With the big pelagics away in bluer pastures, now’s the time to get stuck in to some off-season tackle and boat maintenance. Because before you know it, it’ll be game on once again.
So if we’re not going game fishing, what else is there to do during winter? Sitting around drinking beer and watching fishing DVDs is one option that will no doubt have a lot of rank-and-file support.
A fishing trip to somewhere fish-filled and tropical is another. Snapper fishing is a possibility, and there are kingfish and the odd mako still about for the super keen, but winter is also the perfect time to prepare for the season ahead with a bit of tackle and boat maintenance. Getting the gear up to speed is a job best tackled as soon as possible.
We’ll start with the line. Rip it all off, even on the outfits that have seen little attention from the fish this past season. It might seem like a dreadful waste and stripping half a dozen reels is a bit of a chore, but the mono is potentially the weakest link (yet also the cheapest) in the chain, so it must be done.
Make an afternoon of it with the crew over a few ales, or the bigger tackle shops often have line winders and can do the job in a fraction of the time if you purchase the line from them. The latter option means it will also be correctly tensioned on the spool, which doesn’t always happen when hand-winding.
I’ve reverted to using a Dacron base with mono top-shots on my 37kg outfits, and once you perfect the Dacron to mono splice, replacing the top 150-200 metres of nylon isn’t that difficult. What’s more, when there’s only a short amount of line to wind on, you’re inclined to do it more often during the season and therefore always be fishing with fresh line. The other advantage with this approach is that you also get to re-do five outfits from a single 1000 metre spool.
If you use Dacron loops or Power Gum to set the position of your outrigger baits and lures behind the boat before stripping the line, just make a note of how far up the line they are. After re-spooling, tie them in the same position and this will save stuffing around when you finally get back on the water.
Servicing game reels can be a tricky job and is best left to the experts. Otherwise, important little springs and washers tend to get left out, put back in the wrong way, the wrong spot, or bounce off into the carpet, never to be seen again. If you do possess the mechanical aptitude, place dismantled parts in an egg carton and photograph any tricky procedures with a digital camera.
Keep the exploded diagram and parts list close at hand just in case. In order to break down any corrosion that might be lurking, give all screw heads a light squirt with Inox before attempting to undo them, and ensure the screwdriver is a good fit for the screw head so the slot doesn’t get damaged.
Upon re-assembly, a light smear of grease on the threads will ensure they undo easily for the next service. Once the side plate is off, drag washers should be the first point of call, checking for dirt or moisture intrusion, but look at the bearings as well. If they feel rough to the turn, they’re probably on the way out and should be replaced.
It’s not a bad idea to strip the reel of line before servicing it, that way you can hit the spool with a squirt of Inox to clean up any corrosion that might be lingering, as well as protecting the anodising for the upcoming season.
Roller guides should be dismantled, cleaned, lightly oiled and re-assembled. Now’s a good time to check for cracked bindings and any line-damaging rough patches on guide frames, especially around roller tips, as these cop the most abuse from being rested up against brick walls, and dragged through vegetation when left in rocket launchers or rod holders.
Check the tip frame and roller for burrs. In their haste to wind the fish through the rod tip, inexperienced anglers often jam crimps and swivels in here, and it only takes the tiniest scratch to create line damage at a key point. This can be prevented by running a piece of soft rubber tube over the crimp if using wind-ons, or a lumo bead that is greater than the diameter of the roller.
Upon re-assembly, a dab of Loctite on the thread will help keep older roller assemblies from vibrating loose, which can be a problem on diesel-powered boats. Just be careful to keep it on the thread, as any excess may freeze the roller guide altogether. The frames and inserts on quality fixed guides are pretty reliable these days, but older rods may be
harbouring cracks or rough spots, so run a cotton bud through and around them. The cotton will catch on any sharp bits and quickly highlight a potential problem. On two-piece rods, aluminium butts need to be separated from the tip section and cleaned.
A thin smear of grease on the thread and spigot will mean that they can be separated easily at the end of next season, or if travelling from place to place. If the butt is seized tight, try spraying it with Inox and leaving it for a spell. A leather strap wrench can often pop tight-locking rings apart.
If the rod bindings are taking on a milky appearance when you wash the outfit down at the end of the day, this is usually a sign that the epoxy is breaking down under UV assault. As freshwater molecules are smaller than saltwater, they penetrate the coating, whereas salt ones do not.
Now is probably a good time to hand it over to your local rod builder for a re-bind, and he can also assess whether the reel feet are doing any damage to the blank underneath. If it has been built correctly, however, the under binding should be protecting it.
EVA grips are best rubbed vigorously with a soft cloth soaked in mineral turpentine, then wiped over with methylated spirits. A soft cloth and not too much pressure should bring them up nicely.
Leather grips should be cleaned with soapy water, rinsed, then left to dry. Liquid wax can be applied to create a protective barrier. Leather products may soften the grips too much, and then they don’t stand up to the pressure of heavy use.
Remove reels from reel seats and, if they’re aluminium, give the seat a spray with Inox. Make sure you get some well into the hoods as well. No matter how fastidiously you wash your rods, it’s inevitable that some corrosion will form here, so short of removing the reel after every trip, regular maintenance is essential.
A piece of bicycle inner-tube rubber placed between the reel and the reel seat, and another between it and the reel clamp will help to keep the dissimilar metals from touching and corrosion at bay.
If fishing wind-on leaders, be on the lookout for furry patches on the Dacron or missing glue on the whipping. These are signs that a catastrophic failure is on the horizon, with the loss of a lure and the fish. If the wind-on has been used for the whole season, definitely toss it and start with a new one just to be on the safe side.
If you make your own wind-ons, set aside some time over winter to make up a huge batch, then you’ll be more likely to change them if there’s a good supply in the tackle cupboard. Having a snap swivel and chafe tube already crimped in place will get you back in the game faster in the event that a wind-on needs replacing.
Possibly as a result of their price, we expect ball bearing snap swivels to keep on keeping on, but they do wear out over time and the wire clips can also become fatigued. This manifests itself in line twist while trolling, or the clip popping open during a fight.
A rough turning swivel can be resurrected by giving the mechanism a squirt with silicone spray then attaching it to the chuck of a power drill and running it at low speed for a minute or so. Any snap clip that has opened up and straightened, however, will never be the same again and is best attached to the boat’s key ring as a memento of a near miss — or the one that got away.
Those favourite lures that have seen the most use should be closely examined as well. While it is stainless, the cable wire on double hook lure rigs will rust over time and once one strand fails, the rest will surely follow.
Heat shrink covering the wire and hook shank hides all sorts of gremlins unfortunately, which is why see-through heat shrink is a better rigging option. If using chemically sharpened game hooks, check to see that the points are still sharp. If they are, replace the sacrificial anode to ensure they remain that way.
Scuffed or milky traces should be binned, and check aluminium crimps for signs of corrosion. Unfortunately, their days are numbered the minute they make contact with salt water, which is what makes nickel-plated copper figure eight crimps a better choice.
Make sure all leader and wind-on lengths are International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) compliant as you re-rig. Cut up a dozen leaders of the most commonly used size, crimp a piece of chafe tube on one end and slide on another crimp and chafe tube on the other. That way it will only take a few moments to replace a scuffed trace after you catch a fish. The same goes for double hook rigs. Half a dozen in sizes 9/0 through to 12/0 and you won’t be wasting time cannibalising other lure rigs to get that hot lure back in the wake after a successful release.
While the lures are unrigged, assess whether their skirts need replacing. Sometimes a simple re-skirt can breathe life into an out-of-favour lure and have you enthusing about its prospects for the coming season.
The trebles and split rings on minnow lures are worth giving a once-over, upgrading to stronger versions if any are bent or straightened.
With knife jigs and the like, check the Kevlar or Dyneema link between the hook and the fixing point for abrasion. Kevlar is tough enough to stop a bullet, but not infallible, and toothy mongrels like barracouta can make a mess of it over time.
GAFFS AND TAG POLES
Give all gaff points a touch up with a half bastard mill saw file so they’re razor sharp, and slide a piece of tubing or garden hose over the point for protection. If using flyers, check the rope for fraying, and make sure the head will still release cleanly from the pole, as they can get damaged when there’s been a wildly spinning mako on the other end.
If the tag pole has a detachable head, remove it and smear a dab of petroleum jelly on the thread, but also get into the habit of taking it apart at the end of each fishing day. This way, should the applicator get bent or broken during a poorly-timed tag shot or need to be substituted with another tag style (say, switching from billfish to shark tags), it will be easy to replace instead of being frozen solid.
OUTRIGGER HALYARDS AND ROD LANYARDS
If using heavy monofilament as outrigger halyards, replace them annually as they’re out in the weather and under a lot of tension when in use. Throwing a Blacks clip, outrigger return weight and sundry other fittings into the ocean every few months quickly becomes costly.
Go for a hard-wearing monofilament brand like Momoi in at least 250kg breaking strain, as nylon with a hard outer shell and soft inner will wear out fairly quickly. Decidedly old school but nonetheless effective, glass rings on outrigger poles are a maintenance-free way of managing halyards, but if you prefer pulleys, choose the more expensive ones that run on bearings, not bushes, and they’ll reward you with long life and better performance.
Toss out last season’s rubber bands and buy a couple of fresh packs. They do have a limited shelf life, although this can be extended markedly by storing them in a sealed container and shaking some talcum power onto them. The powder will absorb the moisture that sends the bands off and you won’t have to replace them every 30 minutes while trolling.
Check rod safety lanyards for abrasion. Snapping one this season past when an over-enthusiastic hooked-up angler walked towards the transom without unclipping it from the reel proved that they’re not unbreakable. There are some pretty fancy safety lanyard designs out there, but it’s hard to beat a stainless snap hook spliced to a suitable length of eight millimetre silver rope with a loop in the other end.
TRAILERS, BOATS AND ENGINES
If left sitting around idle over winter, this is usually when trouble starts. The best answer here is to keep fishing heaps!
Boat trailers can benefit from a good going-over. Check all wiring and lights, look for rust on frames, welds and springs, unwind and investigate the condition of the winch wire, toss out fraying tie-down straps, but most importantly check the state of the wheel bearings. There’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck on the side of the road in the wee small hours of the opening day of the season, trying to change a hot and buggered wheel bearing because you thought it’d be okay for a few more months.
For moored boats, it’s great if the least-fun jobs such as sanding, painting, anti-fouling and hull polishing are tackled over winter if you can manage it, so no productive fishing time is lost during the fishing season. If you use the boat regularly, marine growth and soft coral will struggle to get a foothold.
A light scrub of the hull-mid season can get rid of this and has a marked influence on boat speed. They all need slipping eventually, however, For propellers and shafts, Prop Speed is a brilliant product and, while it takes a little bit of skill to apply, it’s streets ahead of using anti-foul and other 19th century approaches to keeping propellers and running gear free of marine growth.
COUNTING THE DAYS YET?
If you subscribe to the theory that many hands make light work, off-season boat and fishing tackle maintenance doesn’t have to be a chore (well, maybe anti-fouling is). Then you can be ready to hit the water confident that everything’s at its utmost when those fish-filled cobalt currents return to the coast once more.