Mid-Winter Inspection

      Anglers in particular and boaters in general should note the good news of the day: from now on our weather will theoretically only get better. We are halfway through winter and the hours of sunshine have been getting longer since mid-December (two minutes more daily). Although the cold temps will continue to plunge periodically for maybe another month, we’ll be able to shed our socks in another six or seven weeks. We’ve seen the majority of winter and our warm sunny clime is getting inevitably closer.

     The big question now should be, are you ready to enjoy the new season? For many of us that question can be asked more specifically, “How has my boat handled the winter?” It would be an excellent idea to confirm your craft and its gear are in good operating condition.

     Springtime is too late to address any problems that occurred over the winter. Right now, though, marinas are uniformly in a down time situation. Not much is happening in their repair facilities and most can handle even the most complicated jobs rather promptly.

     If your sonar died over the winter you can easily purchase a new unit and it will be better than your older machine. But if you don’t identify that problem now, come spring just you try getting it installed and running properly before July. It could be even worse for engines or other electronic problems that have gone unnoticed during the harshest season.

     A general operational assessment can be a fairly simple affair for those of us with easy access to our boats. Mine for instance is on its trailer in my driveway and though it’s under a stout weather cover, it is a fairly simple matter to gain access. But some problems can be determined with just a quick walk around.

     Check that the drain holes for both the deck and the inner hull are clear and not iced up or plugged with debris. Water in the hull can cause serious problems over the winter. Check trailer tires, taking a pressure reading and comparing it to the standards. My small skiff trailer tires, surprisingly, recommend 70 pound of pressure. 

     It is common during a Maryland winter to experience wild swings in temperatures. The resulting expansion and contraction of the tire’s rubber sidewalls against its steel wheel materials can result in a loss of pressure. If it’s not corrected before you hit the highways it can result in a potentially critical problem at 65 miles per hour.

     Next check your batteries. Modern engines and electronics continue to draw small amounts of amperage even when the gear is turned off. They are monitoring programs that continue to operate and eventually they will draw down the battery. If you leave your batteries connected and the charge is low enough for long enough, the battery can fail completely and will have to be replaced.

    If your boat is wrapped in plastic sheeting, any kind of close inspection is difficult. You can cut an entrance into the sheeting to allow a cursory inspection. Use a box cutter or sharp knife, a good flashlight and some tape to close your entrance once you’ve completed the tour. Call the company that did the wrapping to identify which type of tape is appropriate for resealing. 

     Take care when accessing your craft this time of year, wherever it is. Ice and snow can be a slippery issue, especially if you use a ladder. Icy surfaces can persist a long time in enclosed spaces.  Just because it’s warm outside doesn’t mean all the ice is gone. 

     Always have a companion close at hand. I’ve heard of some captains that had to phone home for help rather than risk a leap to the ground when their access ladder slid from the boat. A fall onto frozen ground or concrete aprons can be devastating.

     If your boat is wintering in the water take special precautions. Fatalities are, tragically, not uncommon in marinas and dock areas this time of year. Never visit your boat alone—a dunking which would be only embarrassing during summer is easily deadly this time of year. You will not last long in cold water and it is virtually impossible to climb back on a dock with sodden winter clothing, even if you can find an access ladder.

      Pickerel and yellow perch are the game in the sweeter sections of the Tidewater but ­tautog and stripers are getting a fair share of attention at seaside. Pickerel and perch are taking small minnow, lip hooked on jigs or shad darts and suspended under bobbers. Keep the baits near the bottom and move them erratically and slowly. Tautog and stripers are the targets oceanside. It’s sand fleas, green crab and clam pieces for the blackfish and eels, bloodworms, big minnows, jigs and big spoons for the linesides.