When It’s Time to Put the Boat Away

Part 2

In part 1 of the article, we discussed some of the things that will help with trailer longevity, and a few things to check when putting a boat and trailer in for winter storage. In part 2, we will discuss some of the things that will help keep the boat itself in good working order come spring.

Motor maintenance is a crucial aspect of boat ownership, and is one that is done by most boat owners. It’s our motors that we rely on to get us to our favorite fishing hole, and it’s our motors that often command the most attention when they break down. There are a couple of things that we should do when putting our boats up for the winter.

The impeller is what pulls water into the motor to cool it. Needless to say, it’s a hugely important part of the motor. The impeller itself is fairly cheap, and that’s a good thing. This one part is also one of the things to keep an eye on to ensure motor longevity. When our motors don’t “pee” the way that they should (spitting water out of the back of the motor), it is often either a partially plugged intake, or it’s an impeller going bad. Regularly replacing our motor impellers will keep the motor cooling itself properly and running long into the future. Impeller replacement is something that routine motor maintenance should take care of, but it’s advisable to double check that is has been replaced every other year or so.

Spark plugs are an easy thing to replace, and can help keep a motor running at its peak. For motors that log a lot of hours like those being used by Sport Fish Michigan’s Captains and Guides, spark plugs should be replaced annually. For recreational anglers, perhaps every other year or so is acceptable. Poor motor performance can often be linked to a fouled plug.

Water filters help keep water out of the motor, and with the ethanol in today’s gasoline, replacing this filter is an essential part of preventative maintenance. Replacing a water filter every year will go a long ways towards keeping water out of the combustion chambers. In fact, on all of my boats, I took the extra step of adding a second water filter. Should there be phase separation in my fuel tanks, a second water filter will help, and hopefully stave off very costly repairs.

Storing a dry boat is much better than storing a wet boat. This will help to prevent mold during the long winter layover, making for a quicker and easier spring dust-off. One thing that I like to do is to leave compartments open to let air circulate freely. A closed compartment, especially with lots of things in it, will trap moisture and can become moldy.

Charging boat batteries at the end of the season is a great way to keep batteries lively come springtime. A fully charged battery is better able to withstand cold winter temperatures if boats are stored in a cold facility or outside. If possible, topping off the charge mid-winter is another good idea.

The ethanol in fuel these days can spell big trouble for boat owners. Long-term winter storage of gasoline in a boat’s fuel tank can be problematic without a fuel additive like Stabil. Phase separation is when water separates from the gasoline itself, and ethanol has a high water content in it. In the late winter and early spring, alternately warming and cooling temperatures makes phase separation a real possibility. In addition to a fuel additive like Stabil, a full fuel tank will also help. This obviously leaves less room for air, which will vary in humidity, and thus, in moisture. This moisture can lead to condensation inside the tank, which is no good.

By taking a few simple steps at the end of the season, our long-anticipated spring fishing trips can be as enjoyable as we hoped they would be. Sure, the fish may or not be biting, but at least we can get out fishing without being sidelined with repairs. Proper boat, motor, and trailer maintenance before winter storage can go a long ways towards an enjoyable experience later. I believe that preventative maintenance is far better than repairs when things break. It’s often cheaper, too!

When it’s Time to Put the Boat Away

Part 1

It’s mid-November, and the snow is flying heavily here in northern Michigan. Many are in the woods chasing deer, following the firearms season opener just a few days ago. Coupled with the cold windy weather, this means that it’s time for most anglers to mothball their boat and store it for the winter.

Here at Wolfe Outfitters, and those of us with Sport Fish Michigan that guide the Lake Michigan tributary rivers for steelhead, we will keep our boats in service all winter long, provided we have running water! Last winter, even rivers like the Big Manistee, Muskegon, and the Grand River froze enough that we were forced to reschedule many trips due to unfishable, icy conditions.

For those that will put their boats away for the winter season, there are a few things that are advisable to do to help ensure a smooth and painless experience when pulling the boat out for the first time next spring.

Our trailers are often an overlooked part of our boat package, but yet they play a crucial role. After all, we rely on our trailers to carry our precious boats to and from the lake or river, dunking it in the water each time. This tough kind of wear and tear can be brutal on trailers, and things like wiring, lights, brakes, wheel bearings, etc. can all suffer without routine maintenance. Now is a great time to service your trailer.

I check over the trailer wiring, looking for kinks or breaks in the lines. I also look over the lights to ensure that they are working properly. Trailer lights are not only a safety concern if they don’t work properly, they are also a legal requirement in most states. Another simple thing to check that often causes trouble is the wiring harness coupler that plugs into the vehicle power to connect the lights and brakes. This simple coupler can absolutely wreak havoc when the pins are slightly bent or have corrosion on them.

Proper tire pressure is essential, not only for gas mileage when towing the trailer, but also for helping to prevent blowouts and unnecessary wear and tear to the treads.

The wheel bearings are another too-often overlooked part of a trailer. Many blowouts on the road are actually a result of bearings that are worn out. Properly lubricating wheel bearings will help keep you on the road trouble-free, but good preventative maintenance also includes replacing the bearings. When to replace trailer bearings is really a matter of how much use they get. Guides that tow boats on a daily basis, like many of our Sport Fish Michigan and Wolfe Outfitters Guides, will have to replace wheel bearings much more frequently than those that tow their boats only a few times a season. New-style bearings like oil-bath hubs or the new gel-style make bearing maintenance almost a no-brainer. Compared to the older and much more common grease-style bearings, these newer technologies keep maintenance to a minimum. For trailers that have the more common grease-style bearings, a simple grease gun will do the trick. Regularly adding a bit of grease will go a long way towards longevity. One telltale to look for when determining if bearings should be replaced is the presence of water. If water gets pushed out of the bearings when grease is added with a grease gun, it could be a sign that the trailer bearings should be replaced soon, if not immediately. Water in the bearings means that the watertight seal has been broken. When the seal breaks, water gets inside the bearings, where it will not only break down the bearing grease, it can also rust the bearings themselves, or freeze in winter temperatures. A little bit of water under the dust cap isn’t a huge deal and can be drained out. But water in the bearings is a big deal, and taking care of this issue now can mean no roadside hassles later.

Another thing that is crucial for those that have brakes on their trailers is to check them for wear and tear. Unless squealing or squeaking brakes have already been detected, checking the life of your trailer brakes is best done by a professional. Throughout the season, trailers with brakes should be checked to make sure their brake fluid level is topped off. Unless there is a leak, this is usually a once a season task.

One more thing to check on a trailer is the tread on the wheels themselves. Make sure that there is enough tread on the trailers to safely transport your boat to and from the water. It’s advisable to carry a spare tire for your trailer and the appropriate tools to change a tire, should there be a flat while out on the road. I always carry a full wheel and tire so that I can make the change and keep going without having to worry about replacing a spare that may not be a match for the trailer tires.

Keeping our trailers going is a big part of a fun day on the water. With some simple maintenance and preventative measures, we can help to ensure that we make it to and from the water without issue. Catching fish is hard enough as it is, without having to deal with a trailer breakdown on the road.

Indispensable tools

As a full-time fishing guide, it’s very possible (and some would argue, inevitable), that I’m going to experience a mechanical breakdown. I try to meticulously maintain everything that I can on the boats and, despite my best efforts, at some point I know something will go awry. However, we don’t need to be up the proverbial creek when this does happen. One important aspect of proper maintenance is ensuring that when things do go wrong, they aren’t the catastrophic mechanical breakdowns that can be costly and even dangerous. A cheap enrollment in a towing program with Boat US is a great idea. I enroll in their services myself, in case should I find the need to call for a tow while out on the water, or even when I’m towing my boats. Continue reading

Gear Check and Maintenance

During the shorter days of winter, when I look longingly out on the lake, wishing for the spring bass opener, I think of the things that I can do to get ready for the next season from the warmth of my workshop.

It’s during this time that I take the time to visually inspect every crankbait, jerkbait, spinnerbait and swimbait. I look at the hooks on each lure, inspecting them for sharpness, rust or bends in the hooks that can weaken them. I replace the hooks that need it, and neatly organize the lures back into their respective boxes that I’ve carefully labeled. Nothing can be more frustrating than digging through lure boxes or swapping hooks when I’m on the water with customers, trying to either locate a certain lure or having to replace hooks that I was too lazy to take care of when I had the time. Not only is it a waste of time, but also for me it’s unprofessional. So I make sure that I do the necessary maintenance during the off-season.

I also make sure that I look at the split rings on each crankbait, jerkbait and swimbait. These may not seem like a big deal, since they don’t get some of the perceived abuse that hooks do, but given that this is a crucial connection between the line on my reel and the bait itself, it’s worthy of a few seconds of attention. Catch enough fish on a bait, and there’s sure to be some weakening or bending of the split rings. With a good pair of split ring pliers, changing these out is a cinch, and will keep you casting and not cussing.

Winter Boat Maintenance Part 3

Trailer care is another critical component to boating. Not only from the standpoint of getting your prized rig to and from the boat ramp, but also in safety and long term enjoyment. Trailer maintenance is often an overlooked component to the boating experience. Nothing ruins what promises to be a fun day out on the water than something that could have been easily prevented. Believe me, once the excitement of spring fishing rolls around, I’m focused on my fishing gear and boat. Not the trailer that it sits on. A few simple steps when putting it away for the winter can really pay dividends next spring.

First thing I always do is to make sure that my tires are properly inflated. Seems basic, but it’s important to help prevent blowouts as well as help maintain peak gas mileage when towing. Secondly, I always make sure that my bearings are properly greased. Regular bearing maintenance can really help, especially for those that trailer their boats a lot, logging mile after mile chasing fish like I do. Improperly greased bearings can lead to overheating axles.

A few issues can arise should axles overheat. Obviously, there’s the risk of the heat melting other important things like brake lines or the trailer’s brake and signal wires. Excess heat can also make braking more difficult, which is never a good thing.

Most importantly, statistics show that the majority of blown trailer tires are actually from improperly greased bearings. The heat from overheated axles transfers to the tires, heating the air and rubber. Coupled with highway speeds, this heat can manifest itself in the form of catastrophic blowouts. A simple grease gun armed with marine axle grease can help during the season, but at the end of each fishing season, I make sure that I clean, lube and re-pack my trailer’s wheel bearings. That way when spring rolls around, I’m ready to go with no worries!

Winter Boat Maintenance Part 2

General boat care is fairly straightforward. On both boats, I make sure that there is no standing water in the bilge area. I simply open the drain plugs, and leave them out for the winter. This ensures that if there were to be any water build up over the winter, it would drain out, without worry of freezing and damaging lines or bilge pumps.

Another simple measure that I take is to make sure that all of my batteries are fully charged, and if possible, the main power shut off is turned off.

Another thing that I do with the boat itself is to clean it out if I know that it won’t be in use any time too soon. For most of us that store boats in unheated garages or storage facilities for the winter, this could be a very important step. This helps so that there won’t be anything left inside the boat to potentially mold or mildew, and as far as my tackle goes, there won’t be any rusting of hooks with the freezing and thawing cycles of winter.

Last but not least, I always like to put my boat away only after I’ve thoroughly cleaned, vacuumed, washed and polished the boat. It’s much nicer to hop into a boat in the spring that’s been put away cleaned than one that’s full of last year’s grit and grime.

Winter Boat Maintenance Part 1

There has been much written about boat maintenance, and most of it is good advice. For me, owning two guide services that each use different boats, boat and trailer maintenance is a must. I’ll turn this into a 3-part entry, beginning with the boat’s fuel.

With the new government fuel regulations, ethanol is here, and here to stay. Like it or not, we have to deal it, and deal with its consequences, which are very real. I always make sure to use a fuel treatment specifically made for ethanol. While there are several products on the market, I have always used Stabil. The one that is made to help treat ethanol in gasoline is blue, different from the red that Stabil always has been.

For winter storage, this will help prevent phase separation. The long and short of it is that if there is phase separation, we have a classic oil and water scenario to deal with. Phase separation occurs when the water that is present in the fuel (and ethanol carries with it a guaranteed high percentage of water) separates from the gasoline. If this happens, the water will sink to the bottom of the fuel tank, with the gasoline floating on top, hence the oil and water scenario. What happens next, if not detected, is that when the boat motor is fired up, the first liquid that is sucked into the engine is the water sitting on the bottom of the fuel tank. If this were to happen, it is now certainly an expensive visit to the marine mechanic.

After adding the correct amount of Stabil to my fuel tank, I always make sure to top off the tank. There is conflicting information about whether or not to top off or not, but most mechanics will agree that an empty tank left for any length of time will leave room for condensation from the ambient humidity of the air. Condensation, just as the water in the ethanol is bad news. Once the tank is topped off, I always make sure to run the outboard for a while to ensure that the Stabil is run into all of the fuel lines leading into and in the motor itself.

Outboard engine manufacturers recommend installing a second water fuel filter, which will help if there is a small amount of phase separation. This is something that I have also installed, but hopefully I can avoid this phase separation altogether.

Gearing up for the new season

Winter is upon us here in northern Michigan, and the bass boat has been winterized and put away until spring, after a thorough detailing and polishing. So what is a smallmouth fishing guide to do during the off months? Besides dreaming of warmer weather, there are lots to do to prepare for the next season.

To begin with, there are a few crucial elements of tackle maintenance that I always perform to ensure that my gear is in tip-top shape to begin the next season. First off, I always loosen the drags on my reels. Spinning reels, baitcasting or fly reels, it makes no difference. Today’s modern reels still need help to stay smooth and worry free, despite how advanced they are. Drags on reels, as advanced as they are, rely on pressure to work. Loosening the drag will release the pressure on either the cork or the washers or the ceramic surfaces that make up the drag, minimizing the potential for inadvertently misshaping the cork or washers or the ceramic.

The other item that I always make sure to perform is to make sure that all of my rods are either stored straight up and down on a rod rack, or are perfectly horizontal. Even though rods manufactured today are far superior than they once were, they are still prone to being damaged due to improper storage. If rods are left for extended periods of time by being either bent as they’re leaned up against a wall, or have harsh pressure points exerted on them, damage to the blanks can occur, weakening the materials. This can lead to premature breakage, which never starts the new season off on the right foot