Winter Preparation for Spring
The days are dreary and the ice gets thicker on the lake each day. It's winter time but there are still lots of things to do to get ready for the coming thaw and early spring fishing.
Don't sit around and feel sorry for yourself. Use the time to make sure the boat, tackle, and all those rods and reels are in tip-top shape.
Clean Up Your Boat
First, what about cleaning up that nasty boat? All those dried minnows from last spring, all that catfish slime, the worm bedding from the box of nightcrawlers your buddy kicked over but conveniently forgot to clean up. How about all those torn crappie jig bodies that you didn't throw away and those colorful crappie nibbles that got ground into the carpet. Don’t forget all those crankbaits tangled into a ball that will take blood, sweat and tears to get organized. They aren't going to go anywhere without some effort on your part.
You might have to wait for a nice day so you can get the water hose and a scrub brush to clean up the floor and decks, but it needs to be done. While you're at it, clean out those packages of baits you just couldn't live without but now lurk in the deepest, darkest parts of your storage and rod boxes.
Organize Your Tackle Boxes
Get those tackle boxes out and try to organize them according to color, size, and action of the plastics and hard baits. All those baits won't catch any fish if you can't find them. Those peanut butter crackers from two years ago probably need to go also. While digging around, find and check the charge on your fire extinguisher. A low gauge or broke seal will mean it needs to be replaced or recharged.
Re-spool Your Lines
Being on the lake many days a week, I need line that will hold up to the sun and wear and tear of trolling. I re-spool all my reels - before spring fishing starts and when I see the amount of line getting low on the spool from being hung up and line lost.
I use the dreary days to change line and check the working order of all my reels. My wife Vicki isn't thrilled to see me pull hundreds of yards of line off the reels and replace it, all the while our two cats are having a ball with the old line, dragging it all over the house.
The ideal time to do this is during a ball game that is of no interest to either of us but provides background noise. Check your rods and poles. You don't want to make your first trip of the spring be the time you discover broken tips or missing eyelets.
Check Your Boat’s Engine & Mechanics
Once you get the boat cleaned up and dry, it's time to check the operation of all the gear on the boat as well as the engine itself. Invest in a $12 water muff to make sure your engine has water flowing thru it before you try to crank the engine.
Check all fuel lines and the primer bulb. Hopefully you put a fuel stabilizer in the tank before you put it up after the last trip you made. Make sure all your batteries will charge to their peak voltage and make sure the water level is up to the recommended level in each battery.
Cranking the engine BEFORE you hit the ramp will give you peace of mind as well as avoiding hard feelings should the engine not start while you are blocking the ramp. DON’T FORGET TO USE, THEN REMOVE, THE WATER MUFFS.
Check the oil in your 4-stroke engine and change it if the hours show you should. Many new boats have hour meters or indicators on the dash gauges to tell how many hours are on the engine. Go to your owner’s manual for recommended maintenance items like spark plugs, fuel filters and the water pump impeller.
If you aren't comfortable doing this kind of maintenance, the off-season is a good time to get the boat to your dealer for such maintenance. While at the engine, check the operation of the steering, trim and tilt as well as the propeller. If the prop has nicks or scratches, it is a good idea to take the prop off and take it to a professional for repair or rebuild.
Be sure to check the lube level in the lower unit. If it is discolored or milky-colored, it is a sure sign of contamination or water leaking past the propeller seal. This should be repaired by the dealer or a certified marine mechanic.
Check to make sure your bilge pump, aerator pumps and recirculation pumps are all working. Check fittings on the hull and transom to make sure all are tight. Run your trolling motor from the lowest to highest settings and make sure the cables for steering are all in working order.
On the remote-control trolling motors, be careful letting them down to check all functions. Many are really tight to the trailer and can be easily damaged if allowed to contact it. Check all the remote-control functions. Buy a spare battery for the remote. It can be the difference in a great day fishing or a bad day trying to find a remote-control battery.
The Trailer Needs Maintenance, Too
Check your trailer over well. Replace any lights that aren't working. Many new trailers have LED bulbs that will last several times longer than conventional bulbs. Check the bunks and all the bolts attaching them to the trailer. Lube your trailer ball connector so it is moving freely.
Take a jack and raise the trailer wheels off the ground, one side at a time, to check for any noise or loose or wobbly wheels that might indicate a bad bearing or even a bent wheel. If you find what you suspect might be a bearing issue, go on YouTube to see how to take the hub assembly apart and replaced worn parts.
If everything sounds OK, make sure the bearing grease fittings are full of marine grade grease. Check the air in each tire as well as your spare and see that they are within the load range listed on the tire and aired up to the listed pressure.
Many folks are now using inflatable PFDs. These will have an expiration date listed near the CO2 cartridge. If the date is past, the PFD will need to be recharged and the water activation device changed out. Check to make sure you have the correct number of PFDs aboard the boat as well as the required throwable device.
Now is the time to go onto the Fish and Wildlife web site for your state to check for all required equipment for that state like a paddle, anchor, fire extinguisher, etc. It's much better to check for those yourself before you are asked to show them for the water patrol when on the water.
A little effort during the time you can't get on the lake will go a long way to making sure your first trip of the year is a good one. I can't help you to get the fish to bite.