OTW’s 2016 Field Test Favorites

Every winter, the OTW Crew reviews some of their favorite fishing gear from the past season. Here’s the 2016 list of On The Water Staff’s Field Test Favorites.

By Kevin Blinkoff, Ed Giordano, Patrick O’Donnell, Eddy Stahowiak, Andy Nabreski, Ryan Bibeau, Jimmy Fee

De-Fishing Soap

De-Fishing Soap

It’s a regular occurrence in the Fee House that I come home from a fishing trip, and my wife, Pam, welcomes me by saying, “You stink!” While to me, the aroma of a freshly caught fish smells like triumph, to the non-fishing types, it just smells bad. Often, a handwashing wouldn’t cut the smell enough for my wife’s liking, so when I saw a press release about a new soap made specifically to eliminate the smell of fish, I had to try it out. The De-Fishing Soap worked great! It has a pleasant scent of anise that cuts through the fish smell, it’s environmentally safe, and is available in a few sizes—we keep a big one next to the kitchen sink in the Fee House. – JTF

Simms Challenger Boat Bag

Simms Challenger tackle bag

With no boat of my own, I spend a lot of the fishing season jumping between friend’s boats, charters, and party boats, all of which require a boat bag that can keep a ton of gear organized without taking up too much space. This season, I switched from my re-purposed duffle bag to the Simms Challenger Boat Bag. The bag easily fits 4 to 5 large Plano boxes, tools, spools, and backup reels. It’s large enough to fit your foul-weather gear, and it’s compact enough to tuck into the cabin. And it’s easy to quickly change out the gear in the bag for different trips and species. Some of the cool features include a transparent top that allows you to quickly locate the gear you need, and stowable handles. The zipper, while corrosion resistant, had gotten a little sticky after being doused with saltwater spray on a November tog trip, but a little rinse and some WD40 got it working like new again. I’ve had the bag loaded for blackfish, albies, bluefin, the canyons, and fluke, so far, and in the next couple weeks, I’ll be packing it up again for cod. – JTF

Shimano Coltsniper Jerkbait

Shimano Coltsniper Jerkbait

I got a sneak peek at the Shimano Coltsniper Jerkbait back in June, but it wasn’t until November that I had a chance to fish one. The lure has a unique casting propulsion system with an internal weight on a spring that loads the to back of the lure during the cast and moves back to the center during the retrieve. I fished the lure during Thanksgiving week in New Jersey, and while it caught well during the blitzes, the real test was during the lulls, when few fishermen were catching and the Coltsniper still drew strikes from single stripers cruising through the beachside troughs. The lure casts well, and comes in some killer colors. – JTF

Penn Slammer III

Penn Slammer III

My first impression of the Penn Slammer III spinning reel was that the oversized knob and handle looked like a custom, aftermarket improvement. The reel feels heavy-duty, and while it made quick work of big bluefish and mahi, I really wanted to test it on a tuna. I packed it along on two trips to the canyons, but never had my chance, never the less, the reel performed beautiful, staying smooth and feeling comfortable while working jigs and big poppers. The Slammer III will be joining me on more canyon trips in 2017, and I can’t wait to pit its sealed, Dura-Drag system against a yellowfin. – JTF

Rinse Kit

RinseKit

This season, I enjoyed rinsing off my rods, reels, waders, and fishing gear after every trip with the Rinse Kit portable pressurized shower. I found that I was more likely to wash the gear than if I waited until getting home, especially since I often leave my gear in the truck and at the ready for my next trip. There are several options for pressure, and while all work well, I find that the “Cone” setting is perfect for all-around wash-downs and allows me to get more use out of one filling of the Rinse Kit. One drawback is that the clasp that keeps the lid locked is tough to open, so I keep it unbuckled making access fast and easy. – ES

Z-Man ShroomZ Jighead

Z-Man ShroomZ Jig head

For me, bass fishing was always been about finding the biggest fish—until I started fishing tournaments. Then, my goal shifted to finding numbers of “keeper” sized bass. One technique that proved especially successful at filling the livewell was the Ned Rig—a soft-plastic worm rigged on a Z-Man ShroomZ Jighead. The new weedless version proved to be even more helpful in getting my bait closer to the weedline, and the fish I need to fill my limit! Worked slowly along the bottom, the ShromZ jighead keeps the worm standing up, in plain view of the bass, drawing strikes from finicky fish. – RB

Simms Dry Creek Backpack

Simms Dry Creek Backpack

At the crossroads of versatility and simplicity the Simms Dry Creek Backpack has earned a permanent spot in my fishing equipment. For me, versatility means having a backpack I can wear when wading throwing flies or to use as a dry bag behind my kayak seat. When I’m done with both of those missions I want a backpack that can handle being tossed around a sandy, cluttered, rod-filled trunk. If you kayak fish, this roll top has easy accessibility to all your boxes and keeps that gear dry. I’ve been through other backpacks and none accommodated the range of gear and clothing that can be jammed into this pack. I find it more than comfortable enough to wear while casting a fly or spin rod for hours and the cushioned waistband and shoulder harness system keep everything cinched down and on my back. The waterproof fabric and roll top mean I never worry about my gear when the pack is stashed behind my kayak seat or inside a center console. The inner pockets keep my pliers, nips and leaders handy and the outward zipper compartment is strong enough to accommodate the latest in smaller cell phone dry bags. – PO

Yamashita Squid Jig

Yamashita squid jig

Yamashita has a long history of manufacturing quality squid jigs in Japan, where catching squid is serious business. They began producing squid jigs in 1965 and have since created over 1500 different profiles and colors. I had the opportunity to test them out last May, during the tail end of the spring squid run on Cape Cod. The fishing was a bit slow, but between three experienced anglers we still managed to fill a bucket. All three of us were using different jigs, and the small Yamashita jig I was using was the clear-cut winner, out-fishing the other jigs two to one. I think the biggest advantage was its small size, nearly half the length of traditional squid jigs. Squid can be amazingly fussy, and at times, only certain colors or profiles will get their attention. The only downside of these jigs is that the wire baskets are much lighter and thinner than traditional jigs. On the day we fished, the scup and sea bass had just returned, and they were quite interested in our squid jigs as well. I bent out the tines on the jig several times, but it was easy enough to bend them back into shape. On the plus side, I think the thinner hooks are sharper and penetrate better, which can help add more squid to your bucket. – AN

Rock Grabrz Boot Studs

Rock Grabrz Boot Studs

This fall, when looking to make my new wading boots better suited for traversing the slime-covered boulders of the Northeast and the slick river rocks of the Lake Ontario tributaries, I added two dozen screw-in Rock Grabrz Boot Studs to each boot. Their first test was the shore of the Niagara River, where I put a few miles on them while looking for steelhead. The large, sharp carbide studs bit into the rocks beautifully, giving me a solid footing while fishing, and while climbing the steep trails two and from the river. Most impressive of all was the fact that the wide heads never rolled over in the boot, as I’ve experienced with other screw-in studs in the past. The studs were easy to add with the tool included in the 50-stud package, and the label has suggestions on how to lay them out on the boot. – JTF

Mustad Ultra Point 5/0 circle hooks

Mustad Ultra Point 5/0 circle hooks

In past years, my go-to for hooks for pitching eels were heavy duty bait hooks suitable for larger fish including tuna and offshore species. Although these hooks had the strength to handle the strong jaws of a 30-pound-plus striper, the large gauge wire repeatedly proved detrimental to my eel supply. Typically after baiting up with an eel I would get a dozen or so casts before the eel would rip off the hook. For years I attributed this to poor form: whipping the cast as opposed to the a gentle lob. It turns out my failures were more attributed to my choice of hook than overzealous casting. This past September, I enjoyed some excellent fishing with live eels, and lost many hooks to the rocky bottom in the process. I was gearing up to go out after work and I needed some good eel hooks. Before leaving the office for the day, Kevin Blinkoff tossed me a couple of packs of Mustad Ultra Point 5/0 circle hooks (39950BL) to get me through the evening. I tied on one of the Mustads and I couldn’t help but think “There’s no way this small, thin gauge hook is going to be able to take the abuse if I hook into anything with size.”

My first hookup was bass in the mid 20-pound range. The Mustad held strong and the bass was hooked perfectly in the corner of the mouth. To my surprise, my eel was still attached to my line, albeit pushed up my leader a bit. After releasing the bass, I slid the eel back down to the business end of the leader figuring I’d get another couple of casts out of it before it inevitably ripped off. After only another few casts, another bass slammed my bait. This one was closer to 30 pounds and surprisingly when it hit, my eel was slid up the leader again but not lost. A dozen big bass later and I was still using the same eel and the same hook. I have used these hooks every night after then and the Mustad Ultra Points repeatedly demonstrate that they are the best eel hooks I have ever used. – EG

Tsunami Talkin’ Popper XD

Tsunami Talkin’ Popper

I’ve been using the Tsunami Talkin’ Popper for a few seasons. It casts well, walks easily, and is nearly indestructible, even in the jaws of big, slammer blues. The lure was recently upgraded to the Tsunami Talkin’ Popper XD (for extra distance). The added weight makes the plastic topwater cast like a dart, perfect for reaching blues way off the beach or bass feeding in the middle of the canal. – JTF

Fenwick EliteTech River Runner

Fenwick Elite Tech River Runner

I’ve reviewed the Fenwick EliteTech River Runner in the past, but it continues to be the best trout spinning rod I’ve used. Unfortunately, my River Runner lost 10-inches off the top earlier this spring, and when I got a replacement rod, I saw it had been updated. Nicer grips, lighter in weight, and a more sensitive action. I have the ultra-light action 7-foot, 2-inch model, as it gives me a little extra distance on the coldwater ponds where I do most of my trout fishing. The rod is perfect for fishing micro-jigs, spoons, stickbaits, and even a split shot and bait. It’s very light, which protects the super-light leaders needed to get bites from picky winter trout. – JTF

Phenix Rods Black Diamond Hybrid phd760X2H

Phenix Rods Black Diamond Hybrid phd760X2H.

Last spring, after booking some trips for the upcoming season, I was shopping for gear for said trips. Two of my trips were a deep-drop trip for tilefish and a 36-hour tuna trip. I had a great tilefish setup already, and a serviceable tuna one, although, it wasn’t well suited for party boats. I began looking for a rod that could pull double-duty on tiles and tuna that had a long foregrip and some extra length to make it more party-boat friendly. Online reviews landed me on the Phenix Rods Black Diamond Hybrid phd760X2H. The 7’6” rod has some serious backbone and the blank is built from a unique blend of high strength woven Carbon Fiber and Kevlar. It felt great in the hand, and it easily detected the hits, 900 feet down, of a blueline tilefish on my first drop. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the rod’s high-tech blank wasn’t well suited for swinging fish into the boat when the rod buckled as I lifted a 4-pound white hake over the rail. Phenix replaced the rod in time for my tuna trip in October, and that’s where the rod really shined. I put a 50-pound longfin, a 75-pound yellowfin and a 100-plus pound blue shark on the rod, and it performed beautifully paired with a Shimano Talica 20-II. – JTF

Shimano Stradic

Shimano Stradic FK

After giving the new Shimano Stradic a workout on big red drum in Louisiana, I couldn’t wait to get it back to my home waters and try it out on stripers, blues, and false albacore. The recently updated Stradic incorporates Shimano’s Hagane cold-forged gear drive to make the reel more durable, smooth, and powerful. It had plenty of cranking power when trying to lift stripers off the bottom, and the drag was flawless during albie season. I have the 4000 size, which is a great “crossover” reel, meaning it has the power and the line capacity for saltwater fish, and the light weight and smooth performance for freshwater fish. In 2017, the reel will be joining me on offshore trips for mahi and on a fly-in trip for big Canadian pike. – KB

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