Pre-Season Fishing and Boat Preparation 101

By Randy Castello

With the standard forecast of sunny weekdays and rainy weekends a fisherman may be nervously cussing out the weather man. If so your energy would be better spent getting ready for this year’s kokanee wars. Spend the time making sure everything is tip-top condition. Check out your boat, gear, tackle and develop a game plan for keeping the smoker filled with the delectable mini salmon. Following are some thoughts and ramblings that may help you prepare for this year’s lake fishing.

Boat/Motor

It is time to pull the cover off the boat, shovel out the pine needles and drain off that weird bluish green goo that seems to collect below the deck. If you store your boat outside and are a seasonal user, you have some work cut out for you. Garage stored or year around boaters have a task or two to attend to also and now is the time to get at it. Aside from cleaning the boat the number 1 most important item on your pre-season chores list is your fuel system. First get rid of last year’s fuel. Drain the filter bowl and pour any gas in the portable tanks into the lawnmower gas can. I have nothing against lawn mowers, but a little SeaFoam will cure many fuel related ailments.

The thing is, even if it doesn’t and if the lawn mower dies or is hard starting it is not a big deal. Hey, you won’t have to mow the lawn and you can crack open a cool one while you contemplate what’s next. If the boat is acting up that is a whole different story. Check all fuel lines and fuel line fittings. Replace anything that is brittle, cracked or otherwise damaged. If you are a seasonal user and your boat was winterized this task is much easier. Next check hydraulic fluid levels for any steering units or power tilt/trim units. Use your motor manufactures recommended products and do not top off or mix the various products.

Propeller

Pull the propeller and check the shaft for fishing line or damage. Remember to lay all the nuts, washers, sleeves or adaptors out in the same order they came off the shaft. This makes reassembly much easier. Take a look at the propeller, if the blade edges are showing an excessive amount of nicks/dings, now might be the time to send it in to be rebuilt. Even slightly damaged blades will affect performance and running a boat with severely damaged blades can lead to all kinds of shaft/seal problems down the road.

Battery and Various Electrical Connections

Each spring one of the first things you should do, is to make sure the battery is topped off with distilled water. Then bring it up to full charge. If you find corrosion on the terminals remove the battery from the boat and clean it off with a mild solution of baking soda and water. Once everything is clean it is also a good idea to use one of the various corrosion guard offerings. As long as you have 12 volt wiring on the brain you should also go through the rest of your electrical installation and look for loose connections and damaged wiring.

Mice and other rodents can cause a lot of damage during the off season. Check all the switches and breakers to make sure they are working. Then hook up the fish finder, VHF chart plotter, trolling motor and any other major electronics you are running to make sure they have power. Check all the lights to make sure they work. If you did have rodent problems over the winter, better resolved while in the garage or driveway than out on the water.
After all things electrical are functioning as expected, hook the engine up to the garden hose or dunk it in a livestock trough and start your baby up. If your rig has water pressure and temperature gauges check them now. Make sure the tilt and trim are working. Check the steering, especially mechanical steering to see if there are any problems. Also, before you shut the engine off pull the kill-switch to make sure it works. Check all the switches and breakers to make sure they are working.

Downriggers

Inspect the condition of the cable. If you are running stainless steel cable and it is rusted or kinked, replace it. If you are running one of the synthetic braids cut off a few feet and re-tie it. You don’t want 10-15 pounds of lead to suddenly head for the bottom and potentially taking your rod and rod holder with it. Although if it does, it may be an indication that your release clip was a bit too tight. Also check for loose fasteners, worn or missing parts and corroded electrical connections. Fix anything that is even remotely questionable.

Trailer

Give your trailer the once over. Now is the time to check the trailer lights and trailer brake fluid levels. Also, check the tire pressure on all the tires including the spare. Assure that all bunks and/or rollers are in good condition. Check your safety chain, winch strap or cable and tie down straps and replace if they are questionable. Check your lights and if they need replacing consider replacing with the waterproof LED lights. Initially they are more costly but with the increased reliability they will pay for themselves in no time. As an added safety benefit the LEDs are much brighter than the standard 12-volt incandescent lights. Now is also a good time to check and maybe even repack your trailer bearings, better safe than sorry.

Although it wasn’t a maintenance issue, 30 years ago a buddy and I were fishing Alki Point. We had launched at the Don Armeni ramp in West Seattle. At the end of our trip, I dropped him off at the dock and motored back out to wait for him to back the trailer down. Trailer in the water, I drove the boat on the trailer and while doing so thought that something felt funny. There was a long line at the ramp line so I signaled for him to pull out of the water to the staging area. Upon examining the boat and trailer I realized that somebody had unbolted and took ownership of one of my roller assemblies. I had a new 2’ long gouge in the bottom of my boat. It is always a good idea to check your trailer over every time you launch and retrieve the boat, you never know…

Gear, Rods and Reels

I know, all your rods are piled up safe and sound in the corner of the garage and better yet everything worked fine last year so you have nothing to do, wrong! It is the start of what should be a productive fishing season and you don’t want to lose the fish of a lifetime because your favorite reel has a case of the herkie-jerkies. Although with most reels it is easy enough to replace the drag washers, sometimes getting the replacement parts can be a challenge. When you disassemble your reels use simple green to thoroughly clean the reel components. Rinse and then dry the parts using the low setting on a blow-drier before reassembly. Once the parts are clean inspect everything, looking for unusual wear and replace anything that is suspect. Use the advanced synthetic lubricants and reel grease sparingly during the reassembly process. If you are running mono, replace it with new line. Take your reels to a high-volume tackle store (Think Holiday Sports in Burlington) and have them bulk fill your reels. Their line should be fresher and most recycle your old line.



Also give all your rods the once over. Make a point to verify that each line guide is not cracked or worn. You can use a cotton swab and swirl around in each guide. If the guide catches any cotton fibers the guide needs to be replaced.

Years ago, I was fishing offshore for yellowfin tuna on one of my kayaks. After a 3-hour paddle to the area I wanted to fish I found the temperature break I was looking for and got serious about my fishing. On the way out I had drug a large Rapala type lure and caught a few barracuda but when I got on-site, I opened up the front hatch on the yak and got out a live bait rod and a jig stick. In the chop I had a difficult time getting the jig stick out of the belly of the kayak but at the time didn’t think anything of it.

My typical drill was to troll live bait in and out of the temperature break and have the jig stick rigged and ready to go if I saw breaking fish or a kelp patty. I had been trolling for about an hour when I saw a huge area of breaking fish. I paddled like a fiend and in about 15 minutes I was sitting in the middle of hundreds of puddling yellowfin tuna. I make the first cast with the jig stick and was instantly into a 30-pound yellowfin. Fish safely tucked into a kill bag I make the next cast, but this time I let the iron sink out before I started winding.

Again after a few cranks instant wammo, but this fish had some serious shoulders. I fought it for an hour or so and suddenly the line snapped at the rod tip and my line went slack. I was exhausted, my back hurt, my heart was pounding, and I was in a state of disbelief. Thinking what the *#*#, how did that happen? When I examined the rod tip, I saw that the ceramic insert had a hairline crack in it and with the extended fight the guide had sawed through my line. I realized that I must have damaged it when I pulled the rod out of the belly of the kayak.

I don’t know how big the fish was, but I would guess that it was in the 40-50# range and would have been a true trophy for a shore based kayak angler. The now 4-hour paddle back in was productive, having caught a couple yellowtail and another yellowfin on the live bait stick. But the time was still spent second guessing my actions and going through the what ifs… Lesson learned; occasionally check you rod guides or any of your gear for damage, you never know when the once in a lifetime fish is going to come calling and if it does your gear should be in topnotch condition.

Tackle

On any given trout or kokanee trip I am packing some 50 plus rigs. After a recent trip to Cavanaugh to fish for cutthroat I was cleaning the boat and noticed that the line on a number of my hand tied Kokanee spinners was frayed at the spinner blade clevis. On closer examination it turned out that most of my lures needed to be retied. We caught a lot of fish the previous year and the 12# fluorocarbon I use to tie gear was pretty frazzled. Look over your gear, retie as required. There’s peace of mind in knowing that your gear is in tip top condition.



Game Plan

Now is a great time to develop your Kokanee game plan. There are many west side kokanee lakes. My recommendation is that you choose a kokanee lake close to your home, somewhere where you can fish both on the weekend and during the week as your schedule permits. Don’t fret about the size of the fish or even the numbers. This will be your learning/confidence building lake. Learn your boat, fish finder, downriggers, trolling speed, lure presentation and generally become the local expert while building confidence in your kokanee angling abilities. Whether you’re fishing a new lake or fishing a frequently visited lake the lessons learned at your home lake will help you catch kokanee with confidence anywhere.

With all your gear and equipment dialed in and the confidence that you gained learning to fish your home lake the kokanee will be lining up to spend time in your smoker.