Archive for the ‘Panfish Fishing’ Category

The New BigMouth CatchCounter: counting perch, bluegills, crappie and more

Monday, July 14th, 2014



Like many walleye anglers around the Great Lakes when late July and August roll around my attention turns towards those tasty yellow bellied treats known as Perch!  Even fisherman who do not put their boats in for chasing walleye come out in droves when it comes to the annual perch season.  Often the bite can be hot and heavy with slinging multiple perch into the cooler, one after another.


With that in mind, while combining either Ohio’s limit of 30 perch or Michigan’s larger amount of 50 per angler, keeping an accurate count can be difficult to say the least.  It is time-consuming to stop fishing and take several minutes to check multiple times to be sure of a precise number in the cooler.  I even thought of using a clicker like the one above, this was even before they started showing up in fishing catalogs and local bait shops for sale.  The problem with the clickers is that before long somebody in the boat will eventually ask, “Did you count that last one?”.  Which will lead you to ask, “Who’s last one?”.  And the vicious cycle of putting the rod down and start counting the individual perch all over again.


Original Catch Counter

Original CatchCounter




Two years ago I found the solution to my perch counting problem, The CatchCounter.  Made locally in Port Clinton, Ohio, the counter kept track of the number of perch going into my cooler, while keeping them on ice as well!  As I wrote in a previous article, I learned of The Catch Counter from a friend of mine who sent a link for a Craigslist posting, I contacted the owner, Tony Sebastiano.  Tony was great, explained everything about the counters to me and went with getting just the counter myself, had an old cooler, cut my hole in the lid and was ready rock n roll on Lake Erie.  The counter was great, never had an issue with it and has performed flawlessly for the last couple of seasons.

BigMouth Catch Counter

BigMouth CatchCounter


I will say this about Tony, you can tell that he has a passion for his product because he works all the time to improve it for the panfishing minded consumer.  Responding to feedback he has introduced the new BigMouth CatchCounter.  Crappie anglers in the South wanted the opening to be bigger for their crappie that grow rapidly in their warm southern climates.  Tony made it bigger, stronger, more durable, with even a more accurate counter.



There are three options when buying the BigMouth CatchCounter, well actually four and will get into that also.  First you can order just the counter itself, and then mount it to any flat surface storage area.  The second option is that you can buy the counter mounted on a 5 gallon Bass Pro Bucket.  I like this option for ice fishing because it is easy to store.  The third option is to have it come mounted on a 48 quart cooler, which is really nice for fishing the big lakes and handles the larger limits with ease.


The fourth option is actually the best deal of all, if you can get five of your friends to order at the same time, you actually can get just the BigMouth CatchCounter heads for  five dollars cheaper per unit.  Don’t have five panfishing friends, that issue can be solved, because I bet two or three of the people you do know, know a few other anglers who would want one also.  Installing the heads are fairly easy to do yourself, and most folks have an old cooler or bucket lying around.

If you ice fish like I do, it is easy to first install the counter on a cooler, and then because it is so easy to take the head off, you can then use it on a bucket for ice fishing.  If your experiences on the ice are anything like mine, once you start throwing bluegill, crappe and perch on the ice, you tend to quickly attract a crowd near  you.  By keeping them in a bucket, it is a little easier to hide the fact that you are on a hot bite.  Instead of laying them on the ice to get a count, which can draw attention, the CatchCounter does it for you.

Once I hang up the walleye gear for the summer, will be posting lots of pics of the BigMouth CatchCounter from the boat, and later on when the ice gets solid, from the hardwater too!

If you want to see one of the units for yourself, you can check them out at these locations:

-Matthew’s Bait&Tackle, Monroe Miahigan

-Fin/Feather/Fur-4 Ohio Locations. Canton,Ashland,Middleburg Heights and Youngstown.

-Ravenna Marine-Ravenna,Ohio
- FISHERMANS WHARF – Port Clinton, Ohio
- A&J BAIT – West Lakeshore Dr., Port Clinton, Ohio
- LAKE SHORE BAIT & TACKLE – Ashtabula, Ohio
- BAD BOY BAIT & TACKLE – Vermilion, Ohio 


Copyright, 2014


One Last Good Weekend on the Ice?

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

It could be, the temps are going to be falling pretty far at night over the weekend.  Will it be enough to save the ice around Monroe, probably not I am thinking.  At least I would not say it is safe and go for it, but if you want to hit the ice one last time, Irish Hills might be the place to be Saturday and Sunday.



You might not need a shanty, but it is nice to take the chill off in case its damp outside.  My last time out was brutal, and that was just last Sunday!  Mother Nature is a fickle beast, so as always, it is better to be prepared!


If crappie are your target, bring some minnows with you.  It seems like the spikes and waxworms are still very effective when it comes to bluegill, but the crappie have gone into full spring mode and taking nothing but minnows right now. If the action is slow, break out the bobbers.  Remember, you are allowed three rods in Michigan, so why not give yourself two more chances to fill the bucket!


Slip bobbers can work best, but it doesn’t hurt to use the snap-on kind as it doesn’t matter if they freeze up or not.  Just hand line the fish up the hole, its a great method. You don’t have to worry about the slip knot sliding on you or the bead freezing up.

Copyright, 2014

Late Ice can be the BEST Ice, but….

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

… your step!


Even though late season ice fishing can be incredibly hot, it like the early season is also the most dangerous time you can be out on the hard water.  That is why I carry the Jiffy Deluxe Mille Lacs Ice Chisel, or what is commonly called a spud here in Michigan.  Although many consider how much an item weighs when they go ice fishing, trying to keep it down to minimum when walking or dragging equipment, here is a case of heavier is better.  Yes, there are cheaper and lighter weight spuds on the market, but when walking on the ice you want as much weight as possible when checking the ice in front of you.  A lighter weight spud might barely go into rotten ice, but the heavier Deluxe model will give you a true indication of just how safe the ice is in front of you.

Also if you are braving the big water for one last trip, this spud can save your life in another way.  Imagine riding your quad, side by side, or snowmobile and your heading out or heading back to shore and you come up to a crack in the ice.  Take the extra few minutes, get off your machine of choice, and use the chisel to check the ice on both sides of the crack for thickness before crossing!  Also, once you do that, please do not “slow roll” your machine over the cracks, get a decent start and have some momentum built up when you cross over it.  Even though you checked it, it is far better to be safe, than sorry.

Copyright, 2014

Jazz Up Your Ice Spoons

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

By now, this little trick has already been spilled…I spilled it!





By adding the duolock snap to my UV Buck-Shot Spoons from Northland Tackle it served two useful purposes. The first was that the extra length provided by the spoon would increase the action of the bait swinging under the spoon.  The second is that I can secure the minnow by running the shank of the treble up through head and then attaching it back to the snap.  I can use that two ways also, either with the head torn off the body, thus increasing my scent trail in the water, or for a life-like presentation, through the gills and out the mouth. You may remember it from an In-Fisherman show a few years back, but with a different type of snap.  Well I didn’t have any of those, and found out this works just as well, while providing the same action and purpose.

Recently I was gearing up for a bluegill and crappie tourney.  On the particular lake that we were to be fishing, the crappies are typically suspended over a basin.  When a location like that presents itself, I want to get my bait down as fast as possible while providing a little extra flash.  So instead of using a big spoon like the Buck-Shots, I drop down to an 1/16th Forage Minnow Spoon from Northland.  A bit heavier than your typical vertical jig, good colors to choose from and they come with a metallic silver, gold or glow back.

Yet … I still wanted to increase the action of the spoon, but small size presented a question.  How to increase my action, but because a snap could be too much hardware for the presentation vs quarry, I would have to come up with something unique.  I “fished” around the shop and eventually found my solution, some extra #1 split rings from an early project a couple of springs ago.

I took off my treble hook, added the extra split ring to the original one, and then put the hook back on.  I will not be able to secure the bait like on the larger spoons, but then again I will not be shaking it as much as I would be while walleye fishing.  Still, the little bit of extra length now added to the FM spoon will present a unique action to the crappies, without distracting them with some heavy hardware.


Copyright, 2014

Woods-n-Water News: February Issue Mention

Monday, January 28th, 2013





Ice fishing with plastics definitely has a time and place in any angler’s approach to catching fish through the ice.  My favorite time of the day to use plastics is in the early morning at the first bite of the day.  Fish can be overly aggressive during the dawn’s first light and they will gobble up what normally would be considered an oversized bait for panfish.

Copyright, 2013

The CatchCounter: keep track of your Perch, Gills and Crappie

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Recently I had an old fishing buddy send me a link for a device that would automatically count perch as fast as I could catch them, the CatchCounter.  I checked out the link on Craigslist and then I did what I always do, I “googled” and found the direct website: .  After browsing through the site, I wanted to learn a little more info and decided to fill out the form and send an email.

Last Friday I got a response, and it was followed up with a phone call Saturday morning.  I was talking with Tony Sebastiano, the owner and innovator who designed the CatchCounter.  I asked him how he came up with the idea for building the contraption, and as he started to explain, his story was something I could really relate to from my own experiences. How many times have you used one of those fish “clicker” counters and the perch are coming up so quick, you have to stop and think, did I get that last one?  It is even worse when you have multiple people fishing and they start second guessing themselves too.  Lets face it, the DNR will not care if it was an honest mistake or not, if you are over the limit, you will get a ticket!

The CatchCounter can be mounted on multiple platforms that have a flat surface like coolers, livewells and bucket lids. During the discussion it really hit me that this makes the unit something I can use throughout the year, for all four seasons. Spring, summer and fall while on the boat I can have it mounted on a cooler for crappie, perch and bluegill.  I checked out a previous device that fit on a bucket, but it really wasn’t too practical. Whether I am fishing in Ohio waters where the limit is 30 perch, or on the Michigan side with being able to keep 50, you start to run out of room in a bucket and don’t even think about trying to squeeze any ice in there too. You really had to take the lid off every once in a while and dump them into a cooler with ice in it.  The CatchCounter eliminates this step and because you are not constantly opening and shutting a cooler, your ice lasts longer!

During the winter when I am ice fishing, I can take it off the cooler and mount it to a bucket lid to keep track of the fish being caught.  This makes its versatility a space saver, because realistically who carries a cooler onto the ice to put their fish in?  The answer would be nobody does, but everyone carries a bucket! It can go into the sled when walking on the ice, or in the shack when I am pulling it with the quad.

Another thought just hit me and it could be the difference between a lot of money, or getting shut out in a tournament.  After spending 11 years on the competitive ice fishing circuits, I have seen my fair share of counting miscues.  Guys come to the station a fish short of their limit, after catching more than enough to fill their tourney bucket.  Worse is when they come in one fish over the limit and get disqualified, or penalized to the point they fall out of the money!  The CatchCounter is definitely going on the road with me this year.

I already have my cooler and bucket lid picked out for installation and cannot wait to use the CatchCounter this weekend out on Lake Erie.  Later in the fall when the perch run slows down, will be using it out in Irish Hills for the fall bluegill bite.  On the ice, it is definitely going with me to Ludington for the panfish tournament so I don’t mess up my count at the weigh-in!

Additional information, if you want to download the CatchCounter brochure in a pdf format here is the link for it:

Copyright, 2012


Schooley Reels: Easy Modification

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

By popular request,  here is an additional piece on the modification for the Schooley reels that was discussed last week.  Actually, they just wanted to see the pictures :)  But, it also gives me the chance to go into a little more detail on how to make the reel a little more effective and at the same time, reliable.

Since all the reels have already had their reel seat section trimmed I cannot show you the before picture.  In most cases I just took the plastic section, placed it into a vise and saw right behind the molded guide. Actually you can take some more of the seat off if you are planning on putting them on a rod with a smaller handle.  These rods, or at least most of them in the pics are St. Croix Premier 24″ Ultra Lights, so there is plenty of handle.  You can also see the 5 minute, 2 part epoxy that I use to secure the wrap.  Pretty sure that is also available from Jann’s Netcraft, and online at their website.


In this picture below are the Fuji line guides that I picked up from Jann’s at their retail location.  They are a size 16.


Unfortunately I do not have pictures to take you step by step through the process, but it really is fairly easy.  Take your guide, and place on the handle of the rod, line it up with the first eye on the rod blank.  For a thread, I recycle old braid like Power Pro and Fireline.  After mixing a small amount (equal parts) of the epoxy, apply some to the rod handle and begin wrapping your “thread”.  Once you have finished wrapping and have completely secured the guide’s foot to the handle, apply additional epoxy and spread evenly over your wrappings..  Let dry for five to ten minutes and you are ready to attach your reel seat.



The picture below really shows well just how close you want the reel to be to the guide that you just installed onto the handle.


It really is a fairly easy procedure, and well worth the little bit of time it takes to get it done.  Once you do, they slide really easy into a bucket where I inserted some PVC rod holders.

This way I can have that one and another bucket full of setups, plus my Vexilar/Ice Hopper rig all secure in a three bucket holder that mounts on the back of the Polaris while roaming the ice.


Schooley Reels: The Inexpensive Advantage

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Michigan’s own Schooley Reels are truly the choice for some of the best ice fisherman across the country, but this wasn’t always the case. While most folks were debating which 40 to $80 dollar reel was the best to tape on their panfish rods, anglers fishing the lakes and backwaters of mid-Michigan were jaw jerking up some of biggest bluegill and crappie caught in the state year after year. Their secret was the molded nylon reel commonly referred to by the company’s name, Schooley.

What possible advantage could a reel that costs less than five dollars actually give an angler chasing big panfish?  Economics would be the easy answer, but not the one that is at the core of the reasons why.  An anglers biggest enemy is line twist while targeting the biggest panfish in a lake, even the ones you want to take back for the dinner plate.  Spinning reels can leave your jig spinning in circles, and if you were sight fishing and peering down the hole, you will need a clicker to count the number of rejections that will happen in one day.

That’s the original “IceMan” Barry Williams in the above picture with a very, VERY nice crappie caught with a spoon while fishing with a Schooley reel.  Barry is also the creator and owner of “Spooky Spiders”, a fine line of jigs and flies that can be used with deadly results through the ice.   His website is:  and in the picture below is a collection of fish that I caught using his tungsten bead flies.


So after showing off what the Schooley can give you in terms of big fish and numbers,  you can look at all the money you can take from using that expense spinning reel, and buy more jigs and bait! But, if you really want to fine tune the reel, and yes I know, it sounds pretty weird saying that, you can take a couple of extra steps to make your Schooley perform at a higher level.

To help keep your 4 lb or smaller line from burning on the nylon line guide coming off the reel, its time to break out the hacksaw.  I know what you are thinking already, “How cool is it to say hacksaw and icefishing?”, or more likely, “What the heck is he thinking?”  But, its true, one of the first things you will do is a little cutting!  Take a look at the picture below and imagine cutting off about an inch and a half from each side white section of the reel seat after removing the reel, which would be the  component below the red reel.


Now you might be thinking, Mason what are you thinking?  You just cut off the line guide and the area where you screw the reel into the rod handle.  First off,  I don’t think I will ever find a day where I actually screw anything into a rod handle of mine.  No worries folks, there is a back up plan.  But, there is one more step before dealing with that issue. replacing the line guide.

To the right, Team USA gold medal winner, Myron Gilbert

Now this is a trick I learned recently from an ice guy I have the utmost respect for, Myron Gilbert of Brooklyn, Michigan. Myron let me bend his ear and he offered up this tidbit of information, which makes perfect sense in retrospect. The purpose of cutting off that line guide that comes standard with reel seat is to prevent your line from getting burned or scored from friction.  His idea was to replace that with a single foot line guide where the hole of the guide lines up dead center with the spool of the reel.  In doing some research,  I found the perfect guide down in Ohio, at Jann’s Netcraft in a size 16: .  Now I have replaced that original nylon guide with a Fuji guide that costs less than a buck.

Now for the sake of ease, stay on Jann’s Netcraft website to get some epoxy to attach that guide to your rod handle: . You can wrap it with thread if you like, but what I do is when I am done with a braid from my reels,  like Power Pro or Fireline, it gets saved on an old empty spool.  Use this old line like thread and you have a much stronger “thread”.  Eyeball the guide to line up with the guides on the rod, apply a little epoxy to get started, and begin wrapping.  Once you finish, apply a little more epoxy and spread it around the rod handle until yo have an even coat applied.

Once that is wrapped and dry, now you can attach your reels to the rod handle.  Sometimes the easiest and oldest method is truly the best way to go.  Electrical tape in my book works extremely well, and most everyone has some around the house already, if not it is an easy buy at your local hardware.  If the guide seems a little high, you can bend it slightly by applying equal pressure to it, and pushing/bending it forward to get it to line up.

Where can you buy Schooley reels, by themselves and not in a combo?  Check out these two links for availablity:



Copyright, 2012

New Ice Tourney on Hamlin Lake, in Ludington, MI

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

The Michigan Ice Open  is on!  The communities of Ludington and Scottville are bringing a revamped event to Hamlin Lake in Ludington, Michigan.  Lower costs, better payouts, longer fishing time, and more prizes are waiting for those who sign-up.

“The Michigan Ice Open on Hamlin Lake is scheduled for January 13 – 15 and will replace the previously held North American Ice Fishing Circuit Ludington Open Qualifier.

The Michigan Ice Open on Hamlin guarantees $6,000.00 in cash and prizes. The tournament participation fee is $120.00 for a team of two. Participation is limited to the first 100 teams to register. Mail in registration is available at Online registration will be made available on December 9th. Teams can register until January 9th, 2012.

The new tournament will hold registration and a mandatory rules meeting on Friday evening, a one day tournament on Saturday followed by weigh-in, and finally a youth Learn to Fish session on Sunday afternoon.

For more information, contact or call the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce at 231.845.0324.”

Source: Michigan Ice Open on Facebook

If you have any questions, Megan is great to work with, so bring on the emails with all inquiries. There will be in addition to guaranteed payouts and prizes provided by some of the largest names in the ice fishing tackle world,  Big Fish cash prizes for the largest bluegill and crappie. Going home with a  few extra greenbacks never hurts!

After fishing the former NAIFC event on Hamlin the last two seasons I can tell you this, the whole town is dedicated! Dedicated in bringing people in, providing whatever the anglers need, and making sure they have a great weekend while staying in what most folks think of only as a summer vacation destination. Peel back the great salmon fishing, walks on the beach, pictures of the pier and you have a superb panfish fishery on Hamlin Lake, the Hamlin Grocery which goes all out to make sure they have the best jigs in stock, lodging deals at the hotels,  and a pretty mean pizza at the Sportsmen’s Irish Pub.  And, a certain family in Petersburg who would flog me if I didn’t mention the Blue Moon ice cream at the House of Flavors,  and I have to admit, the Independent Dairy in Monroe would be jealous!

For additional information, you can follow the tournament news on Facebook…Michigan Ice Open  and on their website…

Copyright, 2011

Weekend on Bolles Harbour

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

The fishing was mixed on Bolles Harbour this weekend, with Friday being the best of the two days, while Saturday still produced some nice fish.  Even though the wind was kicking on Friday and the fishing was on and off, it was much better overall than Saturday with the colder temps.

Friday produced a lot of fish caught on plastics baits.  It wasn’t until the end of the day that the winds finally stirred the waters to the point that it became super cloudy/murky did the fishing really slow down.  Saturday picked up where the bite left off for us Friday night.

Water was still cloudy in the morning, but the current coming through had slowed down quite a bit.  Still well over 12 inches of ice where we fished.  The fishing was quite a bit slower, with a lot more rejections.  The morning was a bit better than the afternoon for overall bite, but the few fish we kept including a nice 12 inch perch came after 3 pm during a small flurry of action that only last 10 minutes or so.

They ended up in the drum today, the Tumble Drumm scaler from Bass Pro works really great.  I put all of them in for a half hour and did not find a scale on them when I poured them out.