No one releases a fish with the hope it will die. If you want it to die there are plenty of ways to kill it with more certainty than gently slipping it back into the water. But don’t fool yourself if you think catch and release doesn’t kill some fish. It always does.

Whether you are catching tiny brook trout and releasing them back to their shady stream or mighty tarpon, never even pulled from the water some C&R fish – hopefully, only a tiny percentage – but some of them, are so stressed, or perhaps bleeding, or have so much lactic acid built up in their muscles, they’ll never recover.

Here in the Great Lakes there are two culprits working against successful catch and release of fish caught from deep water. Fisheries biologists call them thermal-stress and barotrauma.

Thermal stress occurs when a fish is pulled from the cool depths into the warm water near surface faster than it can adjust internally.

Catching a fish swimming deep in the water column results in barotrauma, caused by the rapid change of water pressure. All Great Lakes fish have swim bladders filled with oxygen. When reeled up from the depths, this bladder expands larger and larger.
I’ve seen perch caught 60 feet deep with their stomach pushed out of their mouth by an over-inflated swim bladder. I’ve seen lake trout caught from 100 feet deep come unhooked just as they are pulled near the surface only to bob up to the top like a balloon. I’ve seen lake trout, caught and released, bob on the surface like a balloon and have found cohos, kings and steelhead in similar straits.

Most of these “floaters” are no more than seagull fodder. To better ensure C&R survival, the swim bladder has to be deflated using one of two methods. Popping the bladder, or “fizzing” the fish with a hollow needle can let out the excess air but unless its done correctly, fizzing is usually fatal.

Several devices have been invented to lower these fish back down into the depths and free them in cooler water deep enough to recompress the fish’s air bladder. The best tool I’ve ever seen to do this is the Seaqualizer.

It’s basically a miniature boca-grip style device which will clamp onto a fish’s jaw. Unlike a boca, which uses a trigger to release, the Seaqualizer has a pressure activated release mechanism. The one I got – the “Striper” model can be adjusted so the jaws trigger open at 30, 50 or 70 feet.

Here’s how I use it when I catch a laker (or shaker salmon) I want to release. I’ve connected the Seaqualizer to a four-foot cord with a stout snap on the end. The snap connects to a downrigger weight or release. The Seaqualizer is clamped to the fish’s jaw, then the fish is dropped into the water and I hit the down switch on the ‘rigger. I lower the weight down to 35, 55 or 75 feet (depending on how the Seaqualizer is set) then bring the weight back to the top. The Seaqualizer is open, the fish is released.

Do the trout, salmon or other fish released this way survive? I can’t answer that. But I bet more of them do than the ones bobbing on the surface as I troll into the distance.





     Employing lead core lines has become a staple method for most Great Lake trollers. It’s partly a technical tactic and partly voodoo science since no one knows just what the lure is doing back there under the waves. I know guys with multiple lead core outfits on their boats. They have set-ups loaded with two colors (10 yards per color), three colors, four, five and more, including some who still use lead core lengths longer than 10 colors to get their lures to the depth the fish are active.

I can’t afford to carry that many separate outfits and I don’t have space for all of them if I could. However, Offshore Tackle’s Guppy weights easily turn one leadcore outfit into two the way used them last season.

Guppies (a.k.a. Pro Weights) come in sizes from 1/2 to 3-ounces and if you get the Pro Weight Kit, you’ll get some of each size along with some OR16 Snap Weight Clips. All of these have uses, but to get more for the ‘core, choose the 3-ouncer and attach one of the OR16s to it.

There are so many configurations of where to snap the extra weight, what affect placement would have on the depth and how the lure on the end would behave you’d need a phone app to keep track of it. Then alter the trolling speed, swap to a different lure and everything would be changed anyway.

So I just go by “rule of thumb” and usually that’s well good enough. My rule of thumb is a four-color can behave like a six-color, a six-color can become a nine-color, a ten-color can approximate the depth potential of a 15 color. It’s simple math I can do in my head – no phone app needed.

To make a six-color behave like a nine, simply let out three colors, attach the three-ounce Guppy weight to the line, then let out the remaining three colors and troll it behind the boat, on an in-line planer or as I do, on big planer boards. Again using easy math, if you want your ten-color to act like a 15, let out half the colors (five) attach the three-ounce Guppy, then deploy the rest of the lead core.

I get added versatility out of each lead core outfit on my boat. I get the snake-like presentation lead core gives the lures. I get more fish and those fishing with me don’t have to crank in as much lead core line each time one of those Guppy-‘core fish bites.




     Sharp knives work better, easier and more safely than a dull knife. Regardless of how a knife is used, using it dulls it. Obviously, carving marshmallows is going to be friendlier to a knife blade than other uses, like filetting fish. Personally, I cut far more fish than marshmallows so I spend more time keeping my knife blades sharp than the ‘mallow slicers and I’ve tried dozens of tools over the years.

Some do a great job, but are cumbersome. Some are highly portable, but don’t do quick or satisfactory job. Some take almost brain-surgeon-like skills to use, others are nearly foolproof. None are perfect.

When size and portability are not an issue, my current favorite sharpening tool is now a cordless, rechargeable sharpener from Smith’s Consumer Products ( In the field, I rely on sharpening steels or hand-held ceramic lappers to keep knives sharp or touch them up, if needed. At home, however, I use the cordless sharpeners to absolutely return my knives to “as new” condition. I could make a razor from a butter knife with it. The Smith’s sharpener has a guide to hold the knives at a precise angle and relies on power-driven, abrasive belts to do the sharpening.

To sharpen a butter knife, start with the coarse belt, then switch to the medium grit belt and finish with the 600 grit fine belt. Most filet knives that haven’t been abused can be sharpened and touched up with just the fine grit belt but if your knife has been used and abused you may need the medium grit first, then polish it smooth. The belts interchange in seconds.




Electric knife? I used to be a manual knife purest and viewed fish cleaners who used electric knives to be people who didn’t know how to sharpen (and keep sharp) their conventional knives. Besides, I always questioned the sanity of someone who would stand on a wet floor and plug a hand-held appliance into a 120V electrical outlet. An additional “besides” is I often clean fish in locations where there’s no electrical outlet.

I still think the above is partially true. However, I’m no longer a purest. I now own a Rapala Lithiom Ion Cordless Fillet Knife.

There are two methods of cutting a filet off a fish. One involves cutting over the ribcage, but not through the ribs, then carefully cutting around the ribs until the boneless filet is freed from the fish. The second method (the one I normally use) is to cut through the rib bones, free the filet, then trim the rib bones from the filet.

This works terrific on the kinds of fish with relatively easy to cut rib bones like salmon or pike. A sharp filet knife will slice through salmon ribs with very little resistance. Other species, like walleye, steelhead, lake trout and others – not so much.

The changing fishery on Lake Michigan has made lake trout an increasingly important part of my catch and for a longer period during the season. “It may be time to give up those puritan knife opinions,” I thought – and then added, “if there’s a battery powered option.”

There are several brands of rechargeable knives and after looking at on-line reviews of popular choices, I chose the Rapala Lithium-Ion Cordless model. My experience with rechargeable drills and other tools taught me those li-ion batteries are much superior to nickel-cadmium rechargeable power-packs of a few years ago. They are more powerful and last much longer.

I love it! I (mostly) have given up my electric fillet knife bias. There’s still great satisfaction in producing a perfect filet with a good sharp knife and that’s still all I use for salmon and or other easy-to-cut fish. When I have a load of lakers to cut up – or a whack of walleyes – out comes the electric.

The battery is supposed to last 80 minutes. I’ve never run it down enough to even notice a power drop though I only recharge the Li-Ion power pack every four or five outings.

I really appreciate the trigger comes with a shotgun-like safety button and I always use it when I’m attaching or removing the blades.

These knives are widely available at retail and on-line sellers or buy direct from




I have a new set of filet knives on my boat, thanks to Outdoor Edge. The handy carrying case contains one knife sporting a six-inch blade, a mid-sized, 7.5-incher and the Mac-Daddy has a 9.5 inch blade. The set is called the ReelFlex Pak and includes a simple, ceramic sharpening tool. Individual knives can be purchased separately.

The one I use the most is the 9.5-incher both because I am normally cutting up fairly good sized fish salmon, steelhead and lake trout and I prefer a longer knife rather than shorter. When I’m filleting panfish or smaller fish like walleyes or pike, I do use the smaller knives. If I could only select one I’d opt for the big-boy. I’d rather clean an 8-inch bluegill with a 9-inch knife than face a 20+ salmon with a 6-inch blade.

Reel-Flex knives have a rubber-like TPE handle for a secure grip and as their brand name suggests, the blades on these knives are more flexible than many other brands I’ve been used. How much flex a person needs in a filet knife blade is a combination of personal preference and what the person gets used to using.

Flex in a fillet knife is important. Try butchering a fish with a non-flexible butcher knife sometime and you’ll understand why better than I can describe. The flex helps the fish cleaner guide the knife up, down, in and out along the backbone and around fins – getting the maximum amount of meat off the skeleton. In my hand, the flexible blade really shines when skinning the filets, allowing the knife to slide easily between the meat and skin along the full length of the slab.

Individual knives and/or kits are available at retailers or on-line at or




Unless I’m flying on an airplane and subject to a TSA search, there will be a folding knife – a pocket knife – in my right hand pants pocket. Some people are wedded to their cell phone; I’m wedded to my pocket knife and have been since long before it became illegal to fly the friendly skies carrying a Barlow knife.

     I’ve actually owned several Barlow-style knives, a folding knife which dates back to the 1700s. George Washington carried one. Why not? It fit almost all the criteria I deem important.

     A pocket knife should be medium in size. A tiny penknife may fit the pocket more unobtrusively, but it’s going to be too small for many of the jobs I’ll ask it to perform. A big folding lock-back hunting knife will certainly fit in a pocket, but there’s a reason most come with a belt sheath. They are too big and may be oversized for delicate tasks.

      A pocket knife should have a pointy tip. These are “jack of all trades” tool and depending on the task at hand, a dagger-like tip may be as important as a sharp blade.
The knife in my pocket right now is a Case Tribal Lock. I chose it because of the above criteria and others. First, you can’t beat the quality. Case knives date back to 1889 and there are knives they made over a century ago, still in every day use.

     The CTL is a bit longer than other pocket knives I’ve used but it makes up for it by being thinner and less bulky since it’s a single blade model. I don’t notice it’s in my pocket unless I stick my hand in there to check for it.

     On my boat, the 3 plus inch blade is more appropriate for most of the chores it’s called to do. An example is the time I managed to snap the blade off the filet knife I was using and finished filleting a 20-pound king salmon with the pocket knife.

     The Tribal Lock is available in several handle types and colors. I chose the yellow synthetic handle for only one reason. It’s easily visible. Most of my past pocket knives became knives of the past because I used them, laid them down and walked away. Then they walked away (or were helped.)

      I do like the fact the Tribal Lock has a blade that locks open. I like more the “unlocking” procedure is simple and easy. I’ve used non-locking folding knives hundreds of times with scant few incidents or close calls, but with a blade as sharp as this knife has, the locking feature is welcome.




      It’s 55 miles from my house to the marina’s I normally fish. That’s 110 miles each time I go fishing and I average 100 days on the lake every year. Do the math. That’s 11,000 miles put on my boat trailer every year, not counting one or two “road” trips to far distant ports or even other Great Lakes.

That also means dunking my trailer’s wheel hubs into the lake 200 times per season as I launch and load. By most measures, that’s significant use. By some measures, that’s a decade or even lifetime of use.

I’m no stranger to burned-out wheel bearings. Usually, I find them in routine checks at home or in the marina parking lot. I have found them on the road when a driver pulls up next to me, honking and pointing back to where smoke is rolling out of a failing hub.
I’ve tried any number of bearing protectors, lubrication systems, types of grease and maintenance schedules. Most worked to a degree, but rising above the rest in both reliability and ease of maintenance is oil bath hubs, often used on long haul trailers that put as many miles in a month as I do in a year.

The first oil bath hubs I used on my trailer used 80/90 weight gear lube, the same weight of oil used in marine lower units and outdrives. Now I use Lucas Hub Oil, a heavy weight, somewhat sticky oil specifically formulated for use in oil bath wheel hubs.

Knock on wood, my wheel bearing problems have dropped to zero since I switched to Lucas Hub Oil two years ago. It works! That’s all I ask.




        I’m envious when I get on a Great Lake fishing boat with plenty of storage space. My boat doesn’t have it. Once I get past the mandatory items such as PFDs, emergency gear and standard tools, I have to be choosy about what lures and other tackle I tote along for each trip.

I’ve tried bringing huge tackle boxes, I’ve tried bunches of smaller boxes and used other schemes to make sure I have the things I need each day without overly cluttering up the boat or overtaxing the storage compartments I do have. Nothing has come close to being a perfect system so much as putting my lures, terminal tackle and other items in Plano 3700 Series Stowaway containers.

I have one box with coho baits, another with spoons, another with deep divers for when I’m trolling at Lake Erie. There are other with stick-baits, J-Plugs, trolling flies, saltwater jigs; one with hot orange spoons and plugs used when the steelhead are stacked just offshore and…. Just say, I’ve got a lot of them – even one loaded with bobbers and small hooks I grab when I need to take a youngster to a nearby farm pond.

So now all I need is pick the appropriate boxes of lures or supplies I’ll need on any particular day and take just them, not the whole collection. I have what I need, the rest wait at home for next time.

Instead of organizing and sorting through entire boxes of gear, all I need to do is contain the few Stowaway boxes I choose for the particular day. That’s easy? The Plano Guide Series Tackle Bag (3700) is the mack-daddy of these Stowaway box totes.

I can slide five of the standard thickness 3700 Stowaways inside the bag. Need one more? A sixth one nestles perfectly onto the plastic top lid and there’s a stretchy cord you can pull across it to hold it in place.

The outside of the bag has a both open and zipper-close pouches for tools, cameras, glasses, Kleenex (when my wife it along) and other necessary items, either packed loose or in smaller Stowaway boxes. With the adjustable shoulder strap, it’s the perfect grab and go container for a day or week on the water. The canvas and leather bag is widely available in retail stores.