There are few items a Great Lakes angler can put on his or her boat which can be listed as an item of safety gear, a navigational aid, a fish-catching tool and a bit of gear which can just add enjoyment to every trip. A pair of binoculars can fill all of those niches.

I’ve used the a pair of Vortex 8X28 Diamondback Binoculars for all of the above. I’ve grabbed the binoculars to scan for vessels in trouble, hazards such as floating objects, to spot distant buoys or other navigational aides and to identify just what kind of bird is swimming nearby or circling around the boat. I’ve also handed the binocs to one of my fishing companions and told them to keep an eye on the boat nearby with the fish nearly ready to net and bring on board. “See if you can see what lure that fish just bit.”

Binoculars are available in many price points, from reasonably affordable to break-my-bank expensive. If I had an unlimited budget and unlimited space on my boat, I’d get a pair of those high-dollar, made for boating models like you see a battleship captains using in war movies. He’s got the space to stow them when not in use and a multi-billion dollar defense department budget to pay for them.

Realistically, the Vortex Diamondback binos I tested would serve the battleship captain for about 90 percent of his long-distant viewing needs and they served me on my boat even better. They are compact, rugged and weatherproof.

About the only specifications in the binocular industry which is standard from one manufacturer to the next is the X numbers they all carry, like 8X28, 10X50, 12X42 or others. It’s a simple code. The first number – is the magnification multiplier. An 8X28 is “eight-power,” so is an 8X32. A 12X42 is 12-power, or makes things look as if they are 12 times closer.

The number to the right of the X is the diameter of the front lenses on the binoculars. As a “general” rule, the larger the diameter, the brighter the picture you will see, just as more light will come through a picture window than port hole.

If all lenses were made identically, it wouldn’t be a rule of thumb, it would just be a rule. But each company coats their lenses with a layer or multiple layers of anti-reflective material to allow achieve better light transmission through the glass. The better and more meticulous the coatings are applied, the less light is lost to reflection. In most cases, a good pair of binocs with 28mm lens will be brighter than a so-so pair with 32 or even 42mm lenses.

If you need to zoom in on something wouldn’t it be better to have a 10 or 12 power, rather than a measly 8X pair of binos? On land, that’s a good theory. On a boat, if you are trying to spot a distant lighthouse or identify the lure being used in the next boat over, using high power optics can be frustrating. Being able to hold the binoculars steady enough to see details is more important than just increasing the magnification. Under identical conditions the picture you will see in an 8X binocular will be twice as steady compared to looking through a 10-power pair. In the same conditions using 12-power may be impossible.

That’s why the 8X28 Vortex Diamondback is a great choice. Compact, rugged, perfectly sized, they come with a lifetime warranty and you don’t need a Dept. of Defence budget to afford them. Check them out at http://www.vortexoptics.com. They are widely available online and in many retail outlets.




When I know I am going to be using the binoculars on my boat regularly, I want them handy but don’t want them hanging around my neck when I’m doing “fishy” things like setting lines or netting catches. My dashboard isn’t configured well for stashing gear I want to use frequently or quickly. Some of it is cluttered with electronics, compass and other essentials. Some parts are already cluttered and the parts which aren’t cluttered is probably because the clutter has fallen off. Bino Dock to the rescue!

Most boats have drink holders – either built in at the factory or added on in select locations. Once you learn how handy a pair of binos are, you won’t think twice about dedicating one of the drink holding “sockets” to a Bino Dock (or adding another in a strategic location) to store your binoculars when they aren’t in use and to keep them close at hand for when they are needed.

It’s a simple idea. A cup-shaped mount goes into the cup holder. Simple rubber rings (included) can be added to the mount to make it fit snuggly. The upper part which holds the binoculars adjusts several inches left or right to position them perfectly.

The Bino Dock fits the 8X28 Vortex Diamondbacks easily since they are compact. The manufacture says they will accommodate pairs with up to 56mm objective lenses and the rubber retainer strap adjusts to fit any length. At the end of the boating season, move the Bino Dock to your hunting truck or your ATV. The BDs are made from rugged plastic and will easily stand up to choppy waves on the lake or rough road (or no road) driving situations. They are available at some retail outlets, online at their website http://www.binogear.com and at Amazon.com.



Reviewed by:  Capt. Mike Schoonveld

This review was published in the February/March issue of Great Lakes Angler Magazine because March is when the first open water fishing takes place on the Great Lakes. This Bay Rat spoon in the Cedar Point color caught the first fish of   the 2019 season last March on my boat. I’ll be putting it in my opening day line-up for 2020. Need I say more?

Put one on your A-Team by going to http://www.bayratlures.com.




When I saw these “Hydra” headed battery connections it was a slap-my-head “duh” moment. It wasn’t like I could have built one, but why didn’t someone think of it 40 or 50 years ago – about the time I first started trying to figure the best way to connect marine electronics to a boat’s battery system.

Sure there are other ways – a dedicated electrical panel works, splicing into hot wires, wrapping bare wire ends around the bolt or wing nuts on the normal battery cable ends. All will work. For the most part, all a boater is trying to do is deliver a relatively low amperage dose of 12 volt electrical power to lights, fish finders or other electronics.

Sometimes, however, splicing into wires or through the electrical panel sends confusing electrical interference to conjoined electronics. (I’m not an electrician so I don’t know the proper terms, but I know I’ve heard the “pings” from my sonar transducer on certain VHF radio channels and have had other electrical glitches traceable to co-mingled wiring. I know when I installed high speed downriggers on my boat, the voltage drop when I hit the up switch would cause my sonar/chart display to reboot.

An easy answer is to wire these electronics straight to the battery. (Often just grounding the units to the negative side is enough, but if a dedicated ground is good, a dedicated hotwire is better.) The Hydra Terminals from T-H Marine makes this possible with both three and five headed versions available. Each version comes with one plus and one minus terminal. They are available at some retailers, online at Amazon.com or get them (and see other T-H products) at http://www.thmarinesupplies.com.




I often travel in a full size SUV as big as some of the apartments I rented when I was going to college. Good thing while in college I didn’t have to store enough rod and reel combos, along with a bevy of tackle boxes, for a week’s worth of fishing in my studio – along with my clothes, groceries and beer supplies.

In my Suburban, I do. Maybe not so much beer these days, but boots, tackle, raingear, coolers for me and perhaps three of my fishing buddies and their gear make an untidy load and begs the question: “How can we travel with the requisite number of fishing rods?”

Yakima Products, (the cargo transport Yakima, not the fishing lure Yakima) recently came up with a solid solution for traveling anglers. The Yakima “TopWater” fishing rod box mounts securely on the roof of most any vehicle you may be driving, whether it’s a Chevy Suburban or a Chevy Volt.

My Suburban was equipped with luggage racks on the roof so mounting the locker on top was a breeze. A few brackets, bolts and wing nuts and it the unit was ready for highway speeds. Yakima has roof mounting systems to outfit cars, SUVs and vans with no factory installed luggage racks to mount the TopWater – or other models of their roof top carriers.

The TopWater has spaces to securely hold eight fully rigged rods and reels on protective foam supports held in place with rubber retention straps. Each rod is individually supported and won’t be touching the other rods.

That’s the way to go for the guys with really high-end rod and reel combos wanting to keep them looking like new. Personally, my rod and reel combos are more utilitarian and I’m sure I can fit a dozen or more inside the TopWater and they’ll be just fine when I get to my destination.

In fact, I can fit a dozen rods, several low profile tackle boxes, my rain gear and a few other items inside the TopWater, then lock down the lid with Yakima’s Single Key System and head on down the road. The rod supports are removable, so the roof top transport could carry, guns, skis or any other excess cargo on non-fishing excursions.

Go to: http://www.yakima.com for more details about the TopWater Rod Box or any of their other transport products. The website lists dealers in your area or they can be ordered online.





What do you call those stretchy cloth tubes which slip over your head and use to keep your neck warm or you slide up over the bottom part of your face to either keep it warm or to mask it from the sun? They are often called Buffs, but these days, it’s probably more proper to call them tubular headwear or neckwear.

The guy who invented these (Joan Rojas) called them Buffs – short for the Spanish word for scarf, bufanda. Rojas named his company Buff and now the Buff company makes many items besides the original “multifunction headwear” as the original buffs are now listed on their website.

Many people use the word, Kleenex, for any brand of facial tissue. Many companies produce similar “neck gaiters,” these days but many users just slip on their buff when the sun comes out – regardless if it’s actually a Buff brand tube or an off brand.

I started using neck gaiters – by Buff and other companies – a couple years ago for sun protection, but I found them more useful in my early season excursions on Lake Michigan as a “bufanda caliente” – warm scarf – than for sun protection. Now Buff makes a multifunction headgear, with warmth in mind.

Both the Lightweight and Midweight Merino Wool versions provide much better cold weather protection than the man-made fiber original buffs. Buff says it can be worn in ten different ways, including a hair band or hair tie for women. I use it mostly up on my face as a mask when I’m running my boat at speed and then I pull it down as a neck scarf when fishing.

Though it’s made from 100% Merino wool, they are thin and stretchy, like the original sun protection Buffs. I was concerned the wool model wouldn’t remain stretchy with use. That concern was unfounded, mine is as stretchy now as when it was new.

If you are unfamiliar with Merino wool, it comes from a special breed of sheep with wool noted for being soft and supple, not coarse and scratchy. Wool is the original and only natural fiber capable of wicking away moisture.

Both the Lightweight and Midweight Merino Wool multi-function headgear are available in many colors. See them all at: http://www.buffusa.com. Buff products are available online at their website, at many other online suppliers as well as in retail outlets.



simms1                              Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

My usual “middle layer” before I adopted the ABC (anything but cotton) philosophy when choosing cold weather layers was a hooded sweatshirt. A well broken in hoody is as comfortable as a pair of old blue jeans, as rugged, but wedged between an E.C.W.C.S. base layer and the Clam Ice Armor parka I wear everyday I’m fishing the Great Lakes from March to May, I needed something else.

So when Simms – an industry leader in the fishing wear industry – came out with their own version of the hoody, called the Exstream BiComp, I had to try one out.

It’s called Exstream, I guess, because it’s extremely good looking, extremely warm, well made and extremely comfortable. It’s called BiComp because, well, I don’t know other than it’s a catchy Simms word.

The “Bi” part could be because the designer used two types of materials and construction. The top part of the body, the hood and the sleeves are made with low bulk, quilted fabric encasing PrimaLoft Gold insulation. The lower half of the shirt – the part which would be inside a pair of waders or under the “bib” part of my Ice Armor outer bibs – is made from a stretchy, fleece material – less insulation and bulk where less doesn’t matter or isn’t wanted.

Unlike a traditional hoody, it doesn’t have a kangaroo pouch on the belly – a feature nearly useless when wearing with waders or bibs – but it does have a deep, zippered, easily accessible chest pocket, perfect for a smartphone or point and shoot camera.

Did I mention light weight? It’s about half the weight of a good cotton hoody with twice (or more) the warmth. The only downside is they don’t come with your favorite team logo emblazoned across the chest. No biggy, after all, it’s a middle layer.

The BiComp Hoody and other Simms quality products are available in select outlets (primarily fly-fishing oriented retailers) as well as online direct from http://www.simmsfishing.com.




Hardcore is best known as a producer of garments, decoys and gear for waterfowlers. I’m a waterfowler, myself, so I understand the need for both rugged construction as well as warmth in my duck hunting togs. When Hardcore came out with their H2 pants, I suspected they would be up to seasons of use and abuse, whether in the boat or in the blind.

Few pairs of pants can match the comfort of a well-broken-in pair of blue jeans. The H2 can, thanks to the stretchy base material used to make the pants. Then to add years to the life of the pants Hardcore designers added abrasion panels on the seat, knees and on the insides by the ankles – all high wear areas for when the pants are worn as an outer layer.

The material is not waterproof but it does have tight (wind resistant) weave so slight contact with spray or wet surfaces doesn’t soak in. The fabric, like polypropylene, is moisture wicking so when sweat or water vapor is wicked away from my skin by my base layer, the moisture is able to continue it’s journey through my clothing to the outside, keeping me dry on the inside.

The pants have deep pockets (deeper than blue jeans) and come with a removable pair of suspenders. I go suspenders up since they keep the pants from sliding down. No wind down my back end!

I chose the “Weathered” gray color instead of either of Hardcore’s camo patterned fabrics strictly because I have an aversion to wearing camouflage when I’m fishing. (When I’m duck hunting, I’m always wearing waders, anyway.)

The H2s are available at Cabela’s/BPS, other retailers or online at http://www.hardcorewaterfowl.com.




It’s a long way from eastern Lake Erie where I spotted the first Bay Rat I ever saw to northwest Indiana where all we have are muskrats. Actually, northwest Indiana has more than muskrats. For a couple of months each spring, it also has all the coho salmon in Lake Michigan swarming along it’s beaches and breakwaters.

It seemed as though the part of Lake Erie where I was fishing just offshore of Dunkirk, New York was where the majority of Lake Erie’s walleye were swarming when I spotted the Bay Rat. It wasn’t a furtive rodent lurking along the waterfront. The rats were the lures of choice that day for the walleyes we pulled up from Erie’s depths, one after another – Bay Rat lures. More precisely the ones Bay Rat Lures model called Long Shallow – a 4 3/8 inch stickbait.

“Cohos eat stickbaits,” I thought, and in my ever persistent quest to find and own that perfect lure, I clicked up the Bay Rat website at http://www.bayratlures.com and found they have a dazzling array of both “Long Shallows” and a scaled-down partner called “Short Shallow” which swims through the lake at  3.5 inches “short.”

Decades of experience has taught me when fishing in the earliest spring for NW Indiana’s cohos, it’s impossible to troll a lure too shallow. The fish are at the surface trying to warm up in a near-freezing lake. The fish are usually more inclined to snap at a small lure than a large one and they’ll bite nearly any color or pattern. They’ll bite anything, but a fisherman is seldom wrong pulling hot orange or hot red patterns.

The Short Shallow filled my needs perfectly on each aspect. They stayed in the top layer of the water by just tying direct and trolling the lures 30 to 50 feet behind a side planer. Bay Rat has a color pattern called “Coho Crusher.” What could be better?  It’s a translucent plastic body with an insert of “orange crush” mylar inside – the same orange crush material nearly every spoon maker uses to make the venerable “Double Orange Crush.”

The Coho Crusher caught fish, but it didn’t “crush” them. Actually, the Lady Bug pattern was the crusher on my boat. Hot red with black spots has been a solid pattern since the first salmon were stocked in the Great Lakes.

At this writing the politicians were still arguing about the tariffs on imports from China. Regardless of the outcome of these negotiations, it’s likely to cause higher prices for fishing lures imported from China where many “American” brands are now made.  Bay Rats are made in America with all American components.  Available at retailers, online tackle sellers or direct from the Bay Rat website.




Nearly every company who makes trolling spoons has their own version of “Dolphin” spoons – a silver blade with a chartreuse edge along one border of the blade and either green or blue along the other edge. A scalloped tape in either green/glow or yellow/glow stripes diagonally across the blade to complete the pattern.

The dolphin pattern has been a time-proven and fish-proven pattern for over a quarter of a century and Northern King spoons has their own version. Two things set the NK version apart from the others. First, the NK starts with a brass blank, making it heavier than similar steel blades and delivers a unique wobble as it’s trolled. The blank is silver plated, not just coated with chrome or polished nickel. The silver produces more flash as it trolls through the depths.

Additionally, each dolphin spoon (whether it’s blue dolphin or green dolphin) comes with a choice of either a yellow/glow or green/glow tape highlight tape. The tape is not “pre-applied.” Select which of the two colors packed with each spoon you prefer, peel the backing off the tape strip, stick the tape on the spoon and send it down to let the fish tell you if you chose wisely.

Three sizes are available: 3 5/16″ – 3 3/4″ and 4 1/2″. Northern King (made in Canada) is being stocked at some retailers here in the states or can be ordered online from http://www.FishUSA.com or direct from the parent company (Len Thompson) at http://www.lenthompson.com.