As the days get shorter and temperatures lower, it means two things: the end of summer fishing here in the North and the beginning of hunting season. Even though it might not be winter yet, it isn’t too early to at least plan for how to wind down on fishing. That means getting your gear ready for its long winter nap.
Every single thing needs to be considered, from big-ticket items, such as boats and engines, to rods, reels and tackle. Let’s start with the little things you might not think about and move our way up the ladder.
I remember once before I knew better, I got lazy at the end of the season and didn’t take much care in winterizing my gear. My stuff had gotten pretty wet in a rain-soaked boat during a late fall walleye trip, and water had permeated some of my plastic jig boxes. Not much water, but enough.
The next spring, a bunch of my jigs had grown enough rust to compromise their strength. When I lost a big walleye that next year due to a broken hook, I vowed to never let that happen again.
Learn the lesson from me and when you put your tackle away for the winter, bring all your boxes indoors where it’s warm and dry. Leave the lids open for a day or so, even if you don’t think there’s water in there. Then put a rust inhibitor product into each box. It can save you a lot of headaches and money.
Do the same with your boxes containing non-metal tackle such as plastic worms and jig bodies to prevent mold and mildew from forming inside. Set aside a bit of time for your year-end tackle management and get everything sorted just right. I don’t know how many times I’ve had crankbaits migrate into jig boxes and vice versa.
It’s a good idea to hose off all your rods before putting them away for winter, particularly if they’ve seen any saltwater use. Scrub the cork handles and the guides. Store them indoors, horizontally, and it will help keep them straight and action-packed.
The first thing to do with your reels at the end of the season is to strip the line off them. This ensures that you’ll start every season with fresh line, because you’ll have no choice. Note that you typically only need to do this with monofilament and fluorocarbon. Braids have a much longer life span and don’t suffer from coiling and drying like clear lines do.
Put a piece of tape somewhere on each reel and with a marker indicate the line that came off that reel, so you replace it with the same thing the following year. For 8-pound mono I use 8M; for 12-pound fluorocarbon I write 12F. You get the idea. It’s also critical to clean and lube your reels before putting them away, and I feel better storing them indoors with my rods where conditions are more stable.
Engines And Electronics
Winterizing your outboard is absolutely critical at the end of the year. Different brands call for different procedures, and often require authorized service to protect warranties. I’m very fond of my Evinrude E-TEC when it comes to winterizing. There is no need to bring it to the shop. I can do it myself in a matter of minutes with no tools and a simple process. The engine basically winterizes itself. And the best part is I can take it out anytime after winterizing, fish with it again, and then repeat the easy winterization process.
With other engines, once it’s winterized, it’s out of commission until spring. Check your manufacturer’s winterizing requirements before you do any service work. And don’t forget to put the recommended amount of STA-BIL fuel stabilizer into your fuel tank to keep it stable during the winter months.
Store all your electronics and marine batteries indoors through the winter, and hit the batteries with a trickle charge once in a while to keep them powered up. If they’re the type of batteries that require water, make sure your levels are filled.
When properly covered or stored indoors, there’s not much that can go wrong with a hibernating boat. Just make sure you put it away very clean, totally dry and empty of life jackets, rain gear, etc. to prevent potential mildew. In my part of the world, mice and other rodents are always a concern. So I put a good supply of mouse-killing pellets inside before I cover it up. Those rotten creatures love to chew on wire housings and one mouse can rack up hundreds of dollars in service if he starts gnawing on your harnesses.
The end of open-water fishing in the northern states is always sad. But it’s a reality we must face. Taking care when preparing your gear for winter will help preserve your equipment and make the following season opener easier and more productive. Now, I guess it’s about time to go and dig my ice fishing gear out of storage!
Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Fishing Gear!