JEEP GLADIATOR SPORT

Reviewed by: CAPTAIN MIKE SCHOONVELD

            For more than half a century few vehicle brands have remained so instantly recognizable as Jeep. Remove all the chrome insignias, these days, and it’s hard to tell a Ford from a Chevy from a Toyota…and so on. But thanks to the distinctive look of the grill, the fenders and other features, it’s easy to see the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport is the great, great grandchild of the “jeeps” which were rolled out by the millions as military all-purpose vehicles long ago.

            I tested the Jeep Gladiator Sport as a tow vehicle slash all purpose ride for a week back in late May, thinking it could be the perfect choice for Great Lakes anglers who are also Great Lakes hunters, Great Lakes commuters and perhaps Great Lakes family people. Would it be as all purpose here as it was for the GIs in Europe, Korea and other places around the world?

            My daily commute from home to the lake routes me on country roads, two-lane highways, several miles on an Interstate highway and ends up on busy expressways leading to Chicago. Just one trip is an all purpose test track. The Jeep passed all the tests.

            Though the Gladiator is lighter than the Suburban or the older model, full size Chevy pick-up which is usually pulling my 5000 pound-ish boat and trailer, I didn’t feel as though the boat was in control of the ride. It handled the load just fine and I had no problems getting the rig up to speed on the highways or up the ramp at the end of the trip. With the “Max Tow” package, it has a 7650 pounds rated, 3.6L, V6 gasoline, 305 horse powerhouse.

            When I got the loaner vehicle it had 3600 miles on it and the overall gas mileage readout on the dash display showed a 19 MPG average – just as advertised on the sticker. On a road trip sans the boat it registered consistently around 25 on the highway and with my boat in tow on a straight and level road the instant readout usually showed 11 MPG.

            I didn’t take the Gladiator off road but with multiple 4X4 options and traction settings, I’m sure it’s as nimble off the road or on Great Lakes winter highways as any comparable truck. It’s a nice feature, both for winter driving as well as on algae-slick launch ramps during the summer months.

            The Gladiator Sport I drove is the “base” model. Others are the Sport S, Overland and Rubicon. Each level reflects increased level of interior trim, audio systems, lighting etc. Even in the basic Sport, “must haves” such as A/C, power windows, seat warmers (for my wife) plus many more features are available as options.  

            The rear seating is sized just fine for most women and small kids. Full-sized men will fit okay for short to medium trips. I’d hate to ride more than a couple hours back there without a stop. The rear seats will flip up to increase the interior storage area.

            Though I didn’t remove them, the metal doors and fiberglass roof easily come off to give the Gladiator more of the look of the original Willy’s models. That would be a fun ride around town at Put-In-Bay or cruising to the House of Flavors for an evening ice cream cone in Ludington.

            In short, if you are looking for a general purpose, rugged, but cool looking truck to use around town, in the country and to head for the lake, take a look at the Jeep Gladiator. It won top awards at many auto shows across the country in it’s inaugural year, 2019, and has been voted the North American Truck of the Year for 2020.

ABU-GARCIA AMBASSADEUR ALTUM DLC

Reviewed by: Captain Mike Schoonveld

Every Great Lake trolling boat has a couple, or more than a couple, line counter reels on board. Except for the Abu Garcia Altum “digital” line counter (thus the DLC in it’s model name) all the LC reels I’ve used rely on a mechanical readout based on a series of gears which engage the reel’s inner-works to spin numbers on an axle. I’ve used just about every brand and they all work similarly.

            The Altum DLC probably has some sort of gear drive internally – I didn’t disassemble the reel to check – but after that, the readout shows on a liquid crystal display which right off the bat showed me two advantages. First, the numbers in the readout are over a half inch tall – much easier to see at a glance. Second, if you hit the light button when you are setting a line in the dark, the readout lights up and it can be seen without having to hold a flashlight in your teeth.

            The one I used is the “20″ size model, which is a “medium” model for most Great Lakes use. Line capacity is listed as 330 yards of 20-pound mono. I’m using it as a diver reel so I spooled on about 200 yards of 30-pound mono and then topped it off with 200 yards of 30-pound braided line. There’s a smaller “16″ size, about 1/3rd smaller than the 20, which would be great for walleye trollers.

            Every line counter reel really just counts the revolutions of the reel’s spool rather than the actual feet of line being deployed so the readout you see is inaccurate more than spot on most of the time. It all depends on the diameter of the line being used and the amount of line on the reel’s spool. It’s the same with the Altum, though the digitizer circuitry inside can be set for various line sizes. Change the setting and it boosts accuracy. There’s a choice of 8, 10, 12, 17, 20 and 25 which I presume is referring to monofilament diameters. Since I spooled with braid, I set my reel on 8, spooled off a measured 25 feet and the digital readout showed 24. Close enough for me – I don’t fish for picky fish. Read more about fishing with line counter reels in “Reels You Can Count On” in this issue.

            The reel is battery powered so the battery will eventually run down. I haven’t used it enough to gauge battery usage but the reel has two features to extend the life. First, after a few minutes the readout goes to “hibernate” mode, retaining the memory of how much line is out, but the readout goes blank. Touch a button or move the reel handle, the display will turn back on. If you forget to turn off the reel, it will automatically go from hibernate to power-off after 10 hours. Get a spare battery and don’t worry about it. It’s easy to change.

            This is a quality, well built, solid feeling reel – what one would expect from Abu Garcia. The drag material is carbon fiber and the drag is smooth as silk. One feature I’m still learning to use is how once the drag is set to where you need it, the reel handle can be cranked a third-turn back which loosens the drag setting about 50%.     

            Saltwater specialists use reels with this feature so hard hitting fish can’t snap the line on the initial strike but once that first run is over, cranking forward puts the reel in fight mode. I’ve used it when setting a diver, letting diver and line run out line slowly against the light drag as the rod is set in the rod holder unattended while I do something else. I glance at the readout occasionally, then just reel forward to tighten the drag when the amount of line I’m setting out shows on the readout.             This real is widely available at retailers as well as online sources. Check them out at: http://www.AbuGarcia.com.

EXTREME BOAT BAG

  

Reviewed by: CAPTAIN MIKE SCHOONVELD

          The insides of fishing boats are wet places – maybe not as wet as the outside of the boat – but between spray, wet lures, wet fish, wet anchors, wet landing nets…, it’s foolish to think anything on board, unless specifically protected, isn’t going to get damp or worse. I know when I want an extra sweatshirt, I want a dry one.

            Thus, the advantage of a “dry bag.” It’s a simple concept – an appropriately sized piece of luggage that’s waterproof or at the minimum mostly water resistant. For me, the appropriate size will hold a heavy duty rainsuit – bibs and parka, and an extra jacket or hooded sweatshirt with room left over for miscellaneous supplies. Gloves, an extra hat, a few lures, camera, batteries, a sandwich, filet knife, ziplock bags, pens and notepads – I can’t remember all the items I’ve ever stuffed in my Bass Pro Extreme Boat Bag, but it’s been stuffed full countless times.

            Many of the  items I review in this column are brand new and I can only guess how well they will hold up over time. My Extreme Boat Bag, shown here, is old and well traveled. It’s been with me to Alaska, Costa Rica, both coasts of North America and too many places in between to remember. It’s ridden in overhead compartments in airliners, in the back of pick-up trucks, in canoes and cruise ships.  Most notable, it’s ridden on the front deck of my boat hundreds of times since I bought it over 20 years ago.

            Other than a few scuff marks and a bit of what I call “patina,” it’s as good as the day I bought it. They come in size small, large and the one I have is “jumbo” measuring 30X14X14 inches. Most sizes are available in-store at Bass Pro retail outlets, at some Cabela’s stores and all the sizes can be purchased online at http://www.basspro.com.

CME TROLLING TOURNAMENT HOOK RIGS

 

Reviewed by: CAPTAIN MIKE SCHOONVELD    

        I’ve often heard of flies and meat rigs which get paired with “tournament hook rigs” as though when fishing in a tournament, it’s necessary to use the most effective set-up possible; or perhaps, when you are just out fishing for recreation, any ol’ hook is good enough. What? I don’t care if I’m fishing for a prize or just to catch a salmon for supper, I want the most effective hook set-up available dangling at the rear of my lure.

            The rig itself is tied with 50 pound test Seaguar STS, fluorocarbon line and uses a 4/0 VMC single hook trailed by a 4X #1 VMC treble hook. I don’t know if hook rigs using only single hooks or just a treble really hooks and holds a salmon or trout better than the single/treble combo. I do think the forward positioned single hook can be hidden up inside the fly without tangling up in the fly material better than a treble. All in all, it looks like a mean, wicked arrangement – especially from a fish’s point of view. If nothing else, four sharp points is better than three, two or one in my estimation.

            Sure, you can buy the hooks, line, beads and tubing to make your own. I could make one in what, a half hour – probably taking a half dozen tries to get one right. I don’t know who the CME line tiers are, but they are good and I’m happy to plunk down $2.95 for a set of their tournament rigged hook sets. Get them at http://www.cmetrolling.com and check out their line of flies, meat rigs and other products, as well.  

GAMAKATSU “MAGIC EYE” TREBLES

Reviewed by: CAPTAIN MIKE SCHOONVELD     

        There’s no need to hype the quality of Gamakatsu hooks. They were one of the first hook makers to spend as much effort producing quality as quantity. Plenty of tournament pros switch every lure they own to these Asian-made hooks. All of them come ultra-sharp and with exquisite quality control ensuring whether the fish on the end of the line is a sunfish or a sailfish, the hook won’t fail.

            So when you get a Magic Eye Treble from Gamakatsu, the quality isn’t the magic, it’s the ability to slide the hook onto a split ring without shredding a thumbnail or digging out the split ring pliers. When the hook is being made the eye of the hook is formed or flattened a bit – just enough at the top – so when it’s pressed against a split ring the hook’s eye, instead of your thumbnail or the beak on the split ring pliers, the flat part of the eye is what spreads open the ring allowing the hook to be threaded securely.

            Using a Gamakatsu hook is a big deal to fishermen who recognize quality and want to use the best. Using a Magic Eye hook isn’t a real big deal, but on the other hand, why not? It doesn’t have to be tricky to be effective – and who doesn’t like a little magic?  Widely available or buy them online at http://www.gamakatsu.com. Available in various styles, strengths, sizes and colors.

CHALLENGER MINNOW FOUR BAGGER

 

 Reviewed by: CAPTAIN MIKE SCHOONVELD   

        Thousands of walleye guys (and plenty of bass guys, “salmoniacs” and other fish chasers) rely on Challenger Minnows available in nine sizes and in both jointed, straight and deep diver configurations as well as in dozens of colors. Between the sizes, models and colors, choosing which one to buy or tie on is a “Challenger-ing” task. 

            If you want my advice, try the newest color pattern recently added to their standard line-up called the Four Bagger. Why it’s got that name, I don’t know, other than it’s been a home run for me both in the three-inch version run behind a shallow set Dipsey Diver for early season cohos on Lake Michigan as well as the 4 1/2″ shallow diver on downriggers and 4 1/2″ Deep Minnow for Lake Erie walleyes. 

            Challenger Minnows (and other products) are available at many retail outlets or see and choose from all the sizes, colors and models at www. challengerlures.com. 

FRABILL BEAR CLAW NET

yaknet4

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

The last seconds of the battle between angler and fish for any large enough to need to be hauled out of the water with a landing (boating?) net is often the trickiest. It’s tricky when it’s done as a team effort, one person maneuvering the fish, the other wielding the net. Trying to do it solo is usually a dozen times harder.

There are a dozen reasons why this is so and among them is the fact almost all nets come with a hoop and a single handle. Manipulating the hoop with the handle when using two hands is fairly easy, but doing it one handed (while the other hand is holding the rod and the fish stubbornly refusing to play nice) a totally different.

Want to complicate it even more, try it in a kayak, canoe or small, tippy boat. No net design is going to take all the drama and challenge of solo netting out of the activity, but Frabill’s new Bear Claw Net simplifies it to a large degree.

Start off with a double-shafted handle which locks only the netter’s forearm. Now, instead of the net having to be swished one way or the other and then lifted primarily using the muscles in the netter’s wrist, both shoulder muscles and elbow muscles are doing the work. All the wrist and hand has to do is hang-on.

Once the fish is scooped it drops into a basket made from Frabill’s unique conservation netting which has a tight weave and a special coating to reduce damage to a fish’s scales and slime while being somewhat resistant to tangling with treble hooks.

Especially on kayaks, canoes and even in small boats, stow-ability is almost as important as easy of use. The double wide handle is hinged to close so the total package isn’t much larger than the 18-inch diameter of the hoop. This rugged net is available online at http://www.frabill.com and other online sources as well as retail shops.

BUBBA (INTERCHANGEABLE) BLADES

bubbaset

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

Bubba Blade filet knives have become the choice of fish-cutter-uppers across the country since they were introduced about a decade ago. Since then ol’ Bubba has continued to innovate by offering a variety of styles and lengths – many of which have become winners at ICAST and other trade shows as well as in the fish cleaning kits of avid anglers.

One of this year’s entries is called properly, the Multi-Flex Interchangeable Set. One of the trademarks of Bubba Blades is the bright red, non-slip, easy grip handle. This set comes with one handle along with four different blades to snap securely into grip, depending on your need.

The shortest is a seven-inch fillet slicer perfect for general purpose use. It’s stiff enough to make short work of walleye ribs and still have the ideal flex for slicking the skin loose from the fillets.

The eight-inch, ultra flex is one of those skinny bladed fish cutters ideal for cohos and browns (and crappies, catfish and others). If you are one of the guys who fillet around the ribs instead of cutting through and then removing them, this will become your favorite in the set.

The nine-inch stiff blade worked great on wicked tuna and big ol’ red snappers on the Texas Gulf for me last February, but here on the Great Lakes, it’s my go-to kitchen knife when I’m cooking at fish camp. From chunking potatoes to dicing onions, it gives me Iron Chef performance.

The final blade in the four-blade set is a serrated edge nine-incher. I’m one of those guys who occasionally cuts my fish into steaks rather than fillets. The serrated blade is the way to go. Any knife will slice through the skin and meat easily, but when it gets to the spine the serrated blade saws right on through.

The kit comes with a functional and stylish Bubba-red case with a rugged insert to hold each blade and handle in place securely. Then it zips shut.

The kit is available online at http://www.bubbablade.com and other sources as well as in retail shops.

NO NATZ

natz

Reviewed by CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

Actually, the spray should be called No Natz or Ankle Flies. I’m not sure of the proper name for those biting flies that show up each summer, usually when I’m far offshore and usually on a nearly windless day. It could be they thrive on the warmest days when shorts and sandals are more appropriate than long pants and heavy socks.

It seems that way, to me. I’m sure others have other names for them, often with an unprintable swear word associated with the name. I just call them ankle flies because for every bite I get even halfway from my foot to my knee, I’ll get a hundred on my ankles.

At times it seems the only thing they like better than my ankle meat and blood is DEET or the ingredients contained in other, so called “natural” insect repellants. The only way Deep Woods Off works for me is to spray on enough the toothy monsters slide off when they land on my ankle to take a bite.

If you know of a product which works perfectly and all the time, let me know. Otherwise, pick up a bottle of No Natz. The product repels Great Lakes Ankle Flies better than any I’ve ever used. It’s not perfect, but I’d say it works 98 percent of the time. Would you rather get bit 100 times or just two?

The makers list the ingredients as “botanical oils,” including rosemary, lemongrass, geranium, olive and coconut oils. Available from two ounce containers to quarts at http://www.nonatz.com or amazon.com.