Though there’s a ton of strictly fishing products out there to make any angler psyched these days, I tend to dive more into the ancillary stuff that might not be strictly for the sport. Here are seven products that are sure to make any angler happy on or off the water.
1. Maven Customizable Binoculars
Binoculars you say? For fishing? Absolutely. When I’m out on my boat I love toting along a pair to check out wildlife, view anything downriver that might be a problem while I’m rowing, or to scout areas for the upcoming bird season. I’ll bet many of you do, too. The thing is I’m a bit of an optics snob. I believe this comes from all the photography that I do. A crappy pair of binos just doesn’t cut it for me, and, for better or worse, I have a fairly high standard when it comes to the optical clarity and quality of glass in any form, whether that’s camera lenses, polarized glasses, or binoculars.
Recently, I had the chance to check out a pair of very lightweight, incredibly compact binoculars from a new company called Maven. I chose a pair of their 10X30 B3s in Kuiu Vias camo, with green and orange highlights. Maven, headquartered in Wyoming, offers three sizes of fully customizable binoculars, each manufactured in the U.S. I chose the most compact pair, given my fishing outings typically consist of walking far and boating light. The quality for these size bios is absolutely outstanding, and they seem to hold up as well as pairs that cost twice as much. The clarity is razor sharp, the low light viewing is amazing, and the edge-to-edge sharpness is also very good. I’ve had them out in vastly different weather—and even accidentally dunked them fully underwater the other day (oops) while duck hunting. They were fine. Best of all, the price is very, very competitive for the high-end binocular world. I think my pair ended up costing around $600, with a standard pair of B3s starting at $500. The company lets you customize the camo wrap you put on the binos, and offers a multitude of colors for nearly every other little piece. The company’s online interface is very well thought out and pretty fun once you start building a pair.
PROS: Amazing quality for the price (for both the optics and outside build), being made in the U.S.A, a fully customizable paint job, and a few optics choices.
CONS: Very little. They aren’t cheap, but they aren’t expensive, either, in the realm of fully sealed, super high-quality binoculars.
2. Walton’s Thumb Fishing Multi-Tool
As a guy who’s lived in Boulder, Colorado, on again, off again my whole life, over the years, I’d heard about a fishing multi-tool invented there called the Walton’s Thumb. It was first made in the early 70s by a guy named Hank Roberts and was named after Izaak Walton, the famous author of The Compleat Angler, which, among other things, discusses our opposable thumbs and all they can do. I had never seen a Walton’s Thumb, though, until a few weeks ago, when the Creek Company announced it was re-introducing the product and sent me one.
I’ve seen every wiz-bang, 10-in-one tool that has come out over the past 15 years, and most of them aren’t worth mentioning. This one, though, is getting permanently attached to my boat, and one will also always be among my fishing gear when I’m going out for trout. The tool has 10 unique functions that I guarantee will get used regularly. There are four lever-operated tools, including a pincer, a cutter, a crimper, and a split-shot remover (love this feature), plus six more tools, including a knife, a screwdriver, a split-ring remover, scissors, a hook eye cleaner/knot pick, and a lanyard ring. Plus, the Walton’s Thumb is made of stainless steel, and is small enough to slip in your pocket or to fit almost anywhere in your gear. It retails for $39.99.
PROS: A ton of bang for your buck, and one very well-thought-out tool
CONS: It could have included a bottle opener.
3. Voormi High-E Hoody
Voormi is a new domestic textile manufacturer that’s working to revolutionize the performance applications of merino wool. Last summer they partnered with fishpond to create what they’re calling the High-E Hoody. The company says that the point of its new propriety textile, called Surface Hardened Thermal Wool, is to bring a new level of durability and performance to fine micron wool.
The company goes on to say that to achieve this, they use a knitting process that interlaces high-performance nylon fibers on the exterior of the 21.5-micron Colorado-sourced wool with fleeced synthetic and wool-wicking fibers on the interior, providing insulation and moisture management. Finally, they say, the exterior surface is treated with a wool-specific water-repellent treatment.
Now, I love wool as an insulator and, for almost all outdoor activities, I have switched all my base layers, and some mid layers, to the stuff. What, though, I wondered, could be so good about a hoody that costs $230!? I was dubious, to say the least. Honestly, I thought that there was no way I was every going to review something so expensive.
I was wrong.
I’ve now been wearing the hoody for a couple of months, and, I have to say, it’s gotten to be my go-to piece of layering for fishing, hunting, and biking around town. It regulates temperature better than almost anything else I’ve worn in that thickness, repels quite a bit of drizzle, and doesn’t seem to have that wool smell that many garments made of the stuff do. What really got me, though, is the durability. I recently wore just my hoody on a grouse-hunting photo shoot in central Michigan for this very magazine. It was the thickest, most grabby, thorn-riddled forest I’ve ever been in, and there was nary a pull on this thing. The down jacket I wore the first day was ripped to shreds on the elbows and arms. The High-E Hoody looked as if it had just come off the rack. It was bizarre how well the thing held up.
The other cool thing about Voormi is that the entire process, from raw wool sourcing to textile knitting, to the final cut and sew, is done 100 percent in the U.S.A.
PROS: The most durable, comfortable, and best-smelling piece of wool I’ve ever worn.
CONS: Prohibitively expensive! Also, though the hood part of the garment is amazing for outdoor activities and nasty weather, you would not want to sit around inside with it on, as it zips fully up to your mouth and covers your nose.
4. Western Rise Granite Camp Pant and Hartsel Henley Shirt
A relative newcomer to the fishing scene that sits somewhere between the hipster-oriented Howler Brothers and full-on technical clothing of Patagonia or Simms is Western Rise, who is making some good-looking, contemporary clothing that takes into account what folks want for looks and performance. Toward the end of the trout season this year, I had the opportunity to try out the Granite Camp Pant and Hartsel Henley shirt. Not only did I get quite a few comments completing my attire, I also really dug wearing this stuff fishing. I’m 5′ 10″ and 175, ahem… 180 pounds, and these garments each fit me exactly as they should. They’re not too big or too small, but fit exactly how I like them. Fitted but constructed of material that stretches when you need it to, and both were comfortable to wear all day. The shirt is a great weight that protects from the sun, and it’s not hot at all, but wards off a slight chill from a boat under power or late-day breeziness. The pants are super-quick drying, have super-deep back pockets for sliding in a decent-size fly box, a couple spools of tippet, and floatant in them. The pant material is stretchy, making it easy to scramble around rocks while wet wading, and dry very quickly. I also really appreciate the Cordura “knife wedge,” as I always carry a folder in the mesh draining pockets.
PROS: Awesome-looking, technologically advanced clothing that you could wear out to dinner or to the bar.
CONS: The only thing I didn’t like was the snap-cinch button, which was designed for climbing or biking. When not in use it, it constantly seemed to slip under my heel if I wore flip-flops, making for uncomfortable walking. This feature could go…
5. Simms Westshore Slip On
Does anybody really need boat shoes? Probably not. That said, I dare you to try to get on some anal saltwater guide’s boat with soles that may, hypothetically, scuff up the deck. Though Simms developed the non-skid Westshore Slip-On (available spring 2016) for all-day fishing from a boat, which it does very well, I’ve really been digging it for traveling and the fishing shoulder seasons, not to mention around the house and in town. They are the best thing to slip on after a cold, wet-winter wade mission. They are honest to goodness some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever put on, and as slip-ons, with a crushable back, they are truly hands-free if you want them to be.
Apparently, what makes them so comfortable and supportive is what Simms calls Right Angle technology, which properly aligns the angler’s foot, making “all-day deck fishing comfortable.” These shoes are perfect for mid- to late fall on a flats skiff off the coast of South Carolina or Texas, or for standing all day in mid-winter on a boat in the middle of the Louisiana Delta. Not to mention, they make for fantastic airport and travel shoes, due to their slip-on nature.
PROS: Amazingly comfortable slip-on shoe. Great for standing in cooler weather on a boat deck all day.
CONS: Though not bad-looking, I wish they had a touch more style instead of looking like a hippie’s moccasin. Totally subjective here, but that’s really the only downside I could find.
6. Avex ReCharge Autoseal Travel Mug
The Avex ReCharge Autoseal Travel Mug is one of those products I’ve been wishing someone would make for a long time. Simply looking at it doesn’t really do it justice. At its core, it’s basically an insulated mug with a top. Here’s the thing, though: it works better than every other one I’ve tried. Why? It’s vacuum insulated, built with stainless steel, has a screw on top that’s not only gasketed, but also has a squeeze button that auto-seals when you let go, as well as a sturdy locking mechanism. There’s a ton of travel mugs out there, but none of them I trust to throw in a backpack full of camera gear and computer stuff. With this one I do. Not only does it have a hell of a seal and lock, it’s also got what Avex calls an “AutoSeal” lid that holds any residual liquid in its place after you take a sip. The mug’s grippy exterior and non-slip bottom make it perfect for boats or coffee in a duck blind, and it has become my go-to coffee mate for early-morning adventures. Now if Yeti would only make a locking lid for their tumblers…
PROS: The best traveling coffee mug or thermos I’ve ever used.
CONS: I wish Avex would make this product a bit larger. There’re a 17 oz and 20 oz version, but sometimes that’s just not enough coffee for me and someone else.
7. New GoPro Hero Session
If you haven’t used a GoPro to take videos or still photos of your fishing conquests, I think you need to get out more. The cameras have been around since 2004 and have dominated the market ever since, with good reason. The quality and capability of what they can do is astounding for the price, and they have only gotten better over the years. The one Achilles heel I’ve always found with any of their cameras is trying to navigate the complex system of submenus with just two buttons. It’s frustrating, especially if you only use it occasionally. Their new Hero Session camera, however, takes care of a lot of that with one-button operation. You literally push the button once and, voilà, it’s recording. Hold it down longer and it takes stills. You can still operate the sub-menus if you want, but via the GoPro app on your smartphone. The camera is also remarkably smaller, at about half the size of previous generations, and it does not require underwater housing anymore. The entire camera body is waterproof to 33 feet. With the almost constant unveiling of accessories, such as the sportsman’s mount, it’s gotten a ton easier to document your fishing and hunting trips.
PROS: Easier to operate, smaller, lighter, and easier to mount than previous incarnations.
CONS: No 4K recording, no replaceable batteries—i.e. you have to recharge to keep using if the battery runs out.