Anglers often hear about how ten percent of the fisherman catch ninety percent of the fish, and maybe this is not completely true, but there are things that you can do before hitting the water that will increase your catch. Guides are often blamed for showing anglers how to catch more fish, increasing pressure, and “taking” fish away from other anglers, but it is not the guides’ fault that they catch more fish. The difference between guides, those ten percent anglers, and the rest of those on the water often comes down to preparation. Success begins well before the boat gets wet, and those that learn to take care of gear, do needed maintenance, and prep for the day of fishing often catch more fish.
A few years ago, we were up in Nootka Sound fishing for chinook and early arriving coho. After fighting a fish to the boat, the toothy king had chewed up the leader to the point that the hooks broke off just as it was scooped into the net. A quick bonk on the head and a few photos along with taking care of the fish in the box, and it was time to get back to fishing. Instead of dropping the gear right back down to the school of salmon, we had to take a few minutes and re-tie the rigging. The few moments it took to do this caused us to lose the bait ball and the salmon feeding on it. That little mistake cost us an hour of fishing before we hooked up with another chinook and, once again, that fish tore up the leader and we were right back to needing to re-tie. If you have ever tried to snell a hook out in the open ocean you know how hard this can be, and it can cause you to start getting seasick.
Pre-tying leaders is necessary. Not only does it save time when you break off, but it can also help with switching presentations. It is not enough to just snell a bunch of hooks on leaders and call it good. Instead, tie up different set-ups so you can switch out easily. When winter steelhead fishing, one of the most popular lures is the pink rubber worm. Sometimes it is the rubber worm with a chartreuse tip tail, or a red and black worm, and other times it is the 4-inch worm or the 6-inch worm. Regardless, if you just tie up leaders and still need to thread the worm on then you are wasting time. Instead, use a Macks Pips
Box and Leader Caddy, where you can pre-tie several different rigs and have them ready to go. Same when bead fishing, where you might need to change out to different size or color of beads.
Check the hooks. Sticky, sharp hooks are a must, no matter what species you are pursuing, but how often do you check the hooks or re-sharpen them? Keep a hook file handy, as in one in the boat tray, one in the tackle box, and one in your pocket. The idea is to keep them ready and make a few strokes on the hook each time you check the bait or switch out the lure. At the end of the day, re-sharpen the hooks so they are ready to go the next time you go fishing.
Wash your gear. The boat and trailer need good washing at the end of the day, but so does all the gear, including rods, reels, and lures. If you fish saltwater, then the benefits of washing everything metal is obvious, but even if you fish freshwater you should clean your gear. Using scents and baits, and even just sweating on the rod handle can lead to unwanted odors and cost you fish. Once, after a trip out shrimping, we came home and washed the exterior of the boat lightly rinsed the interior. A few weeks later, our garage reeked badly. Turns out we missed one shrimp that had fallen out of the pot and slid under the back decking. It took a few hours of re-washing the boat deck to get the stink out. If we had done a thorough cleaning of the boat the first time, we would have found that wayward prawn and avoided a stinky mess.
Rod and reel maintenance are often not done correctly or at all. Rods need to be inspected for broken or cracked guides, loose handles, and cracks in the blanks. If you have broken a rod, it might have been avoided by doing a simple inspection before the day of fishing. Reels have gears, bearings, and springs. Take them apart and learn how to grease and lubricate them, as well as clean the inside of the reels. Drag washers often need to be replaced as well, and once that is all done, then strip off all the line and re-spool. This type of maintenance can often be done once a year unless you fish in the saltwater a lot. If you do, then be sure to maintain the reel before and at least once during the season, and then again once after the season is over. A deep cleaning followed by removing all the grease and reapplying is all that’s needed. Braided line can often be used for a few years, and one trick is to reverse the line or just strip off the top few hundred yards, use a surgeon's knot, and respool the amount of line you removed. When fishing braid, I often use a “top shot” of fifty feet or so of monofilament, and this gets replaced after each trip when using downriggers, as the clips can cause small nicks or crimps in the monofilament, which can cost you a fish if not checked or replaced.
Prepare the bait the day before. Most bait can be cured, brined, and rigged the day before the trip. Cured salmon eggs are often done months prior and then frozen, so be sure to take them out of the freezer and allow them to thaw slowly as a quick thawing can cause them to become mushy. One tip to thawing salmon roe is to add borax to
the container or plastic bag they are frozen in, as this will soak up any moisture that is released during the thawing process and keep the eggs firm. Anglers who use herring or anchovies can make up the brine solution the day before and add the frozen baitfish, then place it into the refrigerator to allow the baits to thaw slowly and absorb the salted brine. This keeps them firm and allows the chemicals in the brine to slowly soak, which will keep any chemical burns from occurring and toughen the baits. Brined herring can be used for multiple days if kept in the cold brine. If you plan to use a herring strip and wrapping plugs, do this the day before and keep them in the refrigerator by hanging them in a bait cooler. Having a day's worth of plugs pre-wrapped will save a lot of time on the water, and the more time the plugs are fishing, the more chances you will have of catching fish.
Trailer maintenance is more than just washing it and calling it good. The lights should be checked every time you go fishing, as well as before you put the boat away. A brake light out might not seem important, but it could lead to a collision with another driver who does not know you are braking. More than once, we were on our way to the river in the early morning hours, cruising down the highway, and we came upon a boat and trailer being hauled by an unsuspecting angler with the trailer light not hooked up or burnt out. The problem was the boat blocked the truck's rear lights and we almost ran right into the back of the truck. You cannot catch fish if you do not make it to the lake.
Batteries are one of the least thought of items boat owners and anglers think about. Marine batteries last a long time, but they do require maintenance. The best way to keep a battery in full charge and ready condition is to use a battery tender or on-board charging system that you plug in when you are back at home. This will charge the battery and then keep it topped off during the off season. Be sure to check all the cables at the beginning of each fishing season and especially after a trip where you encounter rough water. Bouncing along and hitting waves causes loose connections, and you do not want to find out the motor will not start, or the downrigger will not retrieve, because the connection was loose or came undone. While you are checking the battery, be sure to look at the fuse box. Not only making sure they are all in good order and the wires are secure, but also what fuses you need to have on board for spares. Some are different AMPs, so it is best to have a handful of spares along.
Motor maintenance is more than just changing the oil. Be sure to open the cowling and look at all the connections. They should be tight and covered in marine grease. Same with any bolts, nuts, and electrical connections- they all need to have a special electrical grease on them. Fuel systems are an integral part of motor maintenance, including the fuel-water separator and fuel treatments. With each tank re-fill, it is a good idea to add a fuel additive made for your motor. Be sure to check what the manufacturer recommends, and at the end of the season, a fuel additive and preservative is necessary. Even then, it is best to run the boat motor every few weeks or months until it is fishing season again, or have your motor properly winterized.
When you see a guide or one of those “fishy” anglers out on the water, realize that their success often comes down to preparation. If you have ever fished with a guide, you will notice good guides have good gear and are ready for anything that comes up. A nicked leader is quickly switched out with one ready to go, motors fire up right away, and baits are prepared before you step foot on the boat. It is the trivial things that make the difference, and that is why those that prepare for the season ahead are successful. The old saying, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” holds true when it comes to fishing success.