Hot Tackle 2003

21 new reasons why you'll catch more fish this season.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Sometimes I think tackle is as good as it can get, but every year someone changes my mind with new gear that pushes the limits of what I thought was possible. For example, would you ever have believed you could pilot your boat with a fishing rod? Or have a radio that could show you the exact spot where your buddy is fishing? In other cases, they're improving what was already near perfect. The modern fishing reel is a marvel of design, craftsmanship, and technology. Yet every year reels cast farther, fight harder, and fish easier than the models before them. Likewise, it's no longer enough for lures to look natural; now they actually feel like baitfish. ¿¿ We're living in a golden age of fishing tackle, and the following products are some of the best innovations for 2003. Check them out. They just might make you a better angler.

REELS

Reel Good Value
The best news in reels is that quality keeps getting better, while prices go lower. Many affordable models have features normally found on expensive products, things like several bearings, titanium components, instant anti-reverse, and spare aluminum spools.

Some good examples include the Okuma Epixor ($65¿¿¿$90), the Shimano Stradic ($120¿¿¿$140), the Pflueger Solara ($50 spinning, $70 baitcasting), and the South Bend 4100 series ($25). The Okuma Epixor EB20 is especially noteworthy because it's the smallest two-drag (for free-spool live-lining) spinning reel on the market. On the Shimano series, large spools, small body profiles, and lube-maintenance ports are nice features. Pflueger's baitcasting Solara features six-pin adjustable centrifugal brakes to tame backlash. The South Bend reels are exceptional bargains.

High-Class Spincasting
Spincasting reels continue to improve as manufacturers stop treating them like kids' stuff and pay closer attention to line pickup (more or better pickup points), line winding (oscillation for level spooling), gears (sturdier components for cranking power), and drag (more and better discs). Some have added more bearings, which add significantly to cost but provide smoother operation. Three great examples are the Zebco Omega ($50), the Shakespeare Synergy Alloy (three models, $15¿¿¿$25), and the Daiwa Silvercast Plus (three models, $30¿¿¿$33).

A Lightweight Reel for Heavyweight Fish
You don't expect to be able to duel with tarpon, sailfish, and tuna with a 21-ounce lever-drag reel, yet that is what the new Penn 320LD ($120) weighs thanks to its one-piece graphite frame. You can lean against the transom and put some muscle into the fight as a result of the comfort of this reel's lighter weight, but you won't sacrifice performance with features like an anodized aluminum spool; star-drag system with full, strike, and free settings; four sealed ball bearings; and a 4.3:1 gear ratio.

Additionally, the 320LD has a levelwind guide to properly distribute its capacity of 320 yards of 20-pound line.

LINES

The First IGFA-Rated Superline
The International Game Fish Association certifies sport-fishing records according to various factors, perhaps the most significant of which is actual wet breaking strength of the line used. Many lines overtest, and the IGFA has had a hard time in the past getting consistent breaking results from so-called superlines. Fins' new IGFA PRT Braid is the only superline that meets wet-break specifications for world records. A line guaranteed to break at or under the labeled breaking strength is unique in the superline field, so this should come as good news to those who want to know exactly what they're fishing with. It's currently available in 30- to 130-pound strengths.

Strong and Supple Monofilament
Berkley's IronSilk is perfect for conditions where you need durable but limp line. Berkley has manufactured this line ung what it calls revolutionary built-in technology to make IronSilk an unconventional monofilament. The exterior is very smooth, it has moderate stretch (20 percent), and it is said to be two to three times more abrasion resistant than other "tough" lines, although the latter point is hard to verify because no one has a test that adequately measures abrasion resistance in actual fishing conditions. It's available in two colors in filler spools from 4- to 30-pound-test.

A Line That Does It All
Fishing lines have become so specialized lately that choosing them has become annoyingly confusing, especially if you buy into grand marketing claims. Stren MagnaFlex, which I used last year during prototype testing, is a good product for varied applications-an all-around line. This is a copolymer monofilament that has low memory, great flexibility, high abrasion resistance (as best as you can tell), thin diameter, and good knot strength. It's available in three colors from 4- through 100-pound-test.

TECH

Retrofit Remote for Electric Motors
The Minn Kota CoPilot (about $150) will appeal to many anglers who use electric motors because they don't need to buy a new one to get cordless operation. CoPilot is an add-on accessory that works with various old and new Minn Kota products to make them capable of cordless and peddleless remote operation, from anywhere in a boat. It includes a compact transmitter about the size of a car's keyless-entry remote, which communicates with a small receiver attached to the motor side plate. If you've already got a good Minn Kota motor and want to retrofit it for remote operation, you're in luck.

Pressure-Sensitive Sonar
Barometric-pressure monitors incorporated into fishing sonar? That's novel, and everyone knows that weather plays a big role in fishing. Could this be the forerunner of a new wave of electronic features? I like the idea in theory-not to make everyone an amateur weather forecaster, but for what it means if you can relate the information provided to on-the-water, what-do-I-do-now situations.

Humminbird thinks its new Weather Sense fishing-condition monitor is a winner and is making all six brand-new Matrix Fishing System sonar models ($180¿¿¿$550) compatible with it. These have 240 vertical pixels for enhanced display, 12 levels of grayscale to view finer detail, large screens and enhanced user controls, high-contrast display, dual narrow- and wide-beam coverage, and a temperature monitor. Several also have color and GPS, and some are GPS-capable.

Smarter Two-Way Radios
Before cellphones became the main means of telling your pals where the fish were biting, radio direction finders were the way big-water boaters could locate people on VHF radios spilling the beans about their good fortune. Now, the Peer-to-Peer Positioning feature on two new Garmin Rino two-way radios ($159 and $269) takes the guesswork out of locating companions on the water (or at the shopping mall). You can find out exactly where a companion is located on the lake or up the canyon creek, because these radios display their GPS position to each other. So, when your pal calls to say that he's catching salmon 2 miles off the harbor in the fog, you can display his position, lock it in, and immediately navigate there to help out. Of course, it's not bad as a rescue tool in case he hasn't found fish but is out of gas or battery power.

LURES

The Monster Striper Lure
Although the new 19-inch-long Stretch Sea Plug from Mann's is a saltwater lure, I wish I'd had one last fall, fishing for huge lake trout at Lake Athabasca in Saskatchewan. I'm sure it would not have been too big for some of those fish. However, this half-hard, half-soft lure will grab the attention of a lot of bruisers in saltwater, especially striped bass. The front portion is a diving-head hard body, and the rear portion is a soft-plastic eel tail. It comes in seven colors.

Deep-Diving Crankbaits
If you're a fan of deep-diving crankbaits, you'll like some new plugs out of the Worden's and Rapala stables, because these can be cast for long distances without tumbling, are quite snag resistant thanks to object-deflecting lips, and honestly get down where the manufacturers say they do. Worden's DC-16 Timber Tiger Longreach reaches 16 feet when cast (deeper when trolled) and has a very helpful-especially around cover-"near-suspend" ability. Rapala's DT 10 and DT 16 plugs reach 10- and 16-foot depths respectively, dive quickly, offer low resistance during the retrieve, and have internal rattles. All are made in a host of colors.

Soft Stretch Baits for Bass
Elasticity in fishing line is bad, but soft lures that stretch are the new hot thing. Many companies are manipulating materials to make superelastic products. In theory, high elasticity gives a supple feel and smoother action to lures, not to mention that fish theoretically hold onto these items longer. SnapBack from Terminator looks like a winner. The SnapBack series of soft lures are durable, highly elastic, very buoyant, and available in five shapes and numerous colors. Also stretching soft plastic to impressive lengths is Strike King with its new 3X series; these soft lures are also very durable, float high, and come in nine body styles and plenty of colors.ng-head hard body, and the rear portion is a soft-plastic eel tail. It comes in seven colors.

Deep-Diving Crankbaits
If you're a fan of deep-diving crankbaits, you'll like some new plugs out of the Worden's and Rapala stables, because these can be cast for long distances without tumbling, are quite snag resistant thanks to object-deflecting lips, and honestly get down where the manufacturers say they do. Worden's DC-16 Timber Tiger Longreach reaches 16 feet when cast (deeper when trolled) and has a very helpful-especially around cover-"near-suspend" ability. Rapala's DT 10 and DT 16 plugs reach 10- and 16-foot depths respectively, dive quickly, offer low resistance during the retrieve, and have internal rattles. All are made in a host of colors.

Soft Stretch Baits for Bass
Elasticity in fishing line is bad, but soft lures that stretch are the new hot thing. Many companies are manipulating materials to make superelastic products. In theory, high elasticity gives a supple feel and smoother action to lures, not to mention that fish theoretically hold onto these items longer. SnapBack from Terminator looks like a winner. The SnapBack series of soft lures are durable, highly elastic, very buoyant, and available in five shapes and numerous colors. Also stretching soft plastic to impressive lengths is Strike King with its new 3X series; these soft lures are also very durable, float high, and come in nine body styles and plenty of colors.