I know the big trout guys love this time of year and I'll likely slip out into the mud to wade around a bit with a Corky doing that mind-numbing retrieve, but it's not what gets a sight-casting guy fired up. February generally isn't the best month to go poling around looking for reds unless you're in the Louisiana marsh chasing the winter bulls. Unfortunately, I had too much going on this year to pull off my two months of guiding over there.
While there will certainly be a few scattered days with sunshine and warming temps to pull some fish out onto the flats, the majority will be cold, cloudy or windy; perhaps all three. It's a good time to catch up on chores and honey-do jobs to buy yourself some passes. Or you can spend those days getting ready for the better fishing that's right around the corner. While I'm all about keeping the wife happy, I also like to be ready when the weatherman throws me a bone.
A lot of things get pushed to the back burner when the fishing is good like it has been with this extended fall weather. They're generally little maintenance things, but without attention sometimes a fender falls off the trailer when you're headed to meet your customer at the boat ramp. Yeah, that happened. Tie straps are pretty damn handy.
Anyway, now is the time to get on those little chores you kept putting off. High on my list this February is getting my trailer in shape, obviously. Next time you have your boat off the trailer take a few minutes to really look things over. Are the bunk supports in good shape? How about the carpet on the bunks? I know mine needs to be replaced. Take a look at the U-bolts, axle, welds, etc. If you aren't too sure what you're looking for you might want to take it by a shop and have them check it over. A buddy of mine had a weld bust as he was pulling out of the driveway. Lucky for him it wasn't a few minutes later as he was doing 70 on the highway. And bearings, always check the bearings. How many boats did you see on the side of the road with burned up bearings this season?
Speaking of bearings, how did your reel sound on the last trip? Now would be a good time to break down those reels and give them a thorough cleaning. I do my own basic cleanings a couple times during the season, but about this time of year I'll drop them off with the guys at FTU for a thorough work-over. When I get them back it's like I have brand new reels again. If you're going that route, do it now. As soon as the first warm days arrive those reel repair guys will get swamped. Happens every year.
While I do still chunk conventional at times, my go-to is fly fishing. Thankfully, fly reels are pretty simple gadgets. Unlike conventional reels, the more expensive they are the less maintenance they tend to require. I've got several Hatch reels that have been through multiple seasons of abuse with nothing more than a rinse. Take a moment to look your fly reels over. Is the frame still true or is it torqued just a bit causing a rub between the frame and spool? Pull on the line. If it sticks even a little bit, take care of it. Pay close attention to the initial pull as it usually happens right at the start-up. Fly fishing can be frustrating enough without having a balky drag pop your leader. Also, check your handles to make sure they spin freely. A previous brand of reels I used was really bad about having the handle bearings freeze up if they weren't being used often.
One of my least favorite, yet most satisfying chores is replacing hooks on my plugs. I've got a box on a shelf in the shop where I toss lures with bent or broken hooks. Once a year I force myself to dump it out on the work bench and get out the split ring pliers. I'll also go ahead and check the rest of the plugs still in the line-up. Anything with a touch of rust gets replaced. Once the hooks are off I'll toss them into a bucket of warm soapy water. After a little scrubbing, they get tossed into another bucket of rinse water. Once dry, they get brand new split rings and hooks. It always feels good when every lure is cleaned up and ready to roll. Some years they even get new boxes.
One box that tends to get replaced every year is the one holding the jig heads. No matter how hard I try, that one always seems to end up a rusted mess by the end of the year. My weedless spoons also reside in this box so they're screwed up too. I used to try to revive everything, but it only puts off the inevitable. New box, new jig heads and new spoons.
Flies are a whole other thing. They tend to get worn out through a day of fishing and I'll seldom throw one for more than a couple trips. I'll also send my customers home with the fly if they had a significant catch on it. I enjoy tying flies so it gives me a reason to keep restocking the boxes. But it never hurts to check those flies stored in your boxes. The foam slits used to secure the flies tend to hold moisture that can wreck your hooks. I once had a box that had gotten wet without me realizing it. Every fly in that box had badly rusted hooks that were beyond rescue. I now use the waterproof locking boxes from Montana Fly Company (MFC) and don't have that problem.
There are all sorts of other little things to look into. How is your braid? How old are your fly lines? Are they clean? Did your pliers work properly last time out? I havent even dipped into boat maintenance. Think through a day on the water and try to check everything you rely on to have a safe and successful trip. Make some good use of these dreary winter days, spring is coming and having everything ready to roll feels really good.