Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category
As I wrote in a previous post I recently changed my ride from a very reliable Action Craft flats boat to a custom-built Young Gulfshore 20. I’ve been using the boat now for several months and wanted to do my best to talk about the boat. Ordinarily when I’m doing a review I try and consider how I would change the product; that’s a problem here because there literally is nothing I would change about this boat. I decided to get one of these boats after spending some time in my friend Doug Barrett’s Gulfshore. I was not in the market for a bay boat; in fact, I wanted something that could run at least as shallow as my Action Craft but with more features and especially a more spacious and comfortable ride. The Gulfshore is 20 feet long, with a low freeboard and a tunnel hull. With trim tabs down and jack plate all the way up, I have taken off in around a foot and half of water. The balance of the boat is excellent. The 40 gallon gas tank is midship; trolling motor batteries in the front hatch help keep the bow down on takeoff. I decided on newly designed Mercury 150 four stroke, the lightest four stroke made. My home marina, the Sea Hag, is a Mercury warranty station and that made the decision easy, actually. Doug’s boat has an Etec 130, a modern two-stroke motor that drives the boat well. I expected more power with mine and in fact, I have to careful taking off to not overdo it because when the boat pops up on plane it will take off like a rocket if I use full throttle for takeoff. We’ve had a lot of floating grass recently, and tunnel hull boats have a tendency to collect grass while running and clog the intake ports, but one tremendous advantage of a jackplate is the ability to raise the lower the motor while running which has cleared the grass every time. The boat is very maneuverable, although running at high speed with the motor jacked up to the maximum can lead to some sliding around corners. I never run the boat with the motor jacked all the way up except for takeoff when needed. The boat seems to cruise best with the jackplate at around 2 or 3 inches up. The ride is, without being too gushing, spectacular. With the recent spells of wind and rain, this is a very very dry boat that rides much better than my old flats boat. The boat is easily pushed by my 80 pound thrust iPilot trolling motor.
In terms of comfort, it’s hard to describe how much more comfortable it is to run a boat from the elevated helm station as opposed to sitting low behind a console or windshield. The helm station seat and back rest are based on my measurements. You can use the seat as a leaning post, sit on it with your back against the backrest which is attached to the poling platform, or flip the seat up and out of the way if you want to fish from the back of the boat. The cockpit space is huge compared to most center console boats, in spite of the fact that I ordered the front fishing platform extended back a foot and a half to provide more space to fish from the front. Essentially, it’s much easier to move around in than any center console boat I’ve ever owned.
This picture gives a good idea of the cockpit space. Notice the under gunnel rod holders, pop-up cleats, pop-down pushpole holders, and deck rodholders. The hatch layouts are very functional, with a large storage area which included the trolling motor batteries, a separate anchor lock, and three storage areas in the rear, all the same size. Under the feet of the driver is the livewell, with a dry storage area starboard that lifts out and provides access to seacocks. The port storage hatch covers an insulated box that can be used as a fishbox, or sealed for additional dry storage. Access to the bilge is via a pop-out cover directly in front of the motor, and access to the cranking battery and charger is through a small hatch directly under the helm station.
The helm station is extremely well laid out. The steering wheel is adjustable, trim tab and jackplate controls are front and center, along with the PowerPole controller. A very handy storage area is seen below the station, for storage of frequently used items, phones, and other items. I keep my binoculars in there. I also added a 12 volt charging port in the box, and that’s where the power on/off switch resides as well. Having a visual display for the level of the jack plate and the trim tabs is a great luxury I never had on my other boat. Because of the elevation I can also stay behind the helm station and using the iPilot remote, control the trolling motor so a client can fish the front of the boat without me in the way.
Some particular additions that I really love: the Garmin 740S is by far the best GPS I’ve ever had. With NMEA connections, I can see water temp, depth, water pressure and speed in the corners of the navigation screen. The touchscreen is excellent. I added an “emergency” ladder which is made by Bob’s and attached directly to their jack plate. This has been amazingly functional. Tommy Thompson got out of the boat to take some of these pics and easily climbed back in. It also provides an easy way into the boat when it’s stored on a rack. It is held in place by a pin; when the pin is pulled out an inch, the ladder slides down into the water.
There are a lot of other creature comforts that go with the boat, and some limitations. Like all boats, there are trade-offs. It’s a fishing boat, not a cruising powerboat, so it’s not made with a lot of built in seating. One passenger can ride up on the helm station with the captain, and two can sit on the cooler seat/backrest (depending on the size of their posteriors). Two rodholders on either side of the helm station make casting from the helm station challenging so I intend to keep almost all rods under the gunnels. There are two additional holders on the poling platform so there’s plenty of rod storage available. In summary, this is by far the most functional, most comfortable and best-riding shallow water fishing boat I’ve ever seen or ridden. The flexibility of the rigging, the custom options available, make it a once-in-a-lifetime boat and I am very fortunate to have one.
Lots of discussion recently about a new bait from DOA Lures, the Airhead. In fact, the lures have been so popular that they’ve been hard to keep in stock in many stores. On a recent trip to Stuart with Captain Tommy Thompson, we stopped off at headquarters to pick up a few, only to find there weren’t even any there! However, they did have a few laying around that Mark Nichols, the owner/inventor of DOA Lures, rigged for me to try. The Airhead is a unique lure in that it’s essentially a soft bait, Texas-rigged like other soft jerk baits (see my blog post about rigging these useful lures) but it is made to function as a topwater lure, a suspending lure, or a sinking lure. And by splitting the tail, you can actually use it much like a buzzbait. Watch this clip for rigging hints, and also to see the lure in action:
There are number of other videos that show how to use small pieces of foam or pinch weights to customize it in terms of depth. This is an Airhead rigged with pinch weights to provide a little more suspending action, which also increases the weight for longer casts.
While many bass fishermen have found the lifelike tail action in a weedless lure to be just the thing for bass fishing in heavy cover (which is why the lures are hard to find at times), in the salt marshes we fish in cover and floating grass as well. I’ve used the Airhead on a number of trips since returning from Stuart, rigged with a wide-gap 5/0 hook as shown (these are also available from the DOA website at http://www.doalures.com), with and without the pinch weight, and also with a less extreme gap offset worm hook. Having the extreme wide gap provides a keel to keep the bait more upright, but I’ve also had great luck using the more standard hook. I’ve caught several trout over 4 pounds, fishing in water less than 2 feet deep, and a few days ago used it as a back-up lure. Several years ago Tommy and I fished with Roland Martin at the Mel Tillis tournament and Roland always had a follow-up rod at this feet when fishing topwater plugs. When a fish would blow up on his topwater plug and miss it, he would throw a spinner bait at the spot. It was remarkably successful. When fishing very shallow, we need to make very long casts and heavy plugs can provide extra distance, but since that day with Roland I always have a back-up rod I can grab within seconds. Last Sunday I was fishing by myself and had a great morning, catching 4 reds and a five pound trout in about an hour and a half. The big trout and several other smaller specks were taken on the Airhead. The first three redfish hit topwater plugs casted long distances away from the boat, but as I was retrieving the plug, a huge redfish blew up behind it and missed. I immediately threw the Airhead in the area, felt a thump, and nailed this beautiful 26 inch 7 pounder.
I’ve found the Airhead to be a very useful soft bait which can be easily customized. Whether used as a primary lure, or in this case as a follow-up lure, keep some available and rigged on one of your inshore rods. Work them with a variety of retrieve rates, both on the surface and just under it. You won’t be disappointed. For more information about my favorite DOA lure, the shrimp, here is a link to an old post about how I customize them for my specific uses.
After a great run of 8 years, I decided to upgrade my ride. I ordered a new boat, a Young Gulfshore 20, which is a custom-made boat made by Robb Young of Inglis, Florida. My trusty Action Craft has been a great flats boat, but I wanted something a little more roomy that could comfortably fish more than two without losing the shallow-water performance that is necessary for the kind of fishing I do. The Gulfshore is the perfect boat. It’s built on the hull of Robb’s amazing bayboat, the Young 20, but altered for fishing shallow with lower freeboard, a large tunnel hull and open spaces. Each boat is custom-made with multiple options. My boat has the new 150 Mercury, out less than a year, which is the lightest 150 HP four-stroke motor made; Lenco tabs, a Bob’s Action Jack jackplate, an 8 foot PowerPole, and I moved my new iPilot Minnkota trolling motor to the new boat. Some of the specifics on my boat included an extension of the foredeck providing more fishing space on the front of the boat and more storage; a popdown ladder which attaches to the jackplate; zero degree rod holders and 9 foot rod tubes; an adjustable helm; LED lighting and host of other small touches. It took about 6 weeks to build the boat from scratch. Here are some pictures of the process.
I sea-trialed the boat yesterday, we made a few last-minute adjustments, and it is now residing at the Sea Hag Marina. Learning to fine-tune a shallow boat can take some time. No two hulls run exactly the same, and finding the sweet spot for a shallow ride involves adjustments of the trim tabs, motor tilt and jack plate to get the boat stable while running in a foot of water or so. Hoping to do a lot of that research over the next month or so. Young Boats is the place to go when you want a boat you expect to keep for a long time. Their handcrafting quality is evident in every boat they make. I want to thank Robb Young for his flexibility and Dave for his rigging experience, and Angil for making sure all the communication and timing worked out.
It’s been too long between blog posts, and part of the reason is that the fishing has been sub-par this fall. In my October post, I was rooting for the water to clear but we continued with rain and storms, and while we caught some nice fish, the numbers have been down. Fewer mullet inshore this fall, fewer migrating schools of whitebait and the schools of large reds were hard to find. We’re currently experiencing a somewhat decreased winter trout run; trout have been in the Steinhatchee River in decent numbers, but they’ve been inconsistent. There have been some great days with silver (sand trout) in deeper river holes, and lots of speckled trout have been taken as well, but just minor warming temperature shifts will shut off the bite and send the trout out on the flats. A few weeks ago, fishing with Capt. Tommy Thompson, we found a nice school of larger fish, anchored by this 5.25 pounder.
This was a nice fish, but I wanted to discuss several aspects of this catch. I was using my standard winter-time trout lure, a Paul Brown Corky Devil, by far the most productive cold-water trout lure I have ever used. A slow-sinking soft bait with a single treble, it is designed to fish very slowly, with little motion other than a slow retrieve and an occasional jerk or two. The only problem with the lure is that winter time means large trout, like this one. Large trout have large mouths, and they inhale these lures so deeply that the treble becomes wrapped around their gill rakers. Just a few days before I caught 8 trout over 22 inches and four of the eight had hooks around their gill rakers, which takes great care and skill to retrieve without killing the fish; this is an issue when you are restricted to keeping only one trout per person over 20 inches. I decided to try something a little different, and attached a sturdy circle hook to replace the treble. I also attached the lure using a clip.
There were a lot of trout around that day, and I had a lot of hits. I tried a variety of ways to fish the circle hook. The first few fish that took the lure were never firmly hooked. I simply raised the rod tip, felt a few shakes, and the fish was gone. I finally realized that the wide body of the lure required a slower approach. Fish hang onto the Corky lure; it’s soft and you have enough time to simply reel slightly with the rod tip down to secure the hook in the corner of the mouth, as in the picture. Not that this will be perfect. The trout has to be large enough to get the lure well into its mouth. I expect to lose some fish with this set-up, but since most cannot be kept anyway, I don’t consider it that much of a loss, and the larger fish are more likely to be hooked up. I have strong feelings about large trout being released in good shape, because these large trout are the breeding stock (almost all are females) that provide more large trout. If you are a lure fisherman, consider giving circle hooks a try instead of trebles.
You’ll also notice the clip. It’s not that lure fishermen are lazy, but somehow switching lures and re-tying when there is a bite on doesn’t happen, and you end up with a shorter leader when you do. Additionally, many lures without split rings (like the Corky) are said to work better with a loop knot, which also takes up leader and time to tie. My friend Sam Root clued me into the Tactical Angler Fishing Clips and I ordered some, not really expecting very much. I had tried similar clips many years ago and found them either too weak for large fish, or too difficult to use. However, these clips are quite different.
They are by far the easiest clips I’ve ever used. It literally takes seconds to switch lures, especially in lures without split rings. Lures with split rings require a bit more manipulation for more mature eyes and fingers, but even those are easily switched. Here’s a video demonstration of how to use them.
I’ve used them several times now, on a variety of plugs and jigheads, and even on unweighted soft plastic jerk baits rigged with offset worm hooks. I wish they were available in a slightly smaller size than the 50 lb. size for this latter situation, because they do cause the baits to sink faster than I would like, and in a nose-down direction, which is not that realistic. However, I’ve caught some nice fish using this set-up as well. You can find them from a variety of vendors on the web. I expect I will using these regularly as I fish plugs about 90% of the time I’m on the water. I think you’ll find them useful as well.
I want to wish everyone a great New Year…unlimited horizons, clear water and tight lines ahead.
I have studiously avoided anything Apple for many years, but the arrival of the iPhone 4S at a time when I was needing an upgrade got me into that particular infrastructure. While I found the iPhone extremely limited in terms of customization, the large number of apps and the smoothness of the operating system, the quality of the camera and the number of accessories available made it a very reasonable purchase. Since I spend a lot of time on the water, being able to protect the phone became a priority. My previous phones were tucked into Aquapacs, which worked fine as long as you don’t need to use the phone for anything other than making or receiving calls. At the time the 4S was released, there was already a waterproof case available that provided full functionality, so even though it was a little more expensive than the average case, I purchased a Lifeproof case. The online reviews seemed to be divided; while most loved the case, there were a number who really didn’t like it at all. The appeal to me was that the case was meant to stay on the phone at all times, providing shock protection; it was much less bulky than some of the other protective and waterproof storage solutions; and mostly, it was billed as being completely waterproof, allowing use of the iPhone as an underwater camera. Now I have an underwater camera, so I don’t intend to necessarily use my iPhone in that manner, but I figured it would be protected in most situations I could get into. I bought the case and following the instructional videos on the Lifeproof website , I put it on. The case is quite thin, and in two clamshell pieces that snap together with an O ring along the border of the junction of the front and back pieces.
There were a number of complaints about the case on the internet, primarily that the built-in touchscreen had a “pillow effect”…that there is an air gap between the screen and the screen protector. The other major complaint was that the sound was muffled by the case. These turned out to be minimal problems for me. While there was a slight air gap, the screen protector stretched out after a week or so and the protector fit tightly against the screen. As with all screen protectors, there is a slight decrease in sensitivity on the touchscreen but it’s no worse than any other protector and not bothersome at all. The sound was only diminished during speakerphone calls but also was very manageable. Every case I’ve ever owned is a trade-off, and the positives about this case are many. You are instructed to do a water test when you get the case, and in fact I have submerged the phone and case a number of times without any problem whatsoever. Additionally, the case is very light and thin, much thinner than my son’s Otterbox Defender, which is not waterproof. The camera lens cover is optical glass, and the camera was fantastic. Here are a few pictures I took with the phone.
It didn’t me very long to become a big fan of the Lifeproof case. I could leave it on continuously, keep it in my pocket easily and be confident it was protected from water damage. There was only one thing that made me nervous about the case…it has no way to attach a lanyard. As I used the phone on the water, I was always concerned about dropping it in the water. It turned out to be a reasonable concern as I forgot to zip my pocket closed during the Nuts and Bolts fishing event and I watched the phone, still lit up, flutter down into deep grass. After a half hour of searching I gave up the ghost, an expensive loss. It was particularly frustrating because I knew that Lifeproof was about to release the Lifejacket, a solution to this problem. After replacing the phone, I received my Lifejacket… just about a month too late. The Lifejacket is well named; it is a brightly colored jacket for the phone, with attachment points for several kinds of lanyards, and it will float the entire phone.
The Lifejacket comes with two lanyards, a wrist lanyard and a longer one that allows the phone to be worn around your neck. It allows access to all buttons on the phone, doesn’t interfere with the camera at all, and while it adds to the bulk of the phone, it’s very light and unobtrusive. It is the final answer to the challenge of using your iPhone in the marine environment safely. This photo, taken by Drew Wickstrom this past weekend during a major Indian River Lagoon thunderstorm, demonstrates how valuable this combination is. At this point in time, there aren’t any alternatives to the Lifeproof case and Lifejacket and they are highly recommended.
While we do occasionally fish from kayaks around Steinhatchee, it’s not something we do frequently. The team representing Hobie kayaks, from California and Florida, took a number of us kayaking on my last day in Stuart.It was a beautiful morning and we had breakfast at the tiki hut prior to leaving.
Organized as always by Jerry McBride, we launched from a small ramp at the Ft. Pierce bridge and headed north. The group included Polly Dean, writer and photographer for Game and Fish Magazine from Atlanta, Cheryl Little, the Redfish Ranger from Panama City, and Hobie reps Ingrid Niehaus and Morgan Promnitz from California, and pro staff Hobie folks Sam Root, J.D. Donohue, Honson Lau, Jose Chavez, and Christina Altman from Ft. Lauderdale. This was my first time at trying the Hobie Mirage Drive system, which has developed a huge following because it is pedal-driven, leaving your hands free for fishing. The kayaks come in a variety of sizes and layouts. I was very interested to see how the pedal drive performed against current and wind, and we got a quick lesson as we pedaled north again the strong outgoing tidal current. In brief, it worked very well. Steady pedaling is the ticket, and it requires very little energy to do the short strokes suggested by the pros. I suspect I would have been a lot more winded had I been paddling.
We worked our way north, fishing alongside some beautiful islands with rocky shorelines and tons of oyster and sand bars with cuts to deeper water. There were plenty of mullet schools and the area looked very fishy. I was a little distracted by learning about how to maneuver the kayak but managed several trout, jacks and ladyfish. Polly was interested in getting a picture of this relatively unimpressive trout.
However, there were some excellent fish around. These pictures were taken by Sam Root, a truly amazing photographer and fisherman. Sam’s most recent business efforts have included some of his beautiful pictures on the backs of mobile phone cases (http://store.saltyshores.com/). Morgan Promnitz nailed this huge trout and Christina Altman had this more modest specimen, but her picture sure looked better than mine.
We pulled into a beautiful cove on an unnamed island that had some benches and unloaded. There was a young manatee playing in the cove for us to play with, while Jerry prepared a fine shore lunch of grilled pork loin marinated in a jalapeno/cranberry glaze which was awesome, grilled fresh asparagus and some fine beans with lots of onions and brown sugar. It was great watching Jerry work while Ingrid, Polly and I waited for him to cook us lunch.
My ride was one of the latest models, the Pro Angler 12. Very wide and stable, with a remarkable seat that could elevate, recline, lumbar support adjustment…it was like sitting in an easy chair. Had some extras I’ve never seen…a pop-up tackle locker with two Plano boxes and horizontal rod holders to keep the rods down when going through low hanging mangroves. The pedaling motion is quite easy as long as you remember to use small quick strokes and not longer ones, which really don’t add any speed. This is what worked well for me.
This is a nice video that shows how the drive works underwater.
All told, it was a fantastic few days. The fishing community in the Stuart area is very different than our relatively quiet area, but the fishing is great and there are lots of people to learn from. And one person that I have to thank (maybe a little gratuitously) is the Master of all Trades and Media, Jerry McBride. Jerry works tirelessly for DOA, conservation, and the good of all people everywhere. Thanks for all you do, Jerry!
I’ve been using DOA lures for many years, but only recently have I spent time in Stuart and learned about the company and the people behind it. Mark Nichols, the developer of the first artificial shrimp, is a study in persistence, ingenuity and dedication. From very humble beginnings (whittling artificial shrimp out of wood and pouring plastics on his kitchen table), Mark has built one of the country’s most successful lure companies. And one of the most aspects of the business that makes him the proudest is that his is one of the only, if not the only, lure maker that manufactures every product in the U.S., using only U.S. made components. On a personal level, I have heard many people make the same comment that was one of my first impressions of Mark….in spite of his legendary status as a businessman, he is one of the most approachable people around. His dry sense of humor and accessibility makes him a great spokesman for his company.
Mark’s dedicated staff in Stuart are committed to customer service. Jerry McBride, DOA’s “director of fishing”, is an incredibly talented addition to the staff. Jerry spent many years as an editor at Florida Sportsman magazine, and is one of the finest kayak fisherman in the world. I consider him a good friend, so clearly he has poor taste in friends, but other than that, he is an accomplished chef, organizer, writer, and social media guru (I know that title will make him smile). Jerry and Mark travel all over the country giving talks about their lures, fishing in general, and kayak fishing. Jerry came up this past year to do a kayak presentation at the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club that was the best presentation of the year. Jerry’s daughter Jenny (who can fish with the best of them) started at UF this year, and I have offered to be available to be available for questions from her in exchange for some favors, and the main favor was the chance to come down and spend some time in Stuart with the DOA folks and fish. So the day after the Reeling for Kids tournament, I headed down to River Palms Cottages, owned by another character who could merit an entire book, Rufus Wakeman. I’ve been down there several times in the past with Tommy Thompson, most recently last year during the CCA Interchapter Challenge tournament. The cottages are amazing, right on the water and in a tropical setting with fruit trees of all kinds on the grounds available for picking….everything from mangoes to lychees. A large thatched tiki hut is fishing central, and I had the opportunity to fish with several excellent local guides. Here are a few pictures of the weekend, which had some of the state’s finest fishermen, writers, photographers and hangers-on like me in for several days. And not just the state….we had people from North Carolina, South Carolina and California thrown in as well. Here are a few pics of the festivities….Mark and Blair Wiggins holding forth in the hut, and the view of the Indian River Lagoon from my cottage.
But the highlight of the trip was fishing. Jerry had asked me what I wanted to fish for, and given that I fish for redfish and trout almost every weekend, and that I grew up fishing for snook in south Florida, not far from River Palm, I wanted snook. The first day I had the great pleasure of fishing with Capt. Greg Snyder, a fantastic guide, and David Brown, a writer and photographer for Florida Sportsman magazine from Tampa. We ran out the St. Lucie inlet to fish the jetties, and within 30 minutes had three snook to the boat, including this fine 37 incher that Greg is holding. We were fishing 4 inch DOA shrimp on 40 pound leader and I was using my trusty Van Staal reel with 10 pound PowerPro braid, casting the shrimp alongside the jetties and letting them drift. Most of the battle was keeping the fish away from the rocks and it was exciting fishing.
After three fish, we had some live-baiters show up and the bite dropped off so we went into the river on some shallow flats to wadefish. Mullet were streaming from the deeper cuts onto and off of the flats and being hammered by snook everywhere we looked. Many just swam by our feet as we waded. We scored several more nice fish casting smaller shrimp and working them through the maze of baitfish.
The bite dropped off with the slack tide and we waded some of the flats to the east. We saw some large trout but never managed to get them to bite. David spent much of his time taking photos (he has some that he thinks will make some great Florida Sportsman shots) and really wanted to get a picture of a lookdown, a small but distinctive looking member of the jack family. We stopped at a shoreline that Greg knew held trout, and we caught a few small trout when I managed to actually get a nice lookdown to the boat, which made David’s day.
Day two I got to fish with Fred Caimotto, a young guide and manager of the Snook Nook, a Jensen Beach landmark that has been in the same location for at least 50 years…I remember going there as a kid. Fred and I fished the inlet early, and spent a few hours fishing docks in the St. Lucie River, just inland from the ICW. We saw fish but had little action except for a few small snook and some mangrove snapper. Finally I hooked a solid 27 inch snook right under a dock, which led to a frantic close encounter battle, with the fish wrapping around pilings, the trolling motor, and finally sawing through the light leader. We headed back for a lunch and I headed for my cabin for a rest. There was more to come on the final day…a kayaking day with the Hobie team.