Reviewed by Capt. Mike Schoonveld

When I hear “Field and Stream”, my thoughts go immediately to Field and Stream magazine, the hunting and fishing monthly I’ve been reading since I learned to read. As a kid growing up in a small Indiana farm town, F&S was the vehicle that transported me to hunting adventures and exotic fishing destinations – at least in my mind.

Now, another thing pops to mind at the mention of Field and Stream. Dick’s Sporting Goods now produces a line of outdoor products labelled Field and Stream.  There’s no direct connection with the magazine, but using Field and Stream products still helps me flash back to youthful dreams.

So it is when I spooled up some reels with the three kinds of fishing line available with the Field and Stream label,  braid, traditional monofilament and fluorocarbon monofilament.


I used the braided line as backing on a reel I top-filled with lead core line. I normally choose a bright “hi-vis” colored braided line for this purpose. Field and Stream Angler Braid is only available in a deep dark, almost black, chocolate brown. I actually liked the dark color and found it as easy to see as most of the bright chartreuse or orange colors I usually select. It worked flawlessly in that it has never broke and the normal braid knots I use stayed tied and tight where it was joined to the lead core.

I selected and used 25 pound test F&S Angler Fluorocarbon as the leader material on all my `core, copper and diver sets all summer. Again, it performed flawlessly with no unexplained break-offs or knot failures.
I spooled one of my downrigger reels with 20-pound F&S monofilament for use on staging kings. The mono is only available in clear color and I favor hi-vis but other than that I can’t complain. Many anglers prefer clear mono. Again, flawless performance, no unexplained breaks or knot failures.

If you are at Dick’s Sporting Goods and needing some fishing line, consider Field and Stream Angler Line and expect solid performance. No Dick’s nearby but you’d like a spool of this competitively priced line with the old, familiar name get it on-line at: www.




Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld

Pinch pad type releases are the top choice of many Great Lakes fishermen. No other type is so easy to use. Just pinch the line between the rubber pads. No tensioners to adjust or line twists needed. Just pinch the line some where near the middle of the pinch-pad normally, tuck it way back for a tighter grip, out towards the tip if you need a light release.

It’s not rocket science – it’s clothes-pin science. The line release I ever saw put into play was made from a pinch-type clothes pin. The captain wasn’t a penny-pincher. Downriggers were brand new inventions in the early 70s and there were more anglers used homemade ones than factory models. The same went for line releases.

Since then I’ve pinched line in most brands of pinch-pad releases. They all work about the same, they are all reliable. My advice is to buy what’s available and choose the least expensive one if you have a choice.

When I saw the Troll-Master Seahorse Hydrodynamic Line Releases, I asked the Troll-Master guys what made theirs different than the others? “They are hydrodynamic,” I was told.

Indeed they are on closer inspection! Look close at them and you’ll see they are sleek and obviously will pull through the water creating very little turbulence. Is that a big deal?


Most of the time, no. Otherwise, all the other brands would have been “sleeked-up” over the years. Ford’s Model T is now a Mustang. All the other pinch-pad releases are exactly the same as they were decades ago. They are still Model Ts.


Still, decades ago, downrigging lures more than 100 feet deep in the Great Lakes was extreme. Not so much, these days with food web changes and light penetration issues driving fish deeper and downrigger fishermen commonly put lures deeper than anyone ever imagined.


Once you lower a downrigger more than 100 feet, blowback becomes a real issue. Once you speed up your troll a little, blowback becomes an issue. In either case a slight change in hydrodynamics of what’s being trolled through the water does make a significant difference. A release that slides through the water behind a downrigger weight instead of tugging through the water becomes valuable.

As far as holding line and releasing, the Seahorse pinchers work are the equal of any brand I’ve used. The sky blue colored light tension model is perfect for any strength of monofilament/fluorocarbon likely to be used in the Great Lakes at normal depths. The bright red, heavy tension version will grip braided line and hold well all the way down to submarine depths.

Both tension models are competitively priced and widely available at retailers or on-line outlets.






Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld

Are you needing a new diver rod and reel combo? Could you use another rod and reel able to comfortably fit 10 colors of leadcore line or 300 feet of copper wire? Is money the main reason you don’t have these already?

Both leadcore and copper line are thick and require a large size, large capacity reel to accommodate the backing, the heavy line and the leader. Fishing with these long, heavy lines or dangling a diver off the side requires a rod with plenty of backbone just to hold up to the pressure of dragging that stuff around.
You may want to check out the StrataMaxx Combo from Bass Pro Shops. It features an 8′ 6″ medium heavy rod matched to a solidly built, relatively large, line counter reel. This combo retails for $89.99. I have “name brand” combos on my boat that cost more than twice as much. Do they work twice as good? Will they last twice as long?


The answers are no and only time will tell. I used my StrataMaxx Combo as a 10 color LC set-up in June and later in the summer I switched it to a 300-copper (45 pound). I used 200 yards of 40-pound braid as backing for the heavy lines. Both types of line fit comfortably.


The rod held up nicely to the drag of the long lines trolling at speeds up to 3 knots even when pulling large dodgers or flashers. It also easily handled the kings, cohos and Skamania steelheads that fell for the lures I was pulling.


I often ran this set up straight down the chute behind the boat. No planer board on the line or stretchy rubber band release off the big board planers. When the fish bit, the rod has to absorb the pressure of the strike and the drag has to smoothly start to slip. It’s fun to experiment with new gear, but when I have paying customers on the boat, I don’t play with new stuff that may not be up to the task.


This combo performed time and again all season long and feels as good now as the first day it was put to work.





Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld


Luckily, I’ve never had to shoot off one of the visual distress signals Coast Guard and state regulations require I carry on my boat when I’m on the Great Lakes. Every time I purchase a replacement set, (they all have an expiration date) I visualize a scenario in which the hand held flares or the meteor shells are all that stands between me and a nasty-fate should something that “only happens to the other guy” happen to me.


Three or four meteors would give me only about 20 seconds of signaling time. Handheld flares might give me 20 minutes – but are visible from a much shorter distance. That’s if they work; that’s if they don’t set the boat on fire.


Weems-Plath noticed a provision in the Coast Guard regs allowing an electronic (battery powered) visual distress signal. This easy-to-use handheld device features a compliantly bright LED bulb programmed to blink three-longs, three shorts, three longs – SOS – for up to 60 hours. There’s no expiration date. Just keep fresh C-cells in the handle.


It comes with a day-signal compliant flag so for less than $100, you are legal. More important, you are more likely to be noticed should you need help. It’s widely available.




Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld

Compared to the often Arctic-like climate in place over much of the Great Lakes, my home ports at the south end of Lake Michigan are in Banana Zone. Even here, however, weather statistics for my area put the average frost-free date in the spring is May 5th and the average first frost date in autumn is October 5th. Those are averages. I’ve seen plenty of September frosts as well as crispy cold mornings in late May.

There’s a lot of good fishing before and after frost free dates and boat owners, especially those with inboard or inboard/outboard motors, know a dip in the thermometer below the freezing mark can do nasty things inside an engine, bilge or livewell if there is any water present.

Some boats are easier than others to drain dry and freeze proof. Most of the boats I’ve owned over the years weren’t all that easy.
I relied on a heat source placed in the engine compartment to keep my motor and pumps ice free between early or late season fishing trips. Until now, none of my methods were particularly safe or totally worry free.

A common 60 to 100 watt incandescent bulb, will put out enough heat to keep an engine compartment a few degrees warmer than the outside air. I’ve stuck a mechanic’s trouble light inside the engine compartment on nights when the air temperature is predicted to slide only a few degrees sub-freezing. Then I worried all night about the bulb burning out or the temperature to drop just enough the lightbulb didn’t put out enough heat.

On colder nights I’ve put a ceramic space heater in the engine compartment. Often called milk-house heaters they are designed to heat a space much larger than an engine compartment – like a milk house, however big they are. When I use it, I turn the power setting on low (800W) and adjust the thermostat to a minimal setting. Then I crack the engine compartment open to allow some of the heat to escape. Using it I lose sleep worrying as much about meltdown as freeze up.

The Pali 400W Engine Compartment Heater is designed specifically for the job and carries safety certifications from the U.S. Coast Guard and Underwriters Laboratories. There are no power or thermostat settings to adjust. Just set it inside the engine compartment, close the hatch, plug it in and sleep soundly. It has an internal ceramic core heater rated at 400 Watts and a pre-set thermostat which clicks on at 40 degrees and off at 60.
Available at West Marine and other dealers. WWW.



Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld

Normark’s Shad Rap lure was developed around 1980 and unlike most body baits, was designed for walleyes, not bass or other species. They worked so well it took a half-decade or so for the Norwegian balsa carving machines to keep up with the demand.

I’ve got a good supply of Shad Raps in my arsenal of walleye lures and a few of them have migrated into my boxes of body baits reserved for cohos. It used to be easy to pick them out. The Shad Raps were fire-tiger or chartreuse colored – my favorites for walleyes. Almost all the ThinFins, Hot ‘n Tots and Jointed Rapalas are mostly fluorescent red..

No color pattern on a lure is better for coho salmon (or steelhead) than one predominantly fluorescent red. It’s not uncommon for me to run a 12 rod spread and have a fluorescent red lure at the end of each line. On a particularly slow day, I might pull out a chartreuse Shad Rap to see if that would flip the switch. On a particularly fast day, I might put on a fire-tiger Shad Rap just for variety. They certainly caught fish but seldom compared to the hot red plugs.

A couple seasons ago Normark added the Demon color to their Shad Rap line-up, I guess to lure bass used to eating bright red crawdads. (The only bright red crawdads I’ve ever seen were cooked, but that’s another story.) The body is painted fluorescent red overlain with a black pattern reminiscent of a crawdad’s carapace. In the wild, a cross between a bright red shad and a crayfish would be something of a demon.

Regardless, one morning I tied one on to match it against 11 other tried and true coho lures. It hooked the first fish of the day, then stayed in the mix half the morning. I kept track and it accounted for five of twenty catches that morning, so it more than held it’s own. But I “retired” it after it’s fifth catch because the tail hook broke off. It could have done better.

Remember, the lure has a balsa wood body and was designed for walleye, not salmon. Pound for pound (or most any other measure) salmon fight harder and cohos in particular are predisposed to twist in a landing net.
Since then, I’ve used Demon-Raps that lasted for way more than five fish but the important thing is they only get broken because fish like to eat them. That’s not a bad thing.
They are widely available. The ones I use are Size 06, 2 ½ inches in length.



Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld

When I unboxed what my wife calls “the big gray box” Plano Molding Company sent me to evaluate for this column, I instantly imagined a half dozen great uses for it. Plano calls it the Marine Box.

I could imagine it stuffed full of lifejackets with the word LIFEJACKETS stenciled on it and stowed in an accessible, but out of the way location on a big boat. I could imagine it fulfilling the same function on a smaller sized boat, strapped or bungie-corded at the bow or tucked under a bench seat.


I could imagine it being stuffed with rain gear, enough rain gear for everyone on board, or extra coats for those times when a day on the lake is going to feature uncertain weather. No one likes to put on wet gear, even if it’s rain wear and in my boat, the bow of the boat is the best place to stow extra gear, but not necessarily the driest spot on the boat if I have to splash through choppy seas to get to the fishing area. The Marine Box has a rubber gasket to make it water tight and four snap down (even padlockable) latches to make sure the lid doesn’t pop off from the wind when going fast or from bumps when hitting choppy waves.


I could imagine the Marine Box conveniently stocked up with any sort of gear or supplies you don’t want to transport in the boat when it’s being towed on a trailer. Stow the chandlery in the Marine Box and haul it in the back of the tow vehicle, then transfer it all into the boat in one, easy to handle load. It even has wheels on the bottom so you can roll it instead of lugging it, need be.


When my wife spotted the big gray box she immediately started imagining uses for it herself. Currently, it’s storing an amazing number of sunflower heads which will be apportioned out to the birds at our winter feeder while keeping them from the mice that infiltrate our garage. It’s been stuffed full of blankets, pillows and sleeping bags on camping trips. It’s been filled with assorted groceries when returning from a shopping spree at Sam’s Club. It was filled with dog supplies when the mutt went on a vacation with us.


I imagine I’ll be getting a second one for myself. Over three feet long, a foot and a half wide and over a foot deep (108 quart capacity, Plano says) what can you imagine doing with one?


Get your own big gray box at a wide range of retailers or go to



Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld

There are a lot of things on my boat I don’t want to leave the dock without having. Many of them are things I don’t often use, don’t hope to need and certainly don’t need close at hand – until I need them. Many of these items are things better kept dry and since I don’t need them on a regular basis, if they would get damp or wet, I probably wouldn’t notice until, well probably, until it’s too late.

No more, thanks to the Plano Gear Box. Modeled after a military ammo box – the kind invented in WWII – this box isn’t the sharp-cornered, questionably water-tight, heavy steel container with the end-hinged lid dough-boys lugged across Europe (and Korea, Viet Nam, etc.) “Modeled after” means it has an end-hinged lid – more nostalgic than useful – and is taller than it is wide, giving it the ammo-box shape.

It has a tight, rubberized gasket seal making it 100 percent waterproof, rounded off edges, a comfortable, fold down handle and is made heavy enough to withstand a gorilla attack. It has perhaps twice the capacity as the familiar 50 caliber ammo carrier.

I just pulled the box out from under the passenger seat on my boat where it lives 99 per cent of the time. It contains a small stowaway Plano box holding assorted spare fuses, a small auxiliary first aide kit, an extra reel, a hand-held and head-strap flashlight, a hand-held compass, extra batteries for the flashlights and my camera, spare sunglasses, a couple of plastic rain ponchos, duct tape, electrical tape, medium flat and phillips screwdrivers, dry gloves, a notepad and pencil, a black Sharpie marker, two quarter-inch stainless steel bolts, no nuts but one washer and a 7/16-inch wrench I’ve been looking for and thought was in the lake.

Turn it into a portable safe by adding a padlock to the molded-in lock receptacles.




Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld

I’ve had nearly frozen fingers dozens of times. The cold always starts at the fingertips and then works it’s way down towards the palm. That’s why I was skeptical when I first saw people wearing, using, working – even fishing with fingerless gloves. Perhaps they would more appropriately be called fingertip-less gloves since most of them have half-fingers that run up to the first or second knuckle.

I don’t know how long ago I finally donned a pair of them myself with the skeptical thought in my head, “These will never work.” I do know it was on Lake Michigan in mid-March with the water temperature hovering in the 30s and air temperatures to match.

Sure they will allow me to do “fishing things” better – tying lines, snapping swivels, gripping reel handles and freshly caught cohos. It would save me the effort of sliding my hands into and out of my fingered gloves. I expected to have cold fingertips, however, and feel the familiar cold slip downward towards my palm.

That didn’t happen! Seemingly working against all natural laws, I was able to do all the fishing things I normally did with bare hands and my fingers stayed comfortably warm. I’ve been a “bag-lady-gloves” wearer ever since, usually, generic rag-wool models.

I gave up the woolen gloves when I got my Alaska River Series fingerless gloves by Glacier Gloves. They are built on a neoprene base, much like a wetsuit material and then have a layer of fleece covering all but the palm of the glove. The rubberized palm is textured, helping get a firm grip on flopping fish. The neoprene offers enough stretch my hands never feel bulked up and most important, my fingers and hands stay warm while I’m doing any manner of fishing activities.

I use them while hunting, as well. The exposed fingers giving me a sure grip on my shotgun and a safe, secure feel when my trigger finger is on the safety or trigger.



Reviewed by Captain Mike Schoonveld

There’s no handier hand tool on my boat than needle-nosed pliers. I keep a descent-sized tool set on board but I don’t use the adjustable wrench everyday or the screwdrivers or most of the other tools. But I use needle-nose pliers daily and I always have a couple of pairs on my boat.

Having spares is how I learned when it comes to pliers – often squirreled away in a damp environment – there’s no such thing as rust-proof, stainless steel construction. Maybe if I spent fifty bucks or more for a pair I’d get better results but I manage to litter the bottom of the lake with perfectly good needle-nosers often enough I won’t spend that much on a pair.

“Why not,” thinks me, “try a pair of aluminum pliers?” So I got a pair for less than $20 from Bass Pro Shops, called simply BPS Aluminum Pliers. They are a sexy bright blue color, so they look good, come fitted with a set of stainless steel wire cutters which, new, cuts 30 pound stranded steel trolling wire just fine, as well as mono and braided line. I would guess the nippers will eventually dull and rust up but I don’t expect to ever pull the pliers out of the storage compartment and find them rusted shut or open.

They come with a nylon sheath featuring a belt loop so you can wear it like a holster. I never do that, but some people will find the carrier a plus.
In the meantime, when I’m holding the first fish of the day I can ask the person who caught it, “Hey, open that hatch and grab the bright blue pair of pliers inside.” They’ll spot them immediately and when I put them to work, they won’t be rusted shut.

As a side note, the serrated teeth inside the jaws grip well enough to grab, hold and pull the pin bones out of salmon and trout filets. Try that with your rusted-up stainless steel model.