Winter doldrums can really take a toll on man's soul and desires. You often catch yourself daydreaming of those cool spring mornings and the sounds of water splashing against the sides of the boat. It seems every year your first trip or trips of the year are often hampered by equipment issues or you are just plain unprepared.
Being prepared is not only the motto of the Boy Scouts, but it should be something that you will want to keep in mind for yourself as well. The late winter is a prime time for you to get yourself ready for the upcoming fishing season. It is no fun when you get that call that the fish are really starting to turn on and you find yourself caught with old line, missing tackle, and well, just plain unprepared. It's not really rocket science, but it is something that gets the old "I'll get to it later". Then later is just that, too late. I want to see if we can break that cycle and go over a few things that can be done to get you prepared for the first outing of the year.
Rods and reels:
- Inspect your rods. Checking all the guides for nicks, cuts or abrasions. Run a cotton swab thru the guides and if you have cotton catch you know you have an issue. Repair or replace that guide and you won't regret loosing that fish later. Repairs can be made easily with some very fine emery cloth and a little clear nail polish. However, major nicks or cuts will require you to replace the guide completely.
- Inspect the reel seats and make sure your reels are in tight and ready for action. Make sure that the threads of the reel seat are not cross threaded or stripped out. This can happen easily when rods are moved around in vehicles and in the boat.
- Clean the cork on your rods for a better grip. This is easily done with some soapy warm water and a scouring pad. When cleaning up your cork, make sure you go easy with the scouring pad, as you don't want to end up with a handle that is now half the diameter that you started with.
- Clean up your reels. This can be as simple as cleaning up all the external dust and dirt, however I recommend taking them apart and removing the old grease and oil and replacing it with new and better grease. I like Quantum's Hot Sauce and a nice graphite type oil for the bearings. Check that you don't have any excessive wear on any parts and if so replace them, especially the drag washers. Just a hint: make sure you have a schematic of your reel handy because when that one spring goes flying across the room, you'll know where it goes in the reel when you are done crawling around the room looking for it.
- Change the line on all of your spools. You don't necessarily need to remove all your line, just the first 50 to 75 yards and then tie a uni to uni knot or other style of end-to-end knot and spool on new line. Doing this will allow you to keep fresh line on your reels and keep your costs down as well. If you think about it, how many times do you actually use more than 75 yards of line? I will use a heavier line as my backing and will change the backing out once every year or two. It is a shame to loose a fish to poor line, especially when it could have easily been avoided.
Tackle and tackle storage
- Make sure you have enough of your favorite plastics. There is nothing like getting on the water and having the hot bait only to find out that you only have one or two of them left and the fish are tearing them apart. What I like to do is if I am running low or if there is one particular bait that has done well for me, I will store the empty bags in a file. The file can be pulled out when the time comes and then I know what colors and styles that needs to be purchased. When the baits are purchased then the bag gets moved to a different file so I can keep track of the type, style, brand and color for the future.
- Along with the plastics, make sure you have enough hooks. You will want to make sure you have all the necessary types and sizes for the way you fish. I like to do the same type of file system with my hooks that I do with my plastics. I keep the package so that way it is easy to remember size, style, and color if necessary.
- Check the hooks on all your baits. Sharpen the hooks and if needed, change out any rusty, bent, or bad hooks.
- Make sure you have an organized system for all of your tackle. This will allow you to pick it up and go and also allow you ease of finding the bait you are looking for, so you don't waste time when you could be fishing. I like the clear plastic divided boxes. These allow me to keep my baits separated and easy to change out boxes of baits for different fishing situations.
What about the boat? Yes the boat is certainly an area that you do not want to neglect. If you properly winterized the boat and stored everything accordingly, then it should be rather simple to bring it out of its winter's sleep.
- Check the batteries for proper amount of water in them. If they are low replenish them with Distilled Water, not tap water. This may be a non-issue if you own some of the newer "gel cell" batteries. If the batteries are good, make sure you give them a full charge.
- Add fresh fuel to the tank and with it add the proper mixture of additives to the gas. I like to add Sea Foam and Star Tron to each tank to keep the fuel fresh and help keep the engine from building up any deposits in the lines. Just follow the instructions on the cans for the proper fuel/additive ratio. I keep a pre-mixed container with the necessary gallon markings on the side so that way when I add gas I can easily pour the right amount into the tank.
- Check the spark plugs for fouling and replace if necessary.
- Lubricate any fittings that may need it. The shaft of the motor, the steering assembly, etc. This will keep them all in good working order and it will push any water out that may have collected in these areas.
- If possible, hook up the hose and the muffs on the engine and start it in the driveway. You want to make sure everything is running properly and that the water pump is pumping water with a good stream. It is no fun to get to the ramp only to find out that you cannot get the motor running or the water pump is not working properly.
- Inspect all of your safety equipment. This would include; lifejackets, fire extinguishers, flares, VHF radio, horns, and whistles. Replace any PFDs that are worn and are questionable. Check the dates on your flares and fire extinguishers and replace if necessary. If you have one of the new inflatable PFD devices make sure that the cartridge and the operating mechanism are up to date and not going to malfunction when needed.
- Check your trailer lights and make sure that they are in good working order. The plugs and ground areas will often corrode during storage if they were exposed to the elements. If you are not using LED lights on your trailer then make sure to carry a spare bulb or two with you in case of emergency. Also check the tires for proper inflation per mfg specs and don't forget about the spare tire as well.
Don't take for granted that you are ready to go just because you have stored your equipment away in the fall. Following these few simple guidelines will allow you to be ready to hit the water when the fishing becomes hot and heavy. There's nothing like getting out on the open water after a long winter and clearing the cobwebs from the mind. The trip becomes that much more enjoyable when all you need to worry about is finding and catching some fish. Take time and enjoy your day and most importantly, take a Kid Fishing!