By Live to Fish Team Member: Josh Stewart
You planned this fishing trip well in advance. You know you’ve earned it. The outing is something you’ve been looking forward to. In fact, during particularly stressful and frustrating times that took place during the days leading up to the trip, your mind would drift to this particular future fishing experience. Thoughts of casting, catching, and being on the water, helped drown out the otherwise unpleasant experiences while your feet remained on dry land. “It will all be worth in it in the end…When I’m finally out there…” That’s what you’d keep telling yourself. As the date of the excursion came closer, a portion of each evening was spent in preparation.
One of the worst feelings anyone can have while in pursuit of gamefish is to be hours into your trip and realize you left an essential piece of gear at home; or, perhaps one of your electronics or one of your boat’s components fails; leaving you to berate yourself for failing to do the preliminary work necessary to help ensure your time on the water is as hassle free as possible. When fishing, time spent without your line in the water is time spent in which you cannot possibly catch a fish. Increase the time in which you have lines in the water, ensure you have everything you need, and make the most of the valuable time you’ve been looking forward to by reviewing our suggestions below. Let the trip be what you intend it to be; a source of rejuvenation and revitalization.
Check through your crankbaits, topwater lures, jigs, hooks, and other swimbaits. Make sure their hooks and split rings are in good condition; especially lures with treble hooks. Replace any components that need replacing. Sharpen any hooks that seem dull. In fact, the most competitive fisherman will go through the hooks they’ve used before and sharpen each and every one. Using a hook sharpener and going over the point of a hook is not a significantly time consuming process. Ensure you’re doing it correctly and not actually dulling the tip of your hook. Check your tackle storage solutions. Make sure there are no cracks, holes, or broken hinges. Many anglers take advantage of the water tight tackle storage boxes. However, over time, the rubber ring that provides protection from water intrusion can wear out; or come out of alignment with the lid. Make sure this rubber ring is in good condition. If your lures have become tangled during storage, now would be good time to untangle and store them separately in tackle trays. One of the most frustrating circumstances to deal with is when you see aggressive feeding activity on the water, know what lure you need to tie on and cast in that direction, only to open your tackle tray and find the lure you need all tangled up with three or four others. There’s a saying – “luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” Do the preparation necessary to maximize on the opportunity. In essence, create your luck.
Take each of your rods out and inspect them separately. Are all your guides secure? Look at the inner ring of each guide. See the photo below to be clear on what I’m referring to when I mention, “inner ring.”
The inner ring in the photo is the gray colored area inside the round shiny metal circular outer portion of the guide. Use your finger to feel around the inside of each guide ring. For the rod guides that are too small to fit a finger through, take a cue tip and run it through the guide. What you’re looking for are any knicks. If any of the cotton from the end of the cue tip catches, you know you’ve found an area of concern. Anytime you feel or find a crack or a knick, you should replace that guide before fishing. Another thing to check for is that the inner rings of your guides feel solidly in place. When you prepare your line to fish, you may end up tying a Bimini Twist or Spider Hitch to double your line up. Then you may tie an Albright Special as a line to leader knot. When these knots pass through your guides during a cast, they hit the guide rings. If the ring is not securely in place, it will pop out. If you feel one that’s loose, have it replaced. It’s sure to pop out sooner rather than later. The reason the inside of your guides is important is that this is the area of your rod that your line moves through. When you’re fighting a fish, a knick, crack, or other imperfection, in the guide ring can result in your line being aggressively worn and even breaking off. Many otherwise unexplainable break offs have occurred as a result of a damaged guide ring. Guide rings are made from a variety of materials; mostly ceramic blends. The best guide rings are made from Alconite, Silicon Carbide (SIC), Torzite. Is the reel seat secure? When you secure your reel to your rod, you should be able to tighten down the reel seat until you feel confident that your reel is securely affixed to your rod. A loose, broken, or otherwise compromised reel seat is not something you want to discover when you’re fighting a fish. Especially one you’ve spent much time, energy, and likely money in terms of your gear and your gas, chasing after.
Entire articles have been written on reel maintenance. We’re not going that far in depth here. You should know when your reels are working properly and when they’re not. If there are any new noises coming from your reel when you crank the handle, if it’s harder to reel in than it always has been, or if there’s a wobble – you need to have the reel serviced. Having a reel serviced is not usually something that can be accomplished overnight. Make a habit of keeping your reels in good working order on a regular basis and you’re much less likely to have a last minute emergency.
When was the last time you changed your line? Before there was braid, we all fished with mono-filament. With mono-filament, changing fishing line was more common and occurred with greater frequency. Then braided line came along. With its higher prices and obvious advantages in strength and resiliency over mono, a greater reluctance to change your line exists. However, it’s important to know that people have lost huge fish and expensive rigs simply because they failed to change their line. Continuing to use your braided line beyond a period of time that’s safe will greatly increase the risk of a break off. The most disappointing stories of line break offs involve details such as the loss of an expensive trolling lure and an enormous hooked gamefish. Offshore trolling lures can be quite costly. It’s not impossible to lose a lure that’s worth more than what new line would cost. There are several factors to consider when determining how often you should change your braided line. Some factors are: The lower the pound test braided line, the more often you should change it. The more often you fish in areas that have heavy amounts of floating seagrass with small barnacles attached, the more often you should change it out. When your line meets with seaweed upon which small barnacles have grown, it’s like moving your line across a very fine cheese grater. If you’re doing a lot of fishing around rocks and oysters, keep an eye out for any parts of your line that appear frayed or worn. Generally speaking, if it’s been 6 to 12 months, and you fish three to four days a week, make a habit of changing your line. The easiest way to remember to do this is to set a simple calendar reminder at 6 to 8 month intervals. Make sure your line is in good shape before you head out.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the benefits polarized glasses for fishing. Polarized lenses are perfect for boating, fishing, surfing or any time spent on the water. By cutting down on the glare, you’ll be able to see fish you wouldn’t normally be able to see at all. Just keep in mind, when you can see the fish, they can see you. There are a number of manufacturers that churn out some high quality polarized sunglasses. One of the most popular for fisherman are made by Costa Del Mar. Costa developed the 580 lens. The technology involved in the manufacturing of this lens, particularly the 580G, greatly enhances your time on the water. You’ll feel less eye strain and see more fish. Believe it or not, I’ve been out on the water with people who forgot their polarized glasses. You may think polarized sunglasses would be one of the last things people would forget. Well, think again. When you’re leaving the dock before daybreak, you’re not going to be wearing your sunglasses. Not everyone keeps them around their neck. Especially if they’re stored in the console of their vehicle on a regular basis. Of course, no one is wearing their sunglasses or even thinking about doing so in the pre-dawn hours. If you are someone who happens to be wearing your shades in the dark, I can promise you won’t end up on my boat. Make sure you remember to put these around your neck or in a shirt pocket before you embark.
If you’re going to chum for baitfish, make sure you remember to bring all the ingredients. A popular saltwater inshore bait is a small fish known as a “greenback.” They’re properly called menhaden. A mixture that works well for bring them close enough to the boat to throw a net over them consists of menhaden oil, sardines in soybean oil, and the least expensive white bread you can find. You mix all these ingredients together and throw it out in small amounts where you expect the bait to be. If you’re not sure where fisherman are catching the bait, read local forums, ask a bait shop, or contact a friend who gets out on the water more often than you. An easy way to forego the time consuming and messy process of making your own chum is to buy pre-made chum. In years past, pre-made chum wasn’t much to speak of. Most often, it came in the form of a frozen block. Now, there’s a much better and effective option. A company called Aquatic Nutrition, Inc., makes a product called Bloodstream Top Predator Chum. Use this and be ready for some non – stop action. What makes their proprietary blend even more attractive is that it doesn’t have to be kept cold or frozen. You can store it on your boat or keep it where you normally store your tackle. Just make sure you have it with you for your trip.
At this point, a quick reminder on how to inspect your cast net is in order. If you can, hang your net from a tree or rafter, high enough to allow the weighted bottom to just touch the ground. Alternatively, you can spread your net out on a flat, clean, smooth space. Make sure you remove any obstructions or debris from the area where you plan to lay your net down. Inspect each panel for any holes in the mesh. Not only can your bait escape through these holes, they can also do what’s called, “gilling,” themselves. When baitfish gill themselves, their heads get stuck in the mesh while their body remains trapped behind. You must remove each gilled baitfish separately by hand. Removal of the gilled baitfish is a time consuming, messy process. Unfortunately, it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t have to explain what a net will smell like if it’s stored with dead baitfish ready to rot away.
Are all your batteries aboard fully charged? It’s easy enough to check and it’s certainly a pre-trip procedure you should absolutely incorporate into your pre-trip checklist. Certain flats boats, bay boats, and large center console fishing machines, often run a myriad of electronics. Besides your starting battery, power is needed to run all those bells and whistles. Pumps, lights, sonar, radar, radio, etc. Of course, you also need power to start your engine, or engines. Unless you’re using a very small, very low powered, outboard engine, your engine’s alternator will help to maintain the charge on your starting battery. When your boat isn’t in use, hooking up a charger is critical to maintaining a healthy charge. If you’re not going to use your boat for a period longer than 4 weeks, the charge needs to be maintained. Keep in mind, a lot of people use auto batteries instead of the more suitable deep cycle marine batteries. Auto batteries are less expensive and sometimes more readily available. The problem is that they aren’t designed to handle the frequent charge cycles or the loads put on them in a marine environment. One of the best batteries we’ve worked with are Optima Blue Top Marine batteries. These batteries can handle up to three times more charges than other marine batteries, have more than 15 times the vibration resistance, are spill – proof, capable of being mounted in virtually any position, and are maintenance free. That means no need to check water levels on a regular basis.
Florida Fish & Wildlife Pre-Boat Trip Checklist
- Alternate propulsion (i.e. paddle or oar)
- Anchors & Line
- Batteries (fully charged and encased in plastic boxes)
- Bilge device (bilge pump operable, alternative bailing device)
- Boat lights
- Bright flashlight or searchlight
- Boat & trailer registration, permits, licensesBug repellant
- Drinking water (1 gallon per person, per day)
- Fire extinguisher (right number, size, and class for boat; charged, not corroded, nozzle clear, bracketed, readily accessible)
- First aid kit i.e. Band-Aids, first-aid Cream, Campo-Phenique (good for minor burns, cuts and scrapes), Tums, lip balm.
- Kill switch (check with motor started)
- Map/Charts (in waterproof container)
- Matches/fire starter (in waterproof container)
- Navigation lights & spare bulbs
- Boat plug
- Pocket knife
- Sound producing device (i.e. whistle, horn)
- Spare trailer tire (check condition)
- Toilet paper
- Trailer lights (and brakes if applicable)
- Spare prop and lock-nut or shear pin
- Weather radio
- Visual distress signals (check current dates on flares, proper number)
- Watch or clock
- Night before list
- Hook up trailer and check lights and brakes (if applicable)
- Charge batteries
- Check fuel
- Check boat lights
- Turn on batteries, “check 1, 2, all switch” make sure it is functioning
- Turn on and check all electronics
- Check boat plug
- Secure straps and tie downs
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