MINI-KEEP KOOL WORM CONTAINER

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD    

        It’s a problem I discovered over 50 years ago when a digging a soup can full of garden worms was a precursor to every fishing trip. There was no problem catching the worms, the problem was keeping them alive and squirming.

            Soup cans had no insulation. I eventually graduated to insulated worm containers that were better, but even in a special cooler, a hot summer sun can easily kill more worms than you feed to the fish.

            The folks at Hagen’s Fishing have come up with a worm container that will keep worms cool and comfortable all day or all weekend. The concept is simple. Start with a specially shaped, reusable, ice-pack which can be used over and again. The ice-pack slides into a soft, insulated jacket to slow the thawing and warming of the frozen liquid inside and a special container, slides into a special recess in the freezer block. The worms go into the container and stay comfortably cool all day. At the end of the day, the worm container can be slid into a cooler or fridge; the ice-pack can be refrozen in a freezer in a few hours. 

            First, let me say the thing worked. I spent five sunny, summer days on Lake Erie in an open boat with this container protecting our nightcrawlers. The crawlers were just as healthy on Friday as they were on Monday when they were put in it.

            I questioned the wisdom of making the jacket white in color when I first saw it, but then I realized the white color extended the length of time the container will keep the worms cool. I’d rather have a dirty worm box than a dead nightcrawler.

              They are available in two sizes. The largest will hold twelve dozen crawlers, the smaller will hold six dozen. Check them out and purchase these at http://www.hagensfish.com. But plan on spending some time on Hagen’s website. Hagen’s has literally thousands of SKUs of fishing products. I doubt the worm box will be the only thing in your order.

RENO GLOW STICKS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

Joe Reno, owner and lure designer at the Reno Bait Company, has some of the most imaginative paint patterns and finishes on his lures of any available anywhere. Now he’s added patterns that overlay a glow-in-the-dark body in his Shallow Diver stickbait line-up. Glow lures are a staple for salmon and trout in the Great Lakes, but somewhat unique in the walleye world.

I question why. I gave these “glow sticks” a workout on my annual foray to Lake Erie for the same reasons I use glow-lures back home for salmon and trout. We started our days early and were setting lines by the time the sun cracked the horizon.  We hit the glow-stick with a dose of UV light from a special flashlight and sent it out. It never stayed out for long.

 it stayed out most of the morning, even after the sun was high enough to light up the depths. We were there soon after the Memorial Weekend blow had muddied the Western Basin waters. The fish didn’t have to dive deep to avoid the bright sun. We ran the Reno Shallow Diver with no weight or diving aides early, then moved it to run a bit deeper using downriggers, Dipsey Divers or lead core where it remained a top producer under these cloudy-water conditions.  Check them out where ever Reno Baits are sold or at http://www.renobaitcompany.com.  

CME TROLLING – EYED BULLET HEADS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

You wouldn’t buy a J-Plug or other crankbait that didn’t have eyes painted on them, would you?  Many popular trolling spoons come with eyespots; I often tape aftermarket spots on the spoons I purchase that don’t come with eyes.

How many of the trolling flies you use have eyes?  Not many, but still, they catch fish. Is there a reason other lures need eyes but trolling flies don’t?  I can’t answer that for sure, but I’m sure an eye on the head of the fly would never hurt and just might get an extra bite or two from super-wary fish.            

CME, maker of my favorite bullet heads to use when making my own trolling flies, now make bullet heads with prominent eyes. I like them!  Here are the first couple flies I made with the Eyed Bullet Heads.  If you make your own flies and like the idea of making some with eyes, check out http://www.cmetrolling.com 

SMART TROLL II – DEPTH/SPEED/TEMP PROBE(S)

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD            

Much of the time, fishing without a “probe” to measure the temperature of the water at the depth the lure is being trolled and/or the speed of the lure is like star gazing at night while wearing sunglasses. Salmon, trout, walleyes and other fish often relate to water temperature and down deep, where the cool water is located, lake currents make relying on GPS or other speed readings imprecise. 

In short, knowing the speed and water temperature down where your lures are positioned is far more important than the speed and temperature at the lake’s surface. You’ll see more stars when you take off your sunglasses. You’ll catch more fish when you use a “probe” device. 

“Probes” are all two-part products. Part one for most of them is a about the size of a D Cell flashlight that connects to a downrigger cable just above the weight probe to measure the speed and temp. Part two is a unit on the boat to display the readings being measured in the depths. I’ve used all of the popular brands; I currently have a Fish Hawk X4 on my boat. So why was I willing – even excited – to put the Smart Troll II on my boat?

Because the size and drag caused by the X4’s (and others I’ve used) big probes creates a significantly greater amount of blowback on the ‘rigger with the probe on it. This makes setting a lure at a specific depth somewhat imprecise and occasionally causes tangles with adjacent downrigged lines. The Smart Troll II probe is about 80 percent smaller than the probe on my X4; and in addition, the display registers the true depth of the probe in along with the speed and temp.

Since the ST probe is small, it just clips to the downrigger wire with an Offshore OR-16 pinch pad. If the downrigger ball is lost, the probe will still be on the cable.

Or just don’t run the Smart Troll probe on your downrigger at all. The speed measuring part of the probe can be removed and without it, the temperature and depth measuring part of the probe is the size of an AA battery.

“Many guys don’t worry about the speed so much, and put the temperature and depth probe just ahead of or behind their Dipsey Divers,” said Darrell Huff, owner of Smart Troll. “They let out line on their diver gradually, not as much worrying about the amount of line as watching the temperature readout as the diver goes deeper. Once the temperature shows the diver is in or under the temperature break, the Smart Troll will show it’s exact depth. From there, the fisherman can set his downriggers and by checking the line counter on the diver reel, use that reading to position other divers.”

Or, put one of the probes on each diver. Or put temp probe(s) on the divers and one with the speed attachment on a downrigger to monitor the boat’s trolling speed.  Probes are sold separately or in kits with two to six probes.

There’s no display unit to mount somewhere on the boat. Instead, the probes “report” to a receiver (a black box which can mount anywhere on the boat) and the receiver sends a Bluetooth signal to your Android SmartPhone. Here’s the kicker – the SmartPhone App will monitor up to six probes simultaneously – showing the true depth at the probe and the speed at the probe if the speed attachment is mounted.  Available from http://www.smarttroll.com.

GILL SHORT CRUISING BOOTS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

If you’ve ever been on a salt water charter boat or watched any of the reality fishing shows about  anything from shrimp to wicked tunafish, you’ll notice the footwear worn by the  crewmen and deck hands on these boats is what are called “deck” boots. Gill Fishing calls theirs “cruising” boots. It makes sense, the back decks on these boats are often wet places where washdown hoses are in constant use to keep the surface clean and free of blood, slime and squished bait.

            Most Great Lakes boats don’t get quite that amount of abuse, but some do. I know on my boat each time someone bounces a bloody-mouthed salmon or a slimy laker poo-poos on my boat’s floor, out comes my washdown hose.

            When the water is warm, in the heat of summer, working a wet deck in sandals or quick-drying Crocs may be comfortable enough, but much of the spring and fall, the air is cold and the water is colder. A comfortable pair of deck boots are perfect.

            If you think they’d be perfect for you, check out the Short Cruising Boots available from Gill. They slide on easily, with just enough tightness around the ankle to keep them snug when walking around in them. As I mentioned earlier, I wear Crocs in the warmest months – primarily because I find the spongy material very comfortable for walking and standing. I don’t know if the insoles of the Gill deck boots are the same material, but it’s every bit as comfortable on my feet. The insole is removable, if needed and the lining of the boot is a comfortable polyester.  The rest of the boot is made of a 100% natural rubber compound with a non-slip sole.

            For wet days or wet decks when fishing for wicked tuna or whopper walleyes, a pair of Gill Short Cruising Boots will be perfect for you. Available at many retailers, at Amazon.com or online at http://www.gillfishing.com.  When I wrote this review, online purchases from the Gill Fishing website included free shipping and returns. 

SHOXS SHOCK ABSORBING SEAT PEDESTAL

Reviewed by: Capt. Mike Schoonveld

            The Great Lakes are bumpy places. Sure, I’ve been out on each of the five lakes when they were mill-pond smooth, but I’ve been out many more times when the boat I was in was bouncing through, up, over and ultimately down in lumpy waves, chop and rollers.

            With over five decades of Great Lakes experience, I’ve learned some boats are worse than others, some sea conditions are worse than others and some of the lumps and bumps are painful. What you might not know is every time your boat splashes down hard enough to make you go “oof,” whether it throws a spike of pain into your butt or up your spine, you are doing damage, often permanent damage, to your spinal column and other joints.

            Many factors feed into any particular person’s susceptibility to lower back pain. Some people have backs of steel and can ride bucking horses or bouncing boats for a lifetime and never have a problem. Others end up with chronic back problems for seemingly no reason at all. Everyone else is somewhere in the middle, but one thing is for certain – my tolerance for rough water boating has gone down over the years.

            Instead of giving up on fishing on all but the calmest days or buying a larger boat which might smooth the ride, I looked for a “shock mitigating seat” (or seats) to upgrade my current boat and make riding across a bumpy lake surface significantly more tolerable.

            I quickly learned most of these mechanisms are huge, almost like bolting a Lazy Boy recliner at the helm; some of them require cutting holes in the boat’s deck to utilize the space between the deck and hull, some require swapping out both the seat and the seat’s mount or pedestal and a few require professional installation. Add more $$$ as complexity increases.

            The brand and model I got to save my back and butt is made by Shoxs, an established leader in the shock-mitigating boat seat industry. Called simply the X4, it’s the most compact of any brand I investigated, took up the least amount of room in my boat and was a simple, DIY installation. 

            Though Shoxs does sell seats to fit atop the X4 pedestal, all I wanted to do was remove the existing seat at my helm from my existing pedestal, then remove the pedestal, then fasten the X4 to the floor and put my old seat on the X4.  It was easier than I expected; in fact, removing the original pedestal which had been in place for more than 20 years was the most difficult part of the process.

            Installing my existing seat was a snap. The mounting boat holes at the top of the X4 aligned perfectly with my existing seat and the holes to fasten the pedistal to the floor matched perfectly with the original bolt holes. I did increase the size of the lags I used to secure it to the floor from the 1/4″ originals to 3/8″ suggested by Shoxs. Easy-peezy.

            The amount of cushion effect on the X4 is adjustable and what adjustment needed depends on both the size of the person sitting in the seat, the waves being encountered and the ride of the boat on which it’s installed. I’m a big guy and need a stiffer setting than if my petite wife would be in the seat. My 21 foot fiberglass boat has a better ride than your 19 foot aluminum model. Adjust as needed.

            Adjusting is simple by adding compressed air, or letting out a bit of air through a Schrader valve – like the valve stem on you vehicle’s tires. A bicycle tire pump will do the work.

            Does it mitigate the shock?  A friend and I tested it out on a windy day on Lake Michigan. The 20 mph wind was pushing steep sided two to fours – mostly three footers. I powered up to a speed a bit faster than the maximum speed I’d usually go in those conditions – for safety and to keep from breaking something. My GPS hovered between 23 to 27 mph.

            I’d trimmed the boat to cut through most of the waves, but occasionally it would slam down into the wave troughs. In the seat with the X4 I could feel the waves, but I could also feel the seat cushion the bumps and smooth the ride. My friend (another big guy) and I switched places, I rode in the passenger seat next to the helm and Tom drove the boat at the same speed.

            We agreed, the ride in the drivers seat was “significantly” smoother than in the passenger seat. “Significantly,” in this case means money well spent to make my days on the lake more comfortable and save wear and tear on my spine and other joints in the long run. That’s what I think and that’s what other customers including the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy think. Both have installed Shox seats and pedestals on many of their fast response vessels.

            Available direct at the Shox website: https://allsalt.com/landing/shoxs, other online marine suppliers and some retail outlets.

HAGEN’S COHO DODGERS

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

            If an accurate survey could be taken, I’d guess over half the coho salmon caught in Lake Michigan are hooked up using a six-inch metal dodger with a small trolling fly trailing behind it. If you asked a follow-up question about the D/F user’s favorite color of dodger, it would be fluorescent red.

            These little red dodgers are as good now as they were 50 years ago when cohos were first stocked in the lake. And for the first 40 or so years, finding them when you needed new ones or additional ones was simple. Most tackle shops had an ample supply and from many suppliers.

            These days, that’s not true. Whether it’s pandemic caused shortages, the switch to plastic flashers or whatever reason, finding coho dodgers is nearly impossible – even at online sources. If you do find them, the price is ridiculous.

            I’ve stumbled onto a source which has kept me well supplied – Hagen’s (www.hagenfish.com) sells unfinished 6 1/4-inch dodger blanks (their Size 2) in either unpainted steel or brass. I’m sure either would work but I use the brass ones. The price per blade goes down as the number ordered goes up.  If you order 25, they are less than a $1.25 each.

            Hagen’s does sell painted dodgers, but not orange. So I paint my own.

            I use spray paint from the hardware store – first a white primer goes on, then a top coat of fluorescent red. There are clear, top coats available, but you’ll get a season or more of use without the top coat protection.

            They come with no hardware, so buy some large split rings, swivels and snap swivels – also available at Hagen’s and put them together once the paint is dry. Hang a small trolling fly 16 or 18 inches behind the dodger, hook it up to a downrigger or diver and I bet it won’t be long until a Lake Michigan coho latches on.

DOWN-EAST S-17 SALTY ROD HOLDER

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD

I’ve occasionally seen Down-East Rod holders on Great Lakes boats since I first started fishing on the Great Lakes. Why not? The Peterson family started making these “down-east” in Maine in 1946. I imagine the first one’s I saw were clamp-on models tightened on the gunwales of small aluminum boats. None of the companies now producing the familiar “tube-type” holders were even in business back then.

            I’d never used Down-East holders until I climbed aboard Lance Valentine’s walleye boat last year. I’d never thought about using one until I’d experienced them, first hand.  I didn’t expect them to work well or even work period. They didn’t seem, at a glance, to be very durable. I’m writing this review, partly to eat my own words and thoughts.

            One clue that they work – Lance is sponsored by TraxsTech and has a complete set of their track systems, rod holders, rod trees, planer board holders and other Trax gear on his boat. The only “other brand” rigging is his pair of Down-East S-17 Salty Rod Holders mounted on each back corners of his boat.

            Once I saw them in use, I understood why. He had the Down-Easts adjusted steeply downward so the tips of his rods were positioned just inches above the water line. With no downriggers on his boat, he used his “down-easters” with a non-directional diving planer, like Offshore Tackle’s Tadpoles or with heavy Snap Weights.

            I’ve seen other trollers use similar set-ups (with tube-type holders) for directional planers and I know the pressure on the rods when being trolled keeps the rods from sliding into the drink; but I’m a firm believer in gravity and relying on friction and pressure to keep a rod from sliding out and into the drink seems a bit foolish. It must seem so for Valentine, as well, and the Down-East holders overcome that foolishness.

            Down-East’s Salty models are designed to hold the rod and clamp on around the reel’s seat to keep the rod from being able to slide out from gravity or even by being pushed or pulled. The rod and reel is locked in the holder.

            Instead of pulling the rod out of the holder as one would do in a tube-type holder, just lift straight up at which time the tube and reel grip flops open, instantly freeing the rod. “Brilliant,” I thought.

            I thought this because I’ve seen countless people struggle to wrestle a diver rod out of tube-holders when a big fish strikes the lure. Most of the time it’s just a chore. Once I saw a big strong guy pull so hard he broke the rod holder. More than once I’ve seen not so strong guys break diver rods at the handle when trying to wrench them free.

            My only concern was if the Down-East holder would be tough enough. They look to be molded out of what “pre-plastic” toys and parts used to be made from – we called it “pot metal.” That’s what I asked Lance. “Are they strong and tough? They look like pot metal.”

            He said, “I’ve seen musky trolling boats on Lake St. Clair rigged with Down-East holders exclusively.  I’ve never heard of one breaking. I’ve never had one break.”

            So I got a pair to try out and positioned them in place of my other diver rod holders. The first thing I noticed was on my boat, where I have them located, if I position the rod so the holder clamps around the reel seat, there’s enough of the rod jutting out the back to become dangerous to any passing belly-buttons. No issue, I don’t adjust the angle of the holder to defy gravity by lowering my rod tips down towards the water. So I don’t use the “reel lock” feature. I just slide the rod into the holder with only a few inches of the rod-butt jutting out the rear.

            Leaving that few inches out is important. To remove the rod, grip the protruding rod-butt with one hand while the other hand grips just behind or ahead of the reel. Then just lift the whole rod straight upwards and it almost effortlessly pops out of the rod holder. 

            I guess there’s a reason Down-East rod holders have been around for 75 years.  My sample models are staying on my boat. 

            Down-East makes Standard (for up to 25 pound fish) and Salty models for larger fish.

Both models have various mounting options – clamp-on, bolt-on, rail mounts and for both horizontal and vertical surfaces. Available online direct from Down-East at http://www.down-east.com, as well as other online sources and retail outlets.

OLD SALT LIVEWELL CLEANER

Reviewed by: CAPT. MIKE SCHOONVELD 

           The mask mandate may be over in most places, but do you ever feel as though you should have put one on when you catch a whiff of your livewell or fish cooler when you open it after it’s been closed shut for a day or two – or a week? It doesn’t take a lot of fish goo left inside a closed box to make it smell like you’d left a dead fish in there a month ago. 

            Sure, a bit of elbow grease and some lemon, pine or chlorine scented cleaning product can resurrect all but the worst examples, but Old Salt Angling Company – the popular fishing scent company – has developed an enzyme active spray that does a creditable job quickly and with far less effort. Just mist a few squirts of the Old Salt Livewell Cleaner into the cooler or livewell either at the end of a day when it’s emptied or at the beginning of a day when heading out and before it’s filled with water and or fish. The odor eating enzymes go to work. 

            For my test case, I chose my fish cooler which had received nothing more than a rinse down a couple of days earlier. I added a couple bags of ice and three squirts of OSLC and quickly shut the lid.  Forty minutes later after we got our lines set, I asked one of my fishing partners to check the cooler.

            “For what?” he asked. 

            “Just check it,” I said. “What do you think?”

            “Nothing in there but some ice,” he said. 

            “What about the smell?” I said.

            “What smell?” he answered, “It doesn’t smell like anything?”

            It passed the test! 

            Old Salt Livewell Cleaner is available in many retail outlets in northeastern Wisconsin or online at http://www.oldsaltangling.com. THE END

VANISH TRANSITIONS FLUOROCARBON LINE

Reviewed by: Capt. Mike Schoonveld

There is one major reason to select a fluorocarbon line when fishing. It’s less visible to fish than traditional monofilament and braided line. Time and again, line visibility has proven to be the difference between making a catch or not, or making a great catch or getting marginal results. There are other, more subtle reasons for paying extra for fluoro-tech line, but they pale compared to the invisibility factor.

But for guys like me who prefer to use high-visibility lines, I relied on fluorocarbon only as a leader material. There was no “best of both worlds” until the line-scientists at Berkley figured how to combine their “Trans Optic” technology – originally available in only in monofilament – into their fluorocarbon line. Berkley’s Vanish fluorocarbon line has always been one of my favorite “invisible” fluorocarbon lines. Transition is essentially the same chemistry except it’s a “highly” visible to humans in a boat but invisible to fish in the water. I use the word “highly” instead of high because compared to other hi-vis line, such as the bright fluorescent green, yellow and orange monofilaments, it pales. Still, compared to clear fluorocarbon line, it is more easily seen.

What happens is above the water, light from the sky causes the line to take on either a solid gold color, or reddish gold tint (either color is available), similarly to how clear/UV lines charge up to glow with a bluish tinge when in sunlight. Once in or under the water, as the sunlight is filtered out, the line abruptly loses its gold or gold/red color and it performs as a regular fluorocarbon line. I particularly like it on downrigged lines since it gives anglers reeling in a fish just enough awareness of the downrigged lines to allow them to guide the fish past them and into the net. 

Many anglers are reluctant to go the hi-vis line with fluoro-leader route due to their unfamiliarity with tying a good leader knot, the potential for failure in the line-to-leader knot or they don’t like the way leader knots pass through the rod’s line guides. Vanish Transition Fluorocarbon gives anglers all the advantage of fluorocarbon line and a bit of the advantage of fishing with a hi-vis line. It’s available in strengths fro 4 to 20-pound test. Widely available at retailers, online outlets or at www.berkley-fishing.com.