. I spent five sunny, summer days on Lake Erie in an open boat with this container protecting our nightcrawlers. The crawlers were just as healthy on Friday as they were on Monday when they were put in it.

            I questioned the wisdom of making the jacket white in color when I first saw it, but then I realized the white color extended the length of time the container will keep the worms cool. I’d rather have a dirty worm box than a dead nightcrawler.

              They are available in two sizes. The largest will hold twelve dozen crawlers, the smaller will hold six dozen. Check them out and purchase these at http://www.hagensfish.com. But plan on spending some time on Hagen’s website. Hagen’s has literally thousands of SKUs of fishing products. I doubt the worm box will be the only thing in your order.

RENO GLOW STICKS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

Joe Reno, owner and lure designer at the Reno Bait Company, has some of the most imaginative paint patterns and finishes on his lures of any available anywhere. Now he’s added patterns that overlay a glow-in-the-dark body in his Shallow Diver stickbait line-up. Glow lures are a staple for salmon and trout in the Great Lakes, but somewhat unique in the walleye world.

I question why. I gave these “glow sticks” a workout on my annual foray to Lake Erie for the same reasons I use glow-lures back home for salmon and trout. We started our days early and were setting lines by the time the sun cracked the horizon.  We hit the glow-stick with a dose of UV light from a special flashlight and sent it out. It never stayed out for long.

 it stayed out most of the morning, even after the sun was high enough to light up the depths. We were there soon after the Memorial Weekend blow had muddied the Western Basin waters. The fish didn’t have to dive deep to avoid the bright sun. We ran the Reno Shallow Diver with no weight or diving aides early, then moved it to run a bit deeper using downriggers, Dipsey Divers or lead core where it remained a top producer under these cloudy-water conditions.  Check them out where ever Reno Baits are sold or at http://www.renobaitcompany.com.  

CME TROLLING – EYED BULLET HEADS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

You wouldn’t buy a J-Plug or other crankbait that didn’t have eyes painted on them, would you?  Many popular trolling spoons come with eyespots; I often tape aftermarket spots on the spoons I purchase that don’t come with eyes.

How many of the trolling flies you use have eyes?  Not many, but still, they catch fish. Is there a reason other lures need eyes but trolling flies don’t?  I can’t answer that for sure, but I’m sure an eye on the head of the fly would never hurt and just might get an extra bite or two from super-wary fish.            

CME, maker of my favorite bullet heads to use when making my own trolling flies, now make bullet heads with prominent eyes. I like them!  Here are the first couple flies I made with the Eyed Bullet Heads.  If you make your own flies and like the idea of making some with eyes, check out http://www.cmetrolling.com 

SMART TROLL II – DEPTH/SPEED/TEMP PROBE(S)

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD            

Much of the time, fishing without a “probe” to measure the temperature of the water at the depth the lure is being trolled and/or the speed of the lure is like star gazing at night while wearing sunglasses. Salmon, trout, walleyes and other fish often relate to water temperature and down deep, where the cool water is located, lake currents make relying on GPS or other speed readings imprecise. 

In short, knowing the speed and water temperature down where your lures are positioned is far more important than the speed and temperature at the lake’s surface. You’ll see more stars when you take off your sunglasses. You’ll catch more fish when you use a “probe” device. 

“Probes” are all two-part products. Part one for most of them is a about the size of a D Cell flashlight that connects to a downrigger cable just above the weight probe to measure the speed and temp. Part two is a unit on the boat to display the readings being measured in the depths. I’ve used all of the popular brands; I currently have a Fish Hawk X4 on my boat. So why was I willing – even excited – to put the Smart Troll II on my boat?

Because the size and drag caused by the X4’s (and others I’ve used) big probes creates a significantly greater amount of blowback on the ‘rigger with the probe on it. This makes setting a lure at a specific depth somewhat imprecise and occasionally causes tangles with adjacent downrigged lines. The Smart Troll II probe is about 80 percent smaller than the probe on my X4; and in addition, the display registers the true depth of the probe in along with the speed and temp.

Since the ST probe is small, it just clips to the downrigger wire with an Offshore OR-16 pinch pad. If the downrigger ball is lost, the probe will still be on the cable.

Or just don’t run the Smart Troll probe on your downrigger at all. The speed measuring part of the probe can be removed and without it, the temperature and depth measuring part of the probe is the size of an AA battery.

“Many guys don’t worry about the speed so much, and put the temperature and depth probe just ahead of or behind their Dipsey Divers,” said Darrell Huff, owner of Smart Troll. “They let out line on their diver gradually, not as much worrying about the amount of line as watching the temperature readout as the diver goes deeper. Once the temperature shows the diver is in or under the temperature break, the Smart Troll will show it’s exact depth. From there, the fisherman can set his downriggers and by checking the line counter on the diver reel, use that reading to position other divers.”

Or, put one of the probes on each diver. Or put temp probe(s) on the divers and one with the speed attachment on a downrigger to monitor the boat’s trolling speed.  Probes are sold separately or in kits with two to six probes.

There’s no display unit to mount somewhere on the boat. Instead, the probes “report” to a receiver (a black box which can mount anywhere on the boat) and the receiver sends a Bluetooth signal to your Android SmartPhone. Here’s the kicker – the SmartPhone App will monitor up to six probes simultaneously – showing the true depth at the probe and the speed at the probe if the speed attachment is mounted.  Available from http://www.smarttroll.com.

GILL SHORT CRUISING BOOTS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

If you’ve ever been on a salt water charter boat or watched any of the reality fishing shows about  anything from shrimp to wicked tunafish, you’ll notice the footwear worn by the  crewmen and deck hands on these boats is what are called “deck” boots. Gill Fishing calls theirs “cruising” boots. It makes sense, the back decks on these boats are often wet places where washdown hoses are in constant use to keep the surface clean and free of blood, slime and squished bait.

            Most Great Lakes boats don’t get quite that amount of abuse, but some do. I know on my boat each time someone bounces a bloody-mouthed salmon or a slimy laker poo-poos on my boat’s floor, out comes my washdown hose.

            When the water is warm, in the heat of summer, working a wet deck in sandals or quick-drying Crocs may be comfortable enough, but much of the spring and fall, the air is cold and the water is colder. A comfortable pair of deck boots are perfect.

            If you think they’d be perfect for you, check out the Short Cruising Boots available from Gill. They slide on easily, with just enough tightness around the ankle to keep them snug when walking around in them. As I mentioned earlier, I wear Crocs in the warmest months – primarily because I find the spongy material very comfortable for walking and standing. I don’t know if the insoles of the Gill deck boots are the same material, but it’s every bit as comfortable on my feet. The insole is removable, if needed and the lining of the boot is a comfortable polyester.  The rest of the boot is made of a 100% natural rubber compound with a non-slip sole.

            For wet days or wet decks when fishing for wicked tuna or whopper walleyes, a pair of Gill Short Cruising Boots will be perfect for you. Available at many retailers, at Amazon.com or online at http://www.gillfishing.com.  When I wrote this review, online purchases from the Gill Fishing website included free shipping and returns. 

SHOXS SHOCK ABSORBING SEAT PEDESTAL

Reviewed by: Capt. Mike Schoonveld

            The Great Lakes are bumpy places. Sure, I’ve been out on each of the five lakes when they were mill-pond smooth, but I’ve been out many more times when the boat I was in was bouncing through, up, over and ultimately down in lumpy waves, chop and rollers.

            With over five decades of Great Lakes experience, I’ve learned some boats are worse than others, some sea conditions are worse than others and some of the lumps and bumps are painful. What you might not know is every time your boat splashes down hard enough to make you go “oof,” whether it throws a spike of pain into your butt or up your spine, you are doing damage, often permanent damage, to your spinal column and other joints.

            Many factors feed into any particular person’s susceptibility to lower back pain. Some people have backs of steel and can ride bucking horses or bouncing boats for a lifetime and never have a problem. Others end up with chronic back problems for seemingly no reason at all. Everyone else is somewhere in the middle, but one thing is for certain – my tolerance for rough water boating has gone down over the years.

            Instead of giving up on fishing on all but the calmest days or buying a larger boat which might smooth the ride, I looked for a “shock mitigating seat” (or seats) to upgrade my current boat and make riding across a bumpy lake surface significantly more tolerable.

            I quickly learned most of these mechanisms are huge, almost like bolting a Lazy Boy recliner at the helm; some of them require cutting holes in the boat’s deck to utilize the space between the deck and hull, some require swapping out both the seat and the seat’s mount or pedestal and a few require professional installation. Add more $$$ as complexity increases.

            The brand and model I got to save my back and butt is made by Shoxs, an established leader in the shock-mitigating boat seat industry. Called simply the X4, it’s the most compact of any brand I investigated, took up the least amount of room in my boat and was a simple, DIY installation. 

            Though Shoxs does sell seats to fit atop the X4 pedestal, all I wanted to do was remove the existing seat at my helm from my existing pedestal, then remove the pedestal, then fasten the X4 to the floor and put my old seat on the X4.  It was easier than I expected; in fact, removing the original pedestal which had been in place for more than 20 years was the most difficult part of the process.

            Installing my existing seat was a snap. The mounting boat holes at the top of the X4 aligned perfectly with my existing seat and the holes to fasten the pedistal to the floor matched perfectly with the original bolt holes. I did increase the size of the lags I used to secure it to the floor from the 1/4″ originals to 3/8″ suggested by Shoxs. Easy-peezy.

            The amount of cushion effect on the X4 is adjustable and what adjustment needed depends on both the size of the person sitting in the seat, the waves being encountered and the ride of the boat on which it’s installed. I’m a big guy and need a stiffer setting than if my petite wife would be in the seat. My 21 foot fiberglass boat has a better ride than your 19 foot aluminum model. Adjust as needed.

            Adjusting is simple by adding compressed air, or letting out a bit of air through a Schrader valve – like the valve stem on you vehicle’s tires. A bicycle tire pump will do the work.

            Does it mitigate the shock?  A friend and I tested it out on a windy day on Lake Michigan. The 20 mph wind was pushing steep sided two to fours – mostly three footers. I powered up to a speed a bit faster than the maximum speed I’d usually go in those conditions – for safety and to keep from breaking something. My GPS hovered between 23 to 27 mph.

            I’d trimmed the boat to cut through most of the waves, but occasionally it would slam down into the wave troughs. In the seat with the X4 I could feel the waves, but I could also feel the seat cushion the bumps and smooth the ride. My friend (another big guy) and I switched places, I rode in the passenger seat next to the helm and Tom drove the boat at the same speed.

            We agreed, the ride in the drivers seat was “significantly” smoother than in the passenger seat. “Significantly,” in this case means money well spent to make my days on the lake more comfortable and save wear and tear on my spine and other joints in the long run. That’s what I think and that’s what other customers including the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy think. Both have installed Shox seats and pedestals on many of their fast response vessels.

            Available direct at the Shox website: https://allsalt.com/landing/shoxs, other online marine suppliers and some retail outlets.