Downtime To-Do List

Downtime To-Do List
A little attention to detail during winter downtime is all it takes.
After a couple hundred days on the water throughout the year, there are bound to be things that need some attention. Little things that slip through during the daily routine of rising before daylight, fishing all day, cleaning boat and gear, and answering messages before passing out to do it all over again. I know a few super diligent types who somehow seem to get it all done, but the majority of us have a to-do list longer than the daily routine will accommodate.

Late January and February are the perfect time to get on those nagging projects. Most hunting seasons have wrapped up and unless you are a trophy trout rustler, fishing weather tends to be pretty miserable. Getting all your ducks in a row before the weather warms up lets you start the new season with a clean slate. Here are a few things I've taken care of over the past few weeks.

Starting with the most important piece of equipmentthe boat. Mine is really in great condition, there were just a few odds and ends. It was idling a bit rough on cold mornings so I took it to Acie's Outboards for a complete check-up. November through February is a great time to do this as the waiting list at most shops is non-existent in winter. Put it off until spring and you'll have to get in line. Couple days later I got the call that the boat was ready. They had fixed the idling issue, squared away my shifter sloppiness and replaced the bushings on my steering rods that had been leaking a little bit. You may also want to have the water pump and lower unit serviced while you're there.

When you own a boat, you usually own a trailer too. Trailers do yeoman work and tend to get ignored until there's a problem. Next time you launch your boat, take a good look at the trailer as it sits in the parking lot. It's a lot easier to notice things without the boat. Has corrosion eaten something important? Mine had some brackets attaching the bunks to the trailer frame that were rusted to the breaking point. I replaced those and while I was at it, replaced the bunks too. I had recently noticed a couple of my LED lights on the trailer flickering when I hit bumps. A quick hit with the tester located the bad spots where the connectors had corroded. Next up were those devilish wheel bearings. I keep them greased and watch them like a hawk, but I never fully trust those things. If you've ever had one fail, you know what I mean. The heck with worrying; replace! Check the tires, put a little grease on the hitch and check the winch strap for wear. All of this seems simple and obvious, but I see boats on the side of the road nearly every day due to some sort of trailer malfunction.

Rods and reels deserve attention too. If you aren't into detailing your reels, this is a great time of year to drop them off at a reel shop for the same reason as the boat mechanic. After those first fishing trips in the spring everybody suddenly realizes their reels are jacked up and the repair guys get overwhelmed. I keep up with minor cleaning but once a year they get to visit Warren at Fishing Tackle Unlimited for a thorough job. I get them back and they fish like a brand new reel. If you fish mono line go ahead a replace it. If you use braid, think about reversing it if you don't want to fork over the money for changing it. Rods often get totally neglected until they snap or lose an eye. Check the eyes for corrosion, wipe down the blank and give the cork a good cleaning.

Lure maintenance is something I try to keep up with throughout the year but eventually the tide of broken hooks, rusted components, bent split rings, etc., overwhelms. I rinse used lures daily and set them out to dry before putting them back into their box. I also started using Plano's waterproof boxes a while back. Even with these precautions, sooner or later there'll come a day when I open the tackle storage and see that dreaded rusty mess. I keep a cardboard box in the garage that catches any lures deemed unusable, but repair-worthy. A dreary winter day is the perfect time to dump that box on the workbench and get busy. I just went through the process and now have nice clean boxes full of neatly organized lures with fresh, sharp hooks. I know it won't stay that way long, but it feels good while it lasts.

I start with a tub of warm water mixed with some sort of cleaner. I usually use Simple Green. I'll remove the old hooks and any split rings that look rough, then throw them in the tub to soak. Lure boxes get a dunking too. Most of the time just wiping the lures with a wash cloth is good enough, but some might require a little scrubbing. Once dried, replace the split rings and hooks. I've been using single hooks on my plugs for years. In the past I've used the hooks that come with a welded ring on the eye. It was that or add a second split ring to let the hook run straight. Now I'm using Owner's new "Single Replacement Hooks". The eye is turned 90 degrees so the extra ring isn't needed. A good set of quality split ring pliers is worth every penny and speeds the process tremendously.

Something else I do during winter cleaning is a good pruning of the selection. With hundreds of hours on the water you tend to lean on certain lures, whether it's a certain type, model or color. I'm a pretty simple guy. I'm not big on switching lures. At the end of the year I'll realize there are quite a few bench warmers that never touched the water. Out they go. Simple is efficient and I rarely find myself staring at the box wishing for something that isn't already there. Fill them with lures you have confidence in.

I'd like to say I'm the same way with my flies. I tend to only use a few styles and colors, yet I still can't make myself really cut back on the others. I'm getting better, slowly. It's a process. What I will do is ruthlessly go through and toss flies with rusted hooks. Those boxes with the foam slits are nice for holding flies, but man do the hooks rust if the box gets the least bit wet. Last year I started using a waterproof box from Montana Fly Co. After a full year I'll say I'm impressed; enough that I bought a second one.

Lastly, take a look at all the miscellaneous items you keep in the tackle bag or on the boat. Nets, Boga Grips, pliers, sunglasses, etc., all need the once-over. Also check your supply of things you use regularly such as leader material, sunscreen, reel oil, hooks, weights and soft plastic baits. The more you get done in the downtime, the more enjoyable your fishing time becomes later. Get after it, I can see spring on the horizon.