Reviewed by Capt. Mike Schoonveld

 I put a tip in the Basics and Beyond column I write for Great Lakes Angler magazine in a recent issue suggesting carrying pair of muck boots in the tow vehicle to eliminate having to perform a balancing act on the bumper or trailer tongue each time a boat is launched or loaded. That elicited a response from a reader who agreed the boots were a good idea but he’d eliminated his need for them by installing a Drotto Boat Latch system on his trailer. I clicked it up at www. Boat2Trailer. com, http://www.boat2trailer.com, watched the videos posted there and promptly contacted Rob Waterbury at the company about the product.

Long story short, I found myself at the top of a boat ramp soon after with a 3/4″ inch ratchet and wrench, taking the rubber roller off my winch support at the front of my trailer. I reused the same bolt to attach the DBL and snugged it just tight enough to hold it in place.

Then I backed the trailer down the ramp, pulled the boat forward with the winch strap and adjusted the angle of the DBL to match the slope of my bow. Then I continued winching until the latch snapped closed on the bow ring and snugged down the bolt to hold the Drotto to that exact position.

I once tried a similar devise with a similar purpose. I’d drive my boat onto the trailer until the bow loop entered a slot, something would go snap and the boat would be fastened to the winch assembly.   The “earlier version” quickly went on my scrap heap of useless junk. It didn’t hold the boat tight to the front roller, I had to hit the slot perfectly (an inch too far port or starboard wouldn’t cut it) and I could tell from the heft and workmanship, something would break on it – sooner or later – for me, I guessed sooner and at an inconvenient time.

Not so the Drotto. It’s heavy and the metal parts are made of hardened, heavy gauge steel. When loading the boat my approach doesn’t have to be perfect since there’s a vee notch to slide the bow ring a few inches left or right as needed and when the “grabbers” snap closed, the bow is snug on the winch stand.

I have a bunk-type trailer so when launching I can use the lever-action release to un-grab the bow ring while I’m positioned at the top of the ramp. There’s a lever extension included for boaters with roller trailers so the ring can be freed after the boat is backed sufficiently into the water and the lever can be pulled either from a dock or while sitting in the boat.

A video is worth a thousand words so go to the website and watch the short vids posted there. You’ll soon be ready to plunk down $240 to make your launching and loading easier. Leave the muck boots at home.




Reviewed by Capt. Mike Schoonveld

            Hard-bodied crankbaits are the go-to lure for most fish, at least some of the time. They only work, however, when they are running true and an out-of-whack crank is a disaster when it’s being trolled.

Some crankbaits almost always need a slight adjustment to the nose ring to get it running perfectly, some hardly ever need a tweak and all of them can be bent or mangled by a strong salmon or walleye during the fight or in the landing net. Top anglers check every body-bait they tie on when it first goes into the lake and after every fish is caught with it.

Tuning is a simple process. If the lure swims or rolls to left, bend the line-tie-eyelet to the right. The concept is easy, doing it is tougher.

Most of the time, a pair of needle nose pliers is the tool of choice and though those skinny tipped pliers are multi-taskers, they aren’t the best tool for the job. The perfect tool is now available from Offshore Tackle – the EZ Crankbait Tuner.

It’s a pliers-like tool with one long and one short end. The short plier pinches against the line-tie, the long plier lays along side the crankbait’s body. It’s made from a super hard plastic strong enough to bend the nose wire, but it’s gentle on the plastic and paint on the lure itself.

As much as I like tools that can perform a variety of tasks, sometimes the right tool for a specific job makes the chore easier, quicker and more precise. The EZ Crankbait Tuner is one of those tools.   The tuner is widely available in tackle stores and on-line. Check them out at http://www.offshoretackle.com.





   Reviewed by:  Capt. Mike Schoonveld

Sadly, thieves have an easy time of it in many areas where us fishermen park our vehicles and trailers while we are on the lake. Double sadly, we actually make it extra easy, at times. Fishermen are often the only boaters out at some times of the year and we are predictable, leaving at dawn and are not usually coming back until noon or later. Triple sadly, security in many of the parking areas is all but non-existent.

Locks are the simplest precaution we can take. You’ll need at least two and three is better. Put one lock in the latch that holds the trailer’s coupler to the ball hitch. Then lock the receiver insert into the vehicle’s hitch assembly and for one more measure of security, lock the spare tire for the trailer to the spare tire carrier. If you need more security than that, either don’t park there or hire a security guard.

Several companies make locks specifically for these locations, but you buy them “ala carte” – one for the hitch, one for the receiver, etc. Each is keyed differently so you have to carry around a full ring of keys and remember which key fits which lock.

Bolt Lock to the rescue. For about the same price as one of the competing brands, purchase what you need from Bolt Lock – available at many retail outlets around the Great Lakes or on-line at www. boltlock.com.

Why Bolt Lock locks? They don’t come with a key. Instead, insert the ignition key from your tow vehicle into the lock, give the key one twist and the key to lock on your receiver, hitch, spare tire or other device you need to secure is instantly keyed to the pattern on your vehicle key. The same key that secures the vehicle, secures the valuable gear behind it.



Reviewed by: Capt. Mike Schoonveld

            If your boat designer had any saltwater blood in his or her veins, chances are the boat came out of the factory with two or more flush mounted rod holders along the gunwales. My boat has four of them. I’ve never used any of them.

I’ve been on boats in the salt that used them but when the briny-water guys have a big spread out, that means trolling with four lines. Here on the Great Lakes, topping out with four times that many lines isn’t unusual.

In many cases the built-in, flush-with-the-gunwale rod holders have to be removed to install a track system to mount multiple holders and ‘riggers. In my case, I just worked around them.

I’ve now found a use for the pair of rod-slots positioned amidships on my boat. Quick Cleat, LLC makes a number of rope-holding cleats to attach to boats and docks. Instead of tying and untying dock lines, minnow bucket cords, anchor rodes or boat fenders, use a Quick Cleat. Rotate the top of the mechanism until a rope channel opens and lay a line in the channel. Release the mechanism and the top rotates back, securely clamping the rope in the groove. It takes only a second and makes adjusting the length of the line or rope nearly instantaneous.

Quick Cleat produces styles with applications for boats of any size, from inflatables, canoes and kayaks to offshore cruisers. There are a variety mounting systems as well including stick-on, screw or bolt on, as well as clamp on mounts for square or round rails.

The one I sampled simply slid down into my factory-installed, unused, gunwale rod holder. It’s perfect for holding a fender rope when I tie up to a dock. If I need the fender on the other side, slide the Quick Cleat out of the port side and into the starboard side.   I often just leave it in place but it is removable and comes with a plastic storage pouch. www.quick-cleat.com.



Reviewed by: Capt. Mike Schoonveld

          I’m often asked, “Can you see fish on that?” as the people point to the sonar unit on my boat.

My pat answer is “Yes, but if I had to see a fish on the screen to catch it, I’d be in trouble and if I could catch every fish showing on the screen, we’d fill the boat.”

I stand by that statement, but when I get better at using my AXIOM Multi-Function Display (MFD) I may have to change my answer. It will certainly mark more fish in the average trip than will fit in my boat, but it comes much closer to giving me (or any fisherman) the ability to “see a fish, catch a fish.”

The AXIOM is called an MFD because what you see is more than just a sonar, chart or GPS. Think of it as a computer monitor capable of showing screens associated with whatever program the computer is running. You can call up displays from other Raymarine devices, such as radar or autopilot. It will interface with some phone apps, Sirius Radio and with a wifi connection (such as your cell phone’s mobile hotspot) you can watch Netflix or connect to other entertainment. Use it to control your drone! Gearheads may want to connect the MFD to their motor’s computer to monitor engine performance on the display.

I’ll run through a few of the other selling points as quickly as possible. If you like technical jargon like “quad-four processor” and other exacting specs go to http://www.raymarine.com. The website lists enough details, techno-words and numbers with Greek letters attached to keep any geek happy and most fisherman confused. For instance, the AXIOM has CHIRP technology in the main sonar. I don’t understand all I know about CHIRP and I understand more than I need. I do understand when in use, the sonar picture on the screen is better. I see more fish, things on the bottom and other details.

It has two other “real time” sonar modes which, depending on where and how you fish, may be all important or of little importance to you. The way I picture Sidevision is turning a sonar transducer 90 degrees so instead of viewing straight down, it sends and receives pings and echos to the side (or both sides) of the boat. It will show nearby reefs, bridge pilings, rocks on the bottom and fish lurking near these things.

It’s harder to explain Downvision. It’s similar to the regular sonar, except it’s a sort of HD version. Even with CHIRP, if you motor across a sunken tree, a sunken boat or a pile of rubble, each will look like “something” laying on the bottom. With Downvision, the something looks like a tree, boat or rock pile.

Mr. Cool of the four sonar modes is the 3-D vision. The computer brains in the AXIOM uses the information gathered from both the side and downvision sonar returns to create a computer generated three dimensional picture on the screen showing the underwater world you just passed. You’ll see the bottom of the channel, the sunken boat on the bottom, fish suspended above it and the bridge piling the boat hit to cause it to sink.

The unit comes with a Navionics charting chip so when you switch the unit to charting mode, you can set waypoints and use the GPS to navigate to them and back. I’m sure it will do other things I’ve yet to discover. There are multiple choices of overlays so you can customize the screens to your personal needs.

One of the first things I noticed, different from all the other sonar/chart/GPS units I’ve previously used, is I don’t have to take off my polarized glasses or tilt my head to a specific angle to look at the screen and be able to see it. Not only will it see the fish better, I can see the screen better! In my mind that’s the most underrated selling point of this machine.

It’s expensive, but expect many years of use from the unit just as it comes out of the box. Add to that Raymarine offers free software and operating system upgrades so the Axiom you buy today will be nearly similar in power and features to the models they sell three, four or more years from now.

I’m not a trained professional marine electronics installer, but I easily installed my MFD, the transducer and connected it to the boat’s wiring system. Evidently, believing a picture is worth a thousand words, the installation guide is mostly pictorial, the wires and connections are color coded and basically, anyone capable of changing the batteries in a flashlight, will have few problems installing their Axiom.

The above picture shows the Mr. Cool, 3D picture on my 9-inch version. Notice the boat motoring to the upper left and the fish (in blue) I’d passed trailing behind the boat.  It comes in both seven and twelve inch screens depending on space or desire. The latest versions are like this, all touch screen, no knobs.