Warm weather has officially arrived, and everyone with any manner of watercraft is on the water. My wife equated a boat ride this time of year to driving on steroids because you have to keep a 360-degree watch for oncoming traffic.
I prefer winter fishing due to less-crowded boat ramps and waterways. The fact that trout are easier to catch for me during the winter is lagniappe.
The frustration for most fishermen begins and ends at the boat ramp, with a whole lot of aggravation thrown in during the day. While I’m no expert, I’ve been around long enough and fished with enough folks to know what seems to work and what doesn’t.
Let’s start at the boat ramp.
It’s not hard to have everything for the day’s outing already loaded in the boat when you arrive: life jackets, ice chests, tackle, rods and reels. If not, then do everyone a favor and stop well out in the parking lot, and get the boat loaded prior to backing down the ramp and causing a delay for everyone.
Once you’ve got the boat squared away to launch and are proceeding to the ramp, in the predawn hours at least, turn your headlights off and just use your parking lights. Most ramps are well-lighted and, by turning off your headlights, it keeps you from blinding others at the ramp as they prepare to launch.
Whether fishing alone or with a partner, have a plan when on the ramp and launching the boat. It’s not too difficult to back the trailer down, disconnect the bow and tie the boat off out of the way for other boaters to launch.
If I have a partner, I disconnect the bow hook before backing down the ramp and let the boat float off so my partner can guide the boat around the pier to the other side to secure while they wait for me to park.
If you’re by yourself, back the boat up far enough that it’ll float off the trailer with minimal effort so you can pull the boat off the trailer and around the dock to secure it.
Once the boat is secure, pull around and park. Be sure to park straight and centered in the lines or within 3 or 4 feet of the trailer next to you to allow room for other vehicles. Boat ramps get crowded this time of year, so space is a premium.
When you arrive back at the ramp after a fun day on the water, simply apply the above in reverse. It’s not rocket surgery, trust me.
Once you’re on the water headed to your fishing hole, keep your eyes open for other boaters, jet skis and no-wake zones. Assume no one is paying attention but you.
If you’re around bulkheads or marinas, count on no-wake zones. Look for signs and be courteous by slowing down — slow enough so you’re not putting off a wake. The half-throttle-bow-in-the-air wake monster just doesn’t cut it. We’ve all seen it. Slow down.
Man-made reefs are prime areas for catching trout, redfish and other species this time of year, and they attract quite the crowds. On my last few outings, if I didn’t have my fish by 7 a.m. I would just hang it up because once the armada started showing up the bite all but stopped.
And there’s a good reason.
You see this time and time again at man-made structures like Katrina Reef, a long row of concrete bridge rubble: Boats coming from both directions will approach Katrina Reef, go to half-throttle and cruise 30 feet off the reef until they reach where they plan to anchor.
Once stopped, they proceed to root around looking for the anchor, slamming lids before finding the anchor that is then tossed in an impressive arch whichever way the bow is facing. No consideration to wind or current is taken, so they typically have to fire up the engine and reset before starting to fish.
The wake, engine noise and all the commotion usually brings an abrupt halt to the bite. Add 15 or 20 more boaters using a similar approach and — well, you get my drift.
Here’s how I’ve been taught to approach an area like Katrina Reef.
Stay off the reef by 200 yards — more, if possible — until you’re in line with the section you plan to fish. Turn your boat and approach perpendicular to the reef. When you’re within 100 yards, come off plane and idle. When you’re within 50 yards, put down the trolling motor and ease in.
These distances are minimums to me. If you don’t have a trolling motor, then idle in.
I prefer to drift, so I base where I start on the reef on wind direction and tide. I want to use wind and tide for the drift and use my trolling motor to keep me a long cast from the reef.
Keeping noise to a minimum can’t hurt.
If you prefer to anchor, then stop well short of where you plan to fish and get a feel for what the wind and current are doing. Have the anchor out and ready to deploy. Slowly idle to the area you’re going to fish, turn the boat and ease the anchor over the bow, releasing enough anchor rope out to allow the anchor to catch firmly and put you close enough to the reef to fish.
This isn’t hard to do and is easy to practice. Doing so will increase your catches because you’re not coming in hot and spooking the fish.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been fishing Katrina Reef only to see someone barreling down the reef at half-throttle, come off plane, jump on the bow to dig out the anchor, start blowing toward the reef and then have to crank the big engine to stay off the rocks, find the anchor and shot-put it off the bow.
Inevitably, they’ll fish for 15 minutes without a bite, and then rip-tear down the reef to another spot.
I honestly believe folks do this because they just don’t know. I don’t think most have any malicious intent when coming in hot and causing a ruckus; they just do it because they haven’t been told otherwise.
There’s more to talk about when it comes to on-the-water etiquette; there’s no official rulebook and I’m no expert, but I will say that a few simple tweaks will make the boat ramp move faster and the fish more catchable at our inshore reefs.
Don’t do it for me; do it for the children.
Y’all be safe out there and keep your head on a swivel.