LIVEWELL BUDDY

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD  

         We pulled the boat up to the dock after a successful morning of fishing. Next stop? The fish cleaning station. Next chore, getting the fish from the livewell to the fish cleaning station. Grab the fish? Grab a bucket? Grab the landing net to turn it into a fish-hauling device? No, grab the Livewell Buddy.

            Cross a pool noodle with a rubber mesh landing net and the result is a Livewell Buddy. If you float the Buddy in the livewell while you are fishing, it’s just a matter of grabbing the ring at the top and lifting the catch out of the well. If the fish are free swimming, grab the Buddy from where ever it’s stowed and transfer the fish into it.

            How many will it hold? Since the bag of the Buddy is made of stretchy thermoplastic rubber, your guess is as good as mine. Let’s put it this way, my last trip to Lake Erie proved it will hold more than will fit in a five gallon bucket – more than I want to tote in one load. 

            Many fishermen are very competitive, even if it’s just fishing companions. So use the Livewell Buddy as a way to sort your fish from your partners. Just float the Buddy in the livewell and put some inside and others outside. Sort out the crappies from the bluegills, one person’s limit of perch from another’s.

            (Livewell Buddy hack for ice fishermen: Cut a hole in the ice the approximate diameter of the Livewell Buddy then float it in the hole. Now, the hole and the Buddy become the livewell to keep your fish healthy and alive while you fish, not dead and frozen in the snow. When it’s time to leave, just lift the Buddy out of the hole and head for the fish cleaning station.)

            Available at some retailers or online at http://www.anglersbest.com

  

RBC RENO ROCKER

 Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

           I’d bet every Great Lakes Angler has at least one stickbait in their tackle box. Many, like me, have tackle boxes specifically devoted to stickbaits. Truthfully, I have more than that. I have one piece sticks, deep diving sticks, jointed sticks, bright colored sticks for salmon, metallic finished sticks for walleyes and plenty of them that will catch anything.

            I could say, “I’ve seen ‘em all – and fished with most every size and brand.” Been there, done there, all I needed was a Tee-Shirt.

            But wait, I now may need a special slot in one of those tackle boxes, or perhaps another whole Stowaway container for this new (to me) stick collection.  It’s the Reno Rocker.

            The Rocker was around for a few years and gained a loyal following in Eastern Lake Erie. That’s where I was first exposed to it, but by the time I got home and checked, they were out of production. Recently, Joe Renosky restarted his fishing lure company – Reno Bait Company and the Reno Rocker is back in production and I’ve started my personal collection of the Rockers.

            Of all the stickbaits I’ve ever used, this is the only one I know of to get it’s swimming action from what I call the “action plate.” Unlike molded diving “bills” which stick out like a duck’s bill on the front of the lure, or a “chin appendage” hanging under the stick to induce the wiggle the Rocker’s action plate is a separate shaped metal plate attached to what would be the line-tie loop on other sticks. The actual line-to-lure connection is a snap installed on the plate. 

            The position of the plate, the metal to metal connections along with holes drilled in the plate produces a sound unlike any other stickbait – and a sound fish apparently find attractive, based on my experience and those of many other “Renosky” fans. The plate is available in either chrome or copper plating.

            The color selection runs strong to more “natural” colors – metallics and subtle, realistic paints. The VM2000 patterns feature translucent exterior with a silver insert inside the lure to give the finish extra depth of color. 

            Check out the Reno Rockers – along with a full line of other more traditional looking stickbaits, crankbaits and other lures at http://www.renobaitcompany.com.

CUMINGS RED, WHITE AND BLUE NET

  Reviewed by CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

          The favorite colors of many Americans are red, white and blue. We are proud of our country, proud of our flag and proud of the colors which signify our patriotism. It’s the one color pattern always in style. So why not a Red, White and Blue landing net to scoop the fish out of the lake at the end of their battle?

            There’s no reason a net handle can’t be red as opposed to being bare aluminum, or painted black, green, brown or another color. There’s no reason the hoop on the net has to be a specific color, either.

            Some people consider the color of the net material to be important and specifically choose a white or white/translucent netting because they believe it’s harder for the fish to see and it makes the netting job easier. The Cumings Red, White and Blue net has a powder-coated red handle, blue hoop and translucent white net material. God Bless America!

            For me and most Great Lakes anglers, the net or nets on the boat are purchased more for function than style. An ugly net that does the job well is better than a net that looks good but is barely adequate, otherwise.

            No worry of that with the Cumings Red, White and Blue net. First, Cummings has been making landing nets and other fishing tackle in the USA for over 90 years. Their philosophy is simple: “To supply the very finest quality fishing tackle at a fair price to our customers all over the world.”

            The RWB net is perfectly sized for walleye anglers. The powder-coated blue hoop is what I call teardrop shaped and measures 21 X 25 inches. On my initial tests with the net we scooped walleyes to eight pounds with no sign of strain to the hoop or handle. I’m sure it will handle any coho salmon I’ll ever hook and all but the biggest lakers and chinooks back home on Lake Michigan.

            The red handle is octagonal and telescopes from 38 to 70 inches. The octagonal shape increases handle strength and insures the button and hole locking mechanism is always aligned and snaps into place easily, every time.

            The translucent white thermal plastic, rubberized net basket easily contained the smaller fish we netted and stretched deep enough to securely hold our big walleyes. Best of all the rubberized net was easy on the fish we wanted to release, because the smooth finish was easy on the fish’s scales and slime coating and easy on the lures and anglers because the rubber/plastic webbing minimizes tangling dangling trebles.             Cumings nets are available at many retail outlets, online stores or order directly from http://www.cumingsnets.com. 

KUSTOM KREATION LURES SPOONS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

The most popular Great Lakes trolling spoons are not made by “main brand” lure companies. There are no Rapala spoons or spoons from PRADCO the corporation that makes Rebels, Cordell, Bombers and other lures.

            The one’s you’ve heard of and probably use all have similar stories. They started as a sole-proprietor business or at best a family enterprise by an individual who bought spoon blanks, hooks and rings and learned to decorate them either with sticky-tape patterns or hand applied paint and patterns using an airbrush.

            You can do this yourself, I do it myself, but I can’t do it as well as the tapers and painters who turn out the Dreamweavers, Warriors, Stingers, Pro Kings and all the other popular brands. I can paint a picture, but it isn’t a Terry Redlin. I can paint a spoon, but it’s not Moonshine.

            New spoon makers are still starting and hoping to carve a niche in this Great Lakes centered market.  I usually rely on the time tested spoons and have favorite patterns I’ve trusted for decades. I also enjoy taping and painting clones of my favorite patterns or fishing with patterns I invent in my own man cave. Still, it’s fun to have the chance to attach a promising looking spoon from an upstart company to my line to see if it works, and hopefully, to be able to say 10 or 20 years from now, “I remember when this company was new.”

            I discovered one these newby spoon makers last summer going by the name, Kustom Kreations Lures, LLC.  Kustom Kreations Spoon Company has been gaining traction along the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan for a couple of years. The samples I tested were mostly “glow” patterns, but KKL produces patterns in non-glow and UV finishes, as well. I took the spoons with me to the Michigan side of the lake and proved they work just as well on that side as they do in Wisconsin and I’ve no doubt they will perform in any of the other lakes where salmon, trout and steelhead regularly slam trolling spoons. Check out the available patterns at: www.facebook.com/treelizard24

GILL PRO GLOVES – SHORT FINGER

Reviewed by CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

It’s an easy call when ice fishing or drifting a spawn bag through a likely stretch of a nearly frozen stream when winter steelhead is your target. Warm, supple, waterproof gloves are more a necessity than an option when it comes to hand-wear. It’s just the opposite in April and early May across most of the Great Lakes. Mornings can start out ice-fishing cold and the water temperatures in the big lakes are slow-slow-slow to warm.

            Warm gloves are needed some of the time, at other times, going bare handed is just as comfortable. For me, I split the difference and most days on my boat you’ll see me wearing what I used to call “bag lady gloves.”  I’m sure that’s not PC, these days so Gill calls them “short finger,” another source I found calls them “fingertipless.” 

            Regardless of what they are called, I like them. They keep my hands remarkably warm – more than remarkably – downright comfortable most of the time and whether I’m knotting on a new lure, snapping or unhooking a snap swivel, handling freshly caught fish or cranking a reel, I do it all with my short finger gloves in place. No pulling them on, off or looking for where I put them. These days, my “shorties” of choice are the Pro Gloves from Gill Fishing.

            Like all Gill products, the construction is unmatched and on-the-job tested. The palms and the gripping side of the fingers is made from strategically positioned “Proton-Ultra XD” which is Gill’s techy-name for fake leather. (I’d never guessed it wasn’t leather). The “wear area” on the palm is overlain by Dura-Grip – a tough, supple nylon. The reverse side of the gloves is made of a four-way stretch material to make them go on easily and not be constrictive when grabbing and gripping. There’s no one-size for all with these gloves, they come in six sizes from XS to XXL. I measured my hand according to the online Size Guide at http://www.gillfishing.com and my pair, fit like a glove.

            Order them online if you wish from Gill or Amazon, or look for them in many boating/fishing retail outlets. 

SCENTLOK BE:1 REACTOR VEST PLUS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD  

           I’ll admit to being a vest lover. Marshall Dillon looked tough because he wore a vest, Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly character started a vest-wearing fashion trend in 1985 in the classic Back to the Future movie by wearing a down vest. I already owned a down vest and wore it because it gave me a warm “feeling” in my torso when I was hunting or fishing in cold weather.

            Vests have always been a part of my cold weather layering system, but no more bulky goose down or thick Thinsulate for me now that I have the ScentLok Technologies BE:1 vest. The BE stands for Bowhunter Elite and ScentLok is known for producing gear and garments designed to minimize or eliminate human scent.

I no longer bowhunt so I didn’t get the vest for odor control – though my fishing companions appreciate the vest’s ability to control my “natural musk.” I’m not sure how the Carbon Alloy woven into the fabric of the vest works on fish smells.

            The vest does have a thin layer of Thinsulate insulation between the layers of cloth to provide some built-in insulation, but also inserted between the layers are three, electric powered heat pads located in strategic areas. There’s a short cable located in the right front pocket with a male USB plug on the end. The plug will fit into receptacles in external power packs made for most cell phones.

            In easy reach on the outside of the upper portion of the vest is a man-sized on/off switch. Once it’s turned on (push and hold the switch for three seconds) push the switch once more for low power, twice for medium and three times for high power. I’m not sitting in a deer stand in single digit temperatures; so for me, when fishing, the low heat setting is as much as I’ve needed. 

            Once the power level is selected, the vest will run for 45 minutes, then turn off if it’s not manually switched off sooner. The number of power cycles available depends on the capacity of the battery booster. I’ve ran mine three 45 minute cycles on low power and there was still juice left in my power pack.

            Warmth aside, the vests are available in Mossy Oak, True Timber or Realtree camo patterns – or black, which is what I chose. The two hand pockets and the cell phone slot on the breast have zipper closures which I especially like when I’m on the boat.

            These vests are widely available at many in-store and online locations. They can be ordered direct along with other quality outdoor wear and gear at www.scentlok.com.

POLAR KRAFT KODIAK 200 PRO

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD  

The first three boats I used on Lake Michigan were aluminum. I loved them. Okay, perhaps I was merely infatuated with them because they were the platform I used to access what I believe to be the most exciting fishing in the country.

Then I bought a fiberglass boat. I loved it and still do. All the boats offered the same access to the fishing, but the glass boat offered me the opportunity to do it with a comfort I never imagined could be experienced in an easily trailerable boat capable of handling big water and sizeable waves.

Sure, the glass boat was slightly heavier, but the biggest difference wasn’t weight, it was the shape of the hull and how it was designed to cut through the waves, not bounce over them. In hull design parlance, it’s the VEE.

Most aluminum hulls are made with what boat builders call a modified or semi-vee hull. The forward portion of the hull is “V” shaped to knife through waves, but the vee flattens out appreciably or totally at the stern end of the boat. That’s a great compromise for boaters working inland lakes where shallow draft or stability while casting or jigging is more important than being able to ride comfortably and safely over ocean-like swells and wind-blown waves. The Kodiak is a total Vee hull with 20 degrees of deadrise from the pointy-end to the square end of the boat.

The result isn’t the luxury-car like ride expected in a similarly sized glass deep vee, but it is a noticeable departure from the slam-bam experience of heading offshore in one of the aluminum models starting with L, T, S or other manufacturers. I spent a day on with Lance Valentine on his Kodiak at Grand Traverse Bay and two days with him on Lake Erie. Fishing wise, the lakes couldn’t have been kinder. To test the advantage of the Vee hull we had to search out some wakes to bounce across.

A series of two-foot wakes pushed close together can be a tougher ride than slopping through threes or fours when heading to an offshore bite. We crossed some of those wakes faster than my glass boat will even go. Lance slowed a bit from the 50 miles per hour cruising speed, but mostly, he just trimmed the motor down enough to put more of the Vee into the water.

Sitting in the passenger seat next to the driver, I leaned forward and tensed up instinctively as the boat powered towards the wakes. Sure, the boat bounced and spray flew, but the sting and abuse I expected to my back and butt just didn’t happen.

Neither did the pounding and abuse I inflicted to the hulls on my previous aluminum boats and the eventual downfall of those aluminum models – leaky rivets. All three of my previous aluminum models sported leaks sooner than later. All aluminum manufacturers offer warranties on their materials and workmanship for some period of time, often six or ten years. The Kodiak comes with a lifetime warranty.

 Valentine’s Kodiak was powered by a 200 hp Suzuki, but Polar Kraft isn’t aligned with any particular motor company. If you’d rather have a Merc, Yammy or other brand, no problem.            

The boat had plenty of useful storage options for rods and gear; wide, sturdy gunwales to mount track systems or individual rod holders or other rigging and a choice of floor coverings, colors and other options to personalize the boat for you.  If you are looking for a new boat and are leaning towards the advantages offered by aluminum, be sure to check out Polar Kraft’s Kodiak 200 Pro.  See them online at http://www.polarkraft.com.   

GILL WINTER ANGLER BIB

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD            

I’m lucky to live near the southern tip of Lake Michigan where the first open water boat fishing on any of the Great Lakes is available. Not only is our water soft on top by late February or early March most years, all the coho salmon stocked by Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan are here and the fishing is as hot as it gets. Too bad I can’t say that about the weather.

It’s a smaller boat fishery best suited to outboard powered, trailerable boats. No warm cabin to duck into. No escape from wind, errant snowflakes or frosty, sub-freezing mornings.

Proper layering with high tech winter garb is demanded. Top it all off with a sturdy, warm, weatherproof and waterproof outer layer and you’ll be just fine.

Actually, top off the bottom three-quarters of your body with a pair of Gill Winter Angler Bibs and you’ll be better than fine. Gill is a leader in the world of technical apparel designed specifically for mariners and anglers. Waterproof means waterproof all day, not just for a passing shower or a bit of spray from a bumpy boat ride. Tough, means fabric, zippers, seams and wear points that stand up to the everyday use professional anglers, charter boat skippers and fishing guides demand.

Warmth and comfort is top on my list of things to demand in my earliest season outer wear, but close behind is durability and ease of use. Nothing is going to last me a lifetime, the way I use and abuse it, but it sure better give me several seasons of use. These will.

And if I’m going to live in them a couple months each year, they better have a couple of handy features. Gill’s Winter Bibs do. They have a full-length zipper on each leg and it’s a big, easy-to-zip, easy-to-grip zipper. The bibs are easy on, easy off. The suspender straps are wide and durable. I’m sure they will still be strong and elastic, not stretched out or worse, for the life of the garment. Lastly, I’m a “pocket” guy, and the Winter Angler Bib’s zippered chest pocket is roomy, easy to use and holds much of my useful clutter where I can get to it when needed.             

You’ll find these at many in store or online fishing gear retailers or check out all the Gill apparel and accessories at http://www.gillfishing.com

SIRIUS SIGNAL eVDSD (C-1003)

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD    

The letters above stand for Electronic Visual Distress Signaling Device which most of the people I know who use them call “electronic flares.”  This is the time of year when all Great Lakes boaters should be checking their required visual distress equipment. Check it because they come with an expiration date and then check them closer since they could have deteriorated over the off season. I’ve had hand-held flares swell and split, even if they weren’t out of date. I’ve found some of those shotgun shell type “meteor” flares with corrosion on the brass part of the shell. In an emergency, do you want to base your chance of rescue on a shell that may or may not fire?  Not me!

That’s why a few years ago I switched to an eVDSD to comply with U.S. Coast Guard and state regulations. Even though I switched years ago, I don’t have to check the expiration. I do swap out the batteries annually, even though the major battery makers now have cells which claim to have a shelf life of seven to ten years. I put in new batteries and use the oldy but goodies in flashlights or other battery operated items which aren’t potential life saving devices.

Three things make me a solid supporter of the eVDSDs. First, the super-bright LED light flashes S.O.S. for 60 hours or more with fresh batteries. How long will your required three meteors or hand-held flares last?

Second, they float. Think about the alternative.            

Third, no expiration, so no worry when the DNR or Coast Guard pulls along side to check your safety gear. Widely available at chandleries, online retailers or direct from: www.siriussignal.com.