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Fishing Tips

GET READY FOR SPRING FISHING

Posted 3/28/2012

With most of the country experiencing a mild winter, it’s likely that saltwater fishing is going to be off to an early start this season, begging the question: Is your gear ready for action? Here’s a checklist that will help assure everything you need is up to the challenge of tackling that first fish of the new season safely and with all your tackle in battle-ready condition. 

Safety First

Now is the time to check that all-important safety gear that should be a part of every trip. That includes EPIRBs (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Becons), PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) and PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices). These items can save lives, should be inspected annually and serviced when indicated. EPIRBs and PLBs have long-life batteries that should to be checked at least once a year and replaced every five years by an authorized service facility. 

“Emergency beacons have a battery expiration date on the information tag on the unit,” said Mikele D’Acrangelo of ACR Electronics, a world leader in safety equipment for boats and aircraft. “It’s a good idea to give each unit a thorough visual examination to look for possible physical damage, like a crack in the housing or damage to the antenna. When it is time to replace the battery, a technician will run the unit through a series of tests to make sure it is operating up to specifications. 

“I highly recommend that you check and update your beacon registration form on the official NOAA website, too,” D’Acrangelo said. “This is the first information resource rescue personnel look for in the event your beacon is activated. If they encounter incorrect information—a phone number that is no longer active or an incorrect home port—efforts to launch a rescue operation can be slowed or improperly focused. You can update your beacon registration form through www.beaconregistration.noaa. gov. It is time well spent.”

Perform a safety check of your Personal Flotation Devices. If they are the non-inflatable type, check the label for an expiration date and inspect each one for signs of excessive wear or physical damage that might hinder performance. If a PFD is even slightly questionable, replace it immediately. 

The popularity of inflatable PFDs is at an all-time high, but these units require periodic servicing, whether they are manually or automatically activated types. Refer to the owner’s manual for service recommendations, and visually inspect the inflator system. All models have an indicator that will show green when the unit is properly charged and red if it is not. Recharging the inflator is simple with recharging kits available at most local marine stores. It only takes a few minutes to do it yourself. If you are unsure of the procedure, you can usually find handy, step-by-step instructional videos on the manufacturers’ websites to help you through this simple process.

Rod and Reel Housekeeping

Modern saltwater reels are wonders of technology and not as simple to disassemble and service as their more basic forerunners. For that reason, it’s recommended that significant service issues be handled by professional technicians either at a factory service facility or a local tackle shop that provides reel services. 

You only have to take a reel apart once to realize that they don’t work well when there are parts left after reassembly. However, basic maintenance is easily accomplished. If you washed, dried and lubricated your rods and reels before you put them away for winter, this job is really simple. If not, start by washing reels in a mild detergent (weak dish soap or any of a number of products made specifically for cleaning reels). If salt buildup is prevalent, use a soft toothbrush to loosen it. Then rinse using a low pressure stream of water. Washing or rinsing reels, even after each use during the fishing season, with a high pressure stream from a hose can drive salt deep into recesses where it can build up and cause corrosion problems. Towel dry, apply a light coat of spray lubricant/corrosion inhibitor to the outside of the reel, and finish by wiping it down with a clean, dry cloth.

Visually check each one of your reels for obvious problems. You should also perform a drag check. Set the drag at a number of settings starting light and increasing the pressure, and pull line off the reel slowly by hand. If the drag is jerky and not smooth or if it takes more pressure to get it to slip initially, it’s time for a drag service or replacement. It’s an easy project on most spinning reels, but for star or lever drag conventional reels, it is best handled by a professional. Remember, the drag is your protection against a big fish breaking your line and it should be treated with care. 

Pay particular attention to the roller line guide found on the bail of your spinning reels. Pass a length of string or fishing line over the roller and pull it back and forth. If it does not turn easily, try a few drops of light reel oil and allow it to seep into the bearing, then try again. If the bearing is gummed up or corroded, replace it. A seized line guide can literally melt monofilament line. While you’re at it, add a few drops of reel oil to reel handles. Put a drop of oil on the bearings located on either side of the bail, too. 

Clean your rods using the same technique and allow them to dry. To help protect the rod blank and guide wraps, use a spray car wax and then wipe it down. This helps it shed water and salt throughout the season. 

This is also the time to check the line on your reels. Monofilament tends to degrade with time, exposure to the sun and usage, and should be replaced at least annually. Braided lines have greater longevity, but won’t last forever. It’s a good idea to apply a small waterproof label to each reel with the test of the line and the date you last replaced it for future reference. If the braid still looks good and doesn’t have too much mileage on it, remove any leader, cut back five-to-ten feet, tie on a new one and it’s ready to go. 

Tackle Your Tackle Box

Last, but certainly not least, is tackle box reorganization. Chances are the lures, rigs and components you used last fall will not be what you need for your initial trips in the spring, and having the correct, organized terminal gear with you for the first trip of the year means you have exactly what you need. Inspect the hooks on your lures to make sure they are sharp and make sure any loose hooks, swivels and other components are not showing corrosion after winter storage. Do the same for your knives, pliers, cutters and other tools of the trade. 

Taking a little time to get your gear ready for that first trip can make a big difference. By doing so, you ensure the safety of everyone on the boat and you greatly improve your chances of catching some fish the first time out on the water.