I used to have two thoughts when I’d show up at a busy fish cleaning facility and see people standing on a wet concrete floor holding an electric knife plugged into a 120V power outlet. Thought number one – “That looks dangerous!”  Number two – There’s a guy who doesn’t know how to sharpen a fillet knife.

            I imagine Paul Bunyan had two thoughts the first time he saw some lumberjack sawing down a tree with a chainsaw. “That looks dangerous.” And the next thought, “There’s a guy who doesn’t know how to sharpen an axe.”

            I now admit to being a frequent user of electric fillet knives. When Rapala came out with a battery powered, cordless fillet knife, my fish cleaning method changed and I realized why those “plugged-in” knife wielders risked electrocution every time they caught a mess of fish. It dawned on me there is a reason why bakers use electric mixers to kneed dough, carpenters use power tools instead of hand tools and that even the sharpest axe won’t fell a tree as easily as a chainsaw.

            I loved the cordless Rapala knife, but as a charter captain, I clean a lot of fish and I soon learned the original Rapala cordless knife was not heavy duty. I went through motors, switches and batteries often enough that I kept spares on hand, just like I keep spare reels, line and lures.

            So when Rapala came out with an all new design with an HD in the name, I “hopefully” gave it a try. It’s heavier, runs more smoothly and after a whole season both the batteries and the motor are still giving “right out of the box” performance.

I know on my other power tools, the rechargeable batteries nowadays are better than those of just a few years ago. That’s certainly seems true with the battery durability and run-time on the R12 batteries. Since the unit comes with two batteries, I purposely left one in the handle long enough to run it down. It cut a week’s worth of salmon and lake trout at the end of May and then went on a walleye trip to Lake Erie the next week. It conked out on the fourth day.  I didn’t check the recharge rate but Rapala says it only takes an hour.

            Speaking of the recharger, I like that this one has three indicator lights giving an at-a-glance status of the charging battery. I also like the thumb activated on/off switch. It’s right where I naturally place my thumb on the knife handle.

            What I really like is the speed. I don’t know the cycles per second rating of the corded models but I’d guess the R12 is two or three times faster than the original cordless Rapala. I was at a public cleaning station in Sheboygan last summer and a fellow across the table from me using a plugged in electric knife looked up when I triggered the R12 and said, “Good Lord! Is that an electric knife or a chainsaw?” 

            I loaned him my R12 to use on his last two fish. He smiled, said thanks, cleaned up quickly and drove away fast. I think he was heading to the tackle shop to buy an R12 for himself. They are available at many retail and online stores as well as from the Rapala website: http://www.rapala.com.



I have a love/hate relationship with vacuum sealer machines. I love them because if you have limited freezer space there is no other “nearly” foolproof method of freezing fish with “nearly” zero freezer burn so compactly.

            I hate them because of the “nearly” and when it comes to the vacuum sealing, it’s the machine doing the sealing that determines the extent of the “nearly.” I’ve never used a “home” model that nearly always sealed perfectly. The worst ones I’ve used produced a good seal only about half the time when packaging fish. None have ever produced a perfect seal every time for me. I’ve also often found packages which appeared to have been perfectly sealed when put in the freezer, had lost their seal after a few weeks or months.

            So when NESCO offered to supply me with their VS 12 Deluxe Sealer to use and evaluate, I accepted, but I told their representative, I would be approaching the project as a skeptic.  So far, much of my skepticism has proven to be unfounded.

            An early November trip to Lake Erie provided me a good supply of “test fish” for my evaluation. An opening day buck provided some venison loin chops and late season mallard breasts are now vacuum sealed and packed away in my freezer.

            In all, my wife and I have packaged 32 meal-sized portions of the fish, duck and venison. The two-stage vacuum pump in the VS12 sucked the air out of the packets in a few seconds at which point the machine automatically switches to the sealing phase which takes about 15 seconds more. We used the “double” seal mode so instead of a single “weld” at the top of the pouch, two separate seals are melted across the width of the pouch. The instructions indicate this is best for “moist” products like we were packing.

            It also has normal and low vacuum settings. Low pressure is for sealing things like dry cereal or other crushable items. Normal is for everything else.

            Our results were perfect. All 32 packages sealed perfectly the first time, and after being in the freezer for a several weeks, all the packages still in the freezer remained tightly sealed. So far, five-star results!  Good Housekeeping magazine rated the VS 12 number one in head to head tests against nine other top brands.   

            We did our sealing with pouches and packaging material rolls sold by NESCO. NESCO says other brands of bags or rolls will also work with NESCO machines and NESCO packaging material looks and feels identical with Foodsaver and Cabela’s bags I’ve used previously.

            I thought about waiting six months or a year to open these first pouches we produced to test their longevity, but I was impressed enough with the NESCO VS 12 that I’ll give it my conditional “seal’ of approval for now (pun intended). I didn’t want to hear from GLA readers who had been shopping for their first vacuum sealer or thinking of replacing the one they are currently using with a message like.  “I wish you’d done this review earlier before I bought a brand X,Y or Z machine.”

              NESCO products are widely available at online and retail outlets or directly from NESCO at: http://www.NESCO.com.


            There are a lot of really good “ice-fishing” jackets on the market and if you make a check list of all the important attributes of them you’ll see things like: High-tech insulation, durable outer layer, full-cut sizing to allow layering, ample pockets in the right places, a slick lining to allow easy on and off, adjustable cuffs and others.

            What’s often missing is waterproofing. Makes sense since most ice fishing isn’t done in a rainstorm or is done inside some sort of shanty or portable shelter. Why go to the expense of using the same waterproofing layers or fabric treatment needed by duck hunters or early or late season open water anglers? 

            It’s that lack of waterproofing which makes using an “ice fishing” specific insulated jacket (or jacket and bibs combo) a poor choice for the earliest open water action on the Great Lakes. Whether it’s the Fall Brawl in late November on Erie or ice out brown trout in Door County, Wisconsin, cold water anglers need all the features important in an ice fishing coat along with a waterproof outer shell.

            I used a Gill Winter Angler Jacket for my end of season fishing last year and when my boat slides off the trailer in mid-March in search of early season cohos here in southern Lake Michigan, I’ll be sliding back into my Winter Angler Jacket. (I also have matching bibs.) I fish out of an open boat several days a week and seasonal March winds and April showers guarantee precipitation from above as well as spray from choppy waves as I head for the warm water hotspots that concentrate the cohos. From my experience last fall, I know Gill’s multi-layer XPLORE waterproofing technology in the outer shell of the jacket will be up to the task.

            If, like me, you are a function over fashion kind of person you’ll appreciate it comes only in “graphite” color – basically black. While I think a bright red, yellow or other color of suit looks good, I know from experience, after a few trips, after a few flopping, bleeding fish, perhaps spill or two of coffee, that gaudy garb can start to look a little used. I also know, when the sun is shining, those sunbeams are being absorbed by my black coat to add a measure of warmth.  

            All the other boxes mentioned earlier are checked, as well. Well thought out pockets, cuffs, lining, insulation, hood closures, zippers and storm flaps make the Gill Winter Jacket a perfect choice. Available at many retail and online outlets as well as directly from www.gillfishing.com.



The end for most of us will be a short ride in a coffin. The end for many fish in the ice belt this year is a short ride up through the water column on a coffin.  A Coffin Spoon, that is – a new offering from Northland this season. It’s actually the newest addition to Northland’s Buckshot series of jigging spoons. All of these have an imbedded rattle chamber to add sound to the baits and the Coffin Spoon has a tail “flipper” added to the hook-end of the spoon to make this spoon the loudest of the Buckshot line as well as providing a bit more flash. 

            This can be a solid factor all season long and ice-experts especially like loud flashy baits at first and last ice when the fish are often most active. They also know both flash and noise can be the key to wake up the fish on those days when the fish are being reluctant biters.

            When I first heard of the Coffin Spoons, I just thought it was a clever name to catch the attention of fishermen as much as the fish. It is clever, but these spoons got the name due to being shaped like a coffin. 

            I don’t know if Northland’s lure designers came up with the name first and then shaped the spoon or if they made the spoon and someone realized it resembled a coffin. Neither is important in the end. The ice season was in full swing at the time of this writing and reports are, “the fish are slamming Coffin Spoons.” 

            They are available in 1/8 oz, 3/16 oz, 1/4 oz and 3/8 oz sizes and in a dozen fish-catching sizes. Check them out and/or buy them at http://www.northlandtackle.com or find them at retail or online tackle emporiums. 




          The good thing about copper wire fishing line is it catches fish. Actually, that’s the only good thing about copper wire fishing line. Other than that, it’s a pain in the ass to use. I think it hates me. Even when I carefully pay attention to the copper when I’m spooling it off the reel, it regularly manages to “swell up” on the reel’s spool. Sometimes I can carefully reduce the swell; just as often, one loop slides under, over or across one or more others resulting in a copper wire backlash more puzzling than a Rubic’s Cube.

             Each kink does two things: one, it weakens the wire; two, each kink, minor bend or spiral in the copper wire between the rod tip and the lure increases line drag as it pulls through the water and decreases the depth the lure on the end will troll. The reason for using copper wire is to stealthily put lures in productive depths.

            Increasingly, I’d been hearing of anglers using Weighted Steel Line (from Torpedo Fishing Products) as a substitute for copper wire. I was skeptical of it.

            For one, steel is slightly less dense than copper. All else being equal, when comparing the depth capability of trolling with a steel wire and copper wire of equal diameter, the copper will troll deeper. But “all else” isn’t equal.

            For one, the strands of copper used to make copper fishing line are coarser than the strands of steel used to make Weighted Steel. More important is the aforementioned drag on the copper line from the inherent kinks, spirals and slight bends in copper as it pulls through the water. Stranded steel doesn’t have these minor spirals and curves as it pulls through the water. In essence, though the diameter of Weighted Steel is very close to the diameter copper trolling wire and the steel weighs less, due to the way the steel “slicks” through the water, the depth capability is nearly identical. 

            Since the depth is similar, the advantage of Weighted Steel is it doesn’t hate me!  Deploying it is no harder than setting out a lead core line. In fact, I often hand a Weighted Steel rig to novices fishing with me with the simple instruction, “Let this one out.”  Would you do that with a copper line rig? 

            Connecting Weighted Steel to backing or to a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader is a bit different than with copper. Torpedo makes a “Termination Kit” to facilitate this. It’s basically a wire crimp and wind-on swivel. Fine, if your reel’s level wind guide is wide enough for the tiny swivel to pass through. It’s not so fine on several of my reels with narrow level-winders.

            I solved it by attaching a short length of 100# braid to the end of the Weighted Steel using an Albright knot and then tying a double-uni to connect wire to the backing or leader. These connections wound on my reels with no problem. 

            Consider this. I’ve never heard of anyone who tried Weighted Steel going back to copper wire. Many (like myself) spooled one reel with Weighted Steel as a test, then quickly bought additional spools of Weighted Steel to switch all their coppers to Weighted Steel.            

Weighted steel is available at many retail and online sources (including Amazon.com) or straight from Torpedo Fishing Products at www.torpedodiver.com.