Get your boat ready for prime trolling time

Aroostook spring trolling enthusiasts are chomping at the bit for regional lakes to shed their winter coats. A long, frigid winter with near record snow depths has left local anglers anxious and short on patience, but thick ice still curtails access to most prime angling lakes throughout the Crown of Maine. By mid-May most lakes and ponds should be ice free and fishable, so it’s imperative that sportsmen begin locating and preparing their equipment.

As important as rods, reels, and tackle may be for May trollers, the gear becomes useless if your boat, motor or trailer fails. As fishing season winds down in autumn and hunting options ramp up, most boats, motors and trailers are quickly stored away, often with a minimal of care and maintenance. Now would be a good time to take a weekend afternoon or an evening after work to give your watercraft a final pre-float check up.

Failing to take the time to inspect and maintain fishing boats after winter storage can result in problems like this — changing a tire takes time away from fishing.
(Courtesy of Bill Graves)

I start with my boat trailer and the first thing I do is make sure the tires are sound of tread and properly inflated after the long, cold winter storage. Grease the wheel bearings and if there’s signs of wear, buy a kit and replace them or have a mechanic do this essential job. Check trailer hitch operation; lubricate the latch and ball clamp, make sure you have a latch locking pin and that the safety chains are solid and secure.

Inspect all the rollers and bunks that help load and support the boat as well as the winch system. Tighten, replace and lubricate where necessary and inspect all tie-down straps as well as the winch rope or strap for integrity. Finally, hook up your trailer lights to your vehicle to assure safety lights and directional lights function and no plug-ins, fuses, bulbs or wiring need up-keep.

Next comes the watercraft, be it pontoon boat, fishing boat, or canoe, and all its necessary accessories. I locate and check all my personal floatation devices (PFDs); vests, cushions, and throw rings, my handheld air horn, my flares, boat bumpers, ropes and anchors. For ease of travel and weatherproofing, I pack several of these items in a sturdy Rubbermaid 2’ X 3’ X 2’ lock-lid box, it floats and even serves as an extra seat in the boat or during shore lunches. Some folks use medium size coolers for this same purpose.

Make sure any batteries are strapped in place, wired properly and fully charged. Check power supply to electric start outboards, trolling motors, bilge pumps and live well motors. Test all the seats and boat chairs for any loose screws and lubricate any parts that turn, fold, or rotate. Look over your drain plug to make sure it fits well and store an extra somewhere in the boat …just in case. I also keep a few spare fuses, light bulbs, and wire end connectors as well as a set of wire stripper pliers and an emergency pull start cord in a heavy duty zip-lock bag.

Roger Shaw and Trent Lundeen of Mars Hill helped writer Bill Graves get his boats out of winter storage and check out mechanical and electrical systems well before it’s time to get on the water.
(Bill Graves)

Last, but certainly not least, the outboard motor needs to be checked out thoroughly. Being stuck along the highway with a flat tire or burnt and seized bearings is bad, but believe me, being miles from shore on a windy, rough lake with a dead motor is far worse. Not being able to fish is the least of your worries.

Newer motors are complicated pieces of machinery, some are four-strokes, just like car engines, not like the old models that could be repaired with a new spark plug, bailing wire and an extra pull rope. I change my engine oil, make sure filters are clear and fittings greased. Checking gas lines, pump bulbs, plug-in attachments at tank and motor and keeping portable tanks clean, filled with fresh fuel and additives to counteract ethanol build-up are pre-season musts.

I use a huge plastic barrel full of water to test run each of my motors at home before even thinking about launching on lake or river. For really large outboards there is a small unit called earmuffs that hook to a hose and fit over the water intake of the lower unit to allow the motor to be run without damage. For any motor problems or every couple of years of average use, unless you’re an ace mechanic, it’s smart to visit an expert. Not only do they have the knowledge and experience, their shops have the essential diagnostic computers for high tech marine engines, and they probably have the parts on hand to get you back on the water.

A few more warm days and a bit of wind will combine to open up lakes in a hurry. For my money, spring trolling produces not only some of the fastest fishing of the season, but also many of the largest fish. Best of all, many are hooked on streamers and limber fly rods for added excitement. If your boat doesn’t work, these opportunities pass quickly, so don’t wait. Give your boat, motor and trailer, as well as essential accessories a check up. Trolling time is almost at hand.

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