If you’re one of those die-hard hunters, it’s a pretty good bet that your boat has been sitting up since you parked it in the garage back in October.
Now, with hunting seasons largely in the rearview mirror and weather making a turn into spring, it’s time to hit the water to restock the freezer with fish.
But there are a few things that will help ensure your first few trips are all about catching fish instead of working the kinks out of your equipment.
Here are some of tips from Ken Sherman of Baton Rouge’s Front to Back Boat Service:
1) Inspect your trailer — It’s simple logic that if you don’t make it to the boat launch you won’t be catching any fish. And there’s little more frustrating than sitting on the side of the road because of trailer problems.
Sherman said the first thing he looks at is the jack, just to be sure it’s going to operate smoothly. Then he moves to the running boards.
“You want to be sure (the supports are ) not rusted out,” he said.
Then he thoroughly checks the tires to ensure they are properly aired up and that there’s no wear that could end with a blow-out.
Of course, no trailer inspection would be complete without checking the tire bearings, Sherman said.
Wiggle the tires to see if there’s slack in the bearings —and if there is, it’s time to change out the bearings.
If the bearings feel good and tight, a little grease will make sure everything is rolling smoothly.
“Then put two pumps of grease on each side, and let it roll,” Sherman said. “You don’t want to pump the grease out the back (of the bearings) —if you do pump it out the back, you blow the seals.”
2) Boat batteries — I don’t know about you, but I hate changing batteries. Stupid things seem to be out to torpedo my trips.
But the last place you want to learn your batteries have weakened over the winter is when you’re 20 miles from the landing.
So Sherman said it’s important to check your batteries to be sure they’re up to the rigors of a fishing trip.
“If you have flooded-cell batteries, check the (water) levels,” he said. “If you have (absorbent glass mat) batteries, check the dates — usually at about five years you’ll see some shortening of days.”
Flooded-cell models should last about two years, he said.
3) Give the bilge compartment some attention — OK, so if you’re on my boat (when it’s actually running), please don’t look under the back hatch. It’s about as likely to be covered with oil as the sun rises in the east each morning.
Sherman, on the other hand, is a bit of neat freak about this.
“Use some Simple Green or Purple Power of some other kind of degreaser and give it all a good cleaning,” he said.
On the practical side of things, it probably is a good idea to clean things up to ensure all those connections aren’t gunked up.
In fact, while he’s back there, he checks out all the connections, looking for the telltale corrosion that signals potential conductivity problems.
Corrsion will “show its face by a little whitish/greenish powder,” Sherman said. “If you see that, replace the connections.”
And he flips the bilge switches to ensure his pump works.
“That’s the most-important thing,” Sherman said. “If your bilge pump ain’t a working, you’re boat ain’t a floating.”
Before moving on, he applies Corrosion X to all connections to protect them.
4) Motor/steering check — You want your motor to start every time you turn the key, and you want to be able to control the boat when it’s on plane.
Sherman said he pulls the cowling and cleans any oil he finds accumulated on the block of the outboard.
“We’ll hit that with some degreaser, and then we can spot any leakage,” he said.
The problem might just be related to the motor sitting for extended periods, but if oil quickly leaks again it’s probably time to change out the offending hoses.
The trim motor also needs a look, and it’s generally a good idea to add a bit of grease on the trim balls.
“You always have that popping — that’s because you need to put some anti-corrosion grease on the trim balls,” Sherman said.
The prop should absolutely be pulled so the shaft can be inspected for any fishing line. And this is extremely important, since fishing line (especially braid) can work through the seals and allow water to enter the lower unit —which Sherman promised wasn’t a good thing.
“If you see that, you need to bring it in so we can change out the seals,” he said.
Your outboard’s water pump needs to be changed out on an annual basis, so if you don’t do that when you put up your boat for the winter, then the spring is the perfect time to take care of this vital piece of equipment.
And that means changing out the gear oil, which is also a great way to prevent problems.
“A new water pump impeller and gear oil is cheap insurance compared to the damage caused if you lose water pressure or have water in your oil,” Sherman said.
Next, he moves to the gear case bolts to ensure they’re tight.
And don’t forget the bolts connecting the motor to your stern of your boat, and if you have a jack plate you have to check all of those fasteners.
He then checks his steering, ensuring there isn’t any play.
“If you have hydraulic steering, you can add fluid when the wheel is turned all the way to the left and the right.
“That should tighten it up,” Sherman said. “If not, you most likely have a leaking seal.”
Time for a quick shop visit.
5) Trolling motor — If you’re fishing trout, you might be able to drift bays and catch fish if your trolling motor is on the fritz. Otherwise, you’ll be heading to the trailer early if this small but all-important piece of equipment winks out.
So Sherman turns his trolling motor on and runs through the paces to ensure it’s all set.
“Go through all your speeds and make sure it works,” he said. “Then check for any wiring or cable chafing.”
If there is slack in the control cables, either tighten them up or change them out.