John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.
I'm a big fan of Berkley Gulp. It's all I use for fluke anymore, and that's after many years of using everything else. One of Gulp's big advantages is that it stays on the hook better than real bait. When fluke jigging, this means you don't have to worry that you lost your bait when you miss a hit. Just keep bouncing the jig. The time when you've just missed a hit is the worst time to be pulling your line from the water to check your bait. I use their 6-inch worms for trolling tube and worm in my kayak for bass. It's deadly, and I've had stripers to 40 pounds on the tube and Gulp combination. Because Gulp worms are harder to pull off the hook than real ones, they stand up better to the small interference fish such as porgies and small seabass. As with the fluke, the ability to ignore a couple small taps and leave the rig in the water results in fish being caught at times when I would have been reeling in to check my bait if I was using the real stuff. The other big advantage of Gulp is the convenience that its long shelf life affords. My first jar sat in my boat for over a year before I tried it, and the fish were all over it when I finally did. There's no need to keep it cold, and I can't tell that it ever goes bad. This means there's no waste, and it's easy to keep a supply of bait around. I wouldn't even bother tube and worm trolling if I had to drive to a bait and tackle shop every time I needed worms, and then had to deal with trying to keep the leftover worms alive. It also takes the guesswork out of how much real bait to buy. Buy too little and a trip is cut short. Buying too much is wasteful in both money and resources. I saw an online post recently where someone questioned the safety of Gulp. The logic went something like "It says not for human consumption on the label, so why are we feeding it to fish?" I've actually intentionally fed it to fish. I was so fascinated by how well it worked that I wanted to see if fish would just eat it like food. I did it in the fish's environment using scuba gear. I've embedded the video at the end of this for anyone who hasn't already seen it. So was I feeding those fish a toxic substance? I highly doubted that possibility because it wouldn't make sense for a fishing tackle company to be poisoning the fish that their business depends on. Not to mention the scrutiny new products undergo before they're released to the public. Nonetheless, the question as to the possible toxicity of Gulp was an interesting one, so I followed up on it with Hunter Cole, the Senior Marketing Manager for Pure Fishing, the parent company of Berkley, which makes Gulp. He confirmed my assumption that the appropriate studies were done, and that Gulp is completely safe. Cole passed on the following from John Prochnow, the Senior Director of Product Innovation for Pure Fishing. "During the course of Gulp!'s development we purposely "fed" Gulp! to a variety of gamefish (largemouth bass, bluegills, carp, trout) to verify the product's safety. The fish were fed both whole baits and baits cut into small pieces. We also varied the feedings from a single instance to multiple feedings spread over time. In short, the fish received far more Gulp! than they were ever likely to get in the field from anglers. Since these fish were kept in aquariums, we could easily monitor their individual health during the course of the studies. At no time did any of the fish ever exhibit any abnormal behaviors or symptoms indicative of stress (cessation of eating, loss of equilibrium, intestinal blockage, swollen abdomens, etc). To date, we have never lost a single fish due to Gulp! ingestion. The baits are not digestible, but we have monitored how long it takes for fish to rid themselves of ingested baits. As you know, fish can rid themselves of unwanted gastric items by either regurgitation or, following passage through the digestive tract, anal expulsion. In our tests, the fish practiced both. Small pieces of bait are almost always sent through the digestive tract to be expelled in a few days. Larger pieces may go either way. Normally, if the bait is too large to pass through the digestive tract then it is regurgitated within a few hours to several days. The longest I have seen a fish take to regurgitate a softbait is three weeks, but the bait was attached to a whole bass jig (with the hook bent over). Larger pieces still capable of passing through the digestive tract will do so at a rate inversely related to their size. The larger the bait, the longer it takes for the bait to pass through the digestive tract and be expelled. Usually, however, it occurs within a week or so." Cole went on to say that the reason that they put "Not for Human Consumption" on the label is that the raw materials that are used to manufacture Gulp are not FDA inspected or approved for humans to ingest. Just like cattle feed and dog food is not meant for humans.
Anyone who owns a boat hopefully has a plan to put in place in the event that their engine dies. Even though my boat is only a 16-foot tin, I still carry a spare engine in case my main engine gives out. I've been boating for about 35 years now, and have only pressed that engine into service twice that I can recall. Remarkably, I've had the same spare kicker with me all of those years – a 1965 5hp Evinrude. Many larger boats have twin engines, so they're pretty well covered. But what about single-engine craft? What's the plan should the one and only engine stop working? The best option is probably commercial tow insurance. For prices that are in the $125-$170 per year range, you can be towed back to your home port free of charge if you have a problem. I've often heard stories that if you need a tow from one of these services, and you don't have the insurance, you'll be out easily $500. I always assumed that if you needed a very short tow, the price would be significantly lower. I recently got to test that theory. "Hi Dad. We're just outside Jamesport creek, near the channel markers, and our motor won't run. What should we do?" It was my daughter, on her last day before going back to college, out with a couple of friends on someone else's boat. "Drop the anchor," was my first advice. "We did that," was her surprising response. Apparently the motor had overheated while tubing. They managed to get it started after letting it cool, but it overheated again before reaching the creek, and now "Nothing happens when we turn the key." At this point I already had real-time wind readings up on my computer, and was relieved to see it was only blowing about 10 to 15 knots. I was more concerned when I saw the line of thunderstorms crossing into Nassau County. After confirming with her that it wasn't rough, they had life jackets, and they weren't in any immediate danger, I told her to try to flag down a passing boat. I'm familiar with where they were, and it's relatively busy with boats going in and out of the creek. I then made it clear that they didn't have all day to get out of there because of the line of storms. "If you don't flag down a tow pretty soon, you'll need to call Sea Tow, but it will be expensive," I warned her. "We're only two hundred yards from the creek – I'm looking at the dock," she said in a "How expensive could it be?" tone. While trying to flag boats without any success, she called Sea Tow for an estimate. It came in at $530, with the dispatcher explaining that they would be charged an hourly rate from the time the tow boat left the facility until the time it returned. After 30 minutes passed without any progress, the three kids decided to split the tow charge and get out of there. Just as they were making the call, they caught the eye of a good Samaritan and managed to avoid the commercial tow. In addition to Sea Tow, BoatUS offers commercial tow service in our area. On their website they cite a hypothetical example of what it might cost an uninsured boater to have a 24-foot boat pulled off a sandbar. Their example worked out to $1267.50. After hearing of my daughter's $530 estimate for a 200-yard bay tow, I don't doubt the sandbar quote at all. If I didn't have a spare motor – I'd be getting tow insurance.