Boat Maintenance for Fishing Among Icebergs
By: Mark Romanack
The author and friend of the show Bryan Darland of Jay’s Sporting Goods recently dodged some ice flows to squeeze in one more open water trip for 2021.
It wasn’t that many years ago that walleye season pretty much ended on Labor Day weekend. At least the masses had the common sense to get their boats winterized and stored for the cold months.
These days, walleye anglers have evolved into a much tougher breed that fear no iceberg! So long as there is open water, you’re going to find someone willing to splash a boat and chase down a limit.
I’m all for walleye fishing on open water until the ramps freeze solid. Doing so however creates a whole list of issues, late season anglers must be willing to face or risk serious damage to their boats, motors and other fishing gear.
KEEP THE BOW STRAP ON
When launching and loading a boat in winter weather, never remove the bow strap until the boat is in the water. The bunks on a fishing boat quickly freeze and get super slick in winter weather. If the boat is unstrapped from the bow, just the process of backing down or up the ramp can cause the boat to literally slide off the trailer.
CARRY A LITTLE SAND IN A BUCKET
A little dry sand in a bucket can be a real life saver if the launch is icy. Even a four wheel drive vehicle will struggle to pull a boat out of the water if the tires are on glare ice. Throwing down a little dry sand is the easiest way to gain a little more grip when launching and loading on a slippery launch.
CONSIDER NOT USING THE LIVEWELL
In the winter months I often plug the livewell drains and close the value to prevent water from entering. Instead I use a small cooler to keep any fish I might want for the table. This simple step eliminates a lot of water from the boat that can freeze and create problems.
If you’re going to fish among icebergs, it pays to come prepared to keep your boat ice free and fishing like a summer’s day!
GET THE WATER OUT
If you’re fishing late into the year and facing freezing conditions, there is a regiment I’d recommend for insuring your boat doesn’t suffer from ice damage. First and foremost when pulling the boat, let the water drain from the trailer at the bottom of the ramp. Taking a couple minutes to let the water drain will help keep the launch from turning into an icicle.
Lower both your primary outboard and your kicker motor to let the water drain from the lower unit. I generally start both engines for a couple seconds to blow out any remaining water that could freeze and damage the lower unit.
Back up in the parking lot, remove the plug from both the boat and the livewell and let the water drain on the drive home. At home, a quick blast from an air compressor into the live well and bilge pump drains will insure any water left in the pumps and hoses will be removed.
PROP THE LIDS
Rod lockers, dry storage compartments and live wells have the nasty habit of freezing shut if you let them. Before putting on the cover and heading for home, don’t forget to prop open all the lids in the boat to prevent them from freezing and ruining your next trip.
Once you get home, a box fan placed in the boat will help circulate air and dry out the inside of the boat.
COVER ME PLEASE
A travel cover is always a good investment in a fishing boat, but late in the season it becomes a mandatory piece of gear. Simply covering the boat for the ride home will keep the majority of this crud on the outside of the boat where it can be easily removed at the car wash.
If you tow your boat home uncovered on snowy and freshly salted roads, the inside of the boat will never be the same. The grime that comes off a winter highway is a deadly mixture of sand, grime, salt residue and greasy crud that will imbed itself into every nook and cranny in the boat.
Anything electrical in the boat will suffer quickly from corrosion when salt and water are mixed. The plug connecting the trailer lights to the vehicle is especially vulnerable. A quick squirt of a water displacing lubricant like WD40 on both ends of the plug will help keep corrosion down and your trailer lights working as designed.
A heated garage or pole building is a boat owners best friend. I keep mine about 45 to 50 degrees all winter and I never have to worry about pumps, live well lids or storage compartments freezing. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of a heated garage.
If your boat must endure cold storage, consider rolling back a small portion of the travel cover and use a portable propane heater in the boat to melt away any snow and ice that may be in the boat. As long as the heater is positioned well away from the sides of the boat or any gear inside, the heater can do it’s job and the boat will be dry and ready to fish the next time you get a chance.
Early and late in the year, ice is a real threat to a fishing boat. Breaking ice to go fishing sounds macho, but it can lead to expensive repairs unless you tread lightly and follow a few simple rules.
For some anglers breaking ice is like a right of manhood. For others it’s a necessary evil if you want to fish through the cold months. The late season is one time of year when it pays to let someone else be the early bird. Once a boat or two has launched and made their way out to fish, the path created will be a lot easier going on your boat.
Sheet ice can literally tear a boat to shreds if the boat contacts the ice at too high a speed. Go easy and don’t put the hammer down unless you are absolutely certain there are no floating patches of ice to navigate.
Not only can sheet ice damage the hull of the boat, it can quickly sheer off transducers, trim tabs and other accessories mounted to the outside of the boat.
Safety gear on a boat should always be in good shape and ready to go. That goes double for fishing in winter weather. I store all my safety gear in waterproof bags that feature a roll top to seal out water.
If you use inflatable life jackets, make sure you also have foam life vests on board for cold weather fishing. The CO2 canisters that are used to inflate life vests can fail in cold weather conditions.
Some states require all the occupants of the boat to wear a life preserver during the colder months of the year. In these states, it’s not good enough to simply have the life vest on board, you have to be wearing the vest to be legal.
LET SOMEONE KNOW
Last and certainly not least, if you’re going fishing it’s always a good idea to let someone know exactly where you are going and when you expect to return. If the worst happens, this simple step will make it easier for rescue crews to do their job. Knowing where to look could save your life and also the lives of those on board.