Pre-Season Preparation
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Fresh bottom paint

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 Dirty Bottom

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The Works

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Inspect your Trailer

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Marvel Mystery Oil

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Prelude to Success

Getting ready for next new season begins well before your last fishing trip of the year.  Making a mental list of what could be done to improve your odds of accomplishment and mechanical well being during the long winter lay-up months, is a good start.  This will eliminate a ton of massive grief...................hopefully!  Checking the most crucial part of the rolling stock, like maybe a new set of trailer tires, repacking the trailer bearings more often and having your outdrive professionally aligned and greased can save you a bundle of your hard earned cash in the long haul.  Not to mention the gain of recreational time on the water, rather that wrenching on equipment during the peak of the August Salmon run.

The simple fact is, that tackling the Great Lakes is by no means an inexpensive proposition and getting the most for the least expenditure is just common cents.
This I can't stress enough, the proper mind set with confidence in yourself and equipment is the key to the lock, of being successful under all circumstances.

Status Quo?

Were you happy with the amount of fish caught per outing last season?  If so, you're one of the lucky few or you're willing accept the status quo.  Resting on your laurels from last year don't count, what you can do in the new season, does.  Or, possibly you're content in picking off a few stragglers, rather than laying waste to the entire herd.  We all have different expectations when it comes to fishing.

Improving your catch rate can come in many ways.  Attending seminars by well known Great Lakes anglers like Bill Bale and Dave Engles is a smart move.  I know each of them personally and they can put you on the right track.  While I don't respect many outdoor writers because they don't make their living from fishing, Mike Gnatkowski does and relays his message in an informative manner.  If you're ever lucky enough to see Pete "Pedro" Ruboyaines doing an "on stage" presentation be ultra sure to attend.  Pete is a natural at passing on great information.  The upcoming spring sport show circuit might offer you the venue to see these fishermen and have them share their vast amount of knowledge with you.

Considering joining your area chapter of the Steelheaders is a good idea.  For the most part the experienced Captains are more than willing to share the past experiences with you.  My personal experiences with the Flint River Valley, Metro West and Detroit Area chapters are very positive ones.  At the monthly meetings the quality of the guest speaker might surprise you.  At the Benzie County chapter I once had the opportunity to speak with the Director of the Fisheries Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Books or Magazines do offer another avenue to gaining knowledge.  Tom Huggler's "Fish the Michigan" about the ports around the Great Lakes is a must have.  Tom's book offer insight into every port in Michigan along with charts, complete with depth readings.  Any books by the identical twins, Dave or George Richey warrant a look see.  I credit my long term friendship with George making me a very accomplished attractor fisherman and taking the mystery out of my dodger program.  George has been manufacturing trolling flies since the 70's and makes the best quality trolling fly on the market.  Dave who I consider the leading mid-west Outdoor Writer has a infinite amount of knowledge in all neighborhoods of our Great Lakes Fishery.

Maybe considering a charter trip with your local charter operator isn't a bad idea either.  Much can be gained from those trying to make a living from your desired port you wish to key on.  Charter rates are more than reasonable when considering the cost of equipment and the hoops you have to jump through just to be in the charter business.  Specific port knowledge of the best lures and setups is what you're after and be sure to relay that fact to the Captain before booking the trip.  

Budgeting not Gambling

Your budget comes into play and purchasing that new graph or downrigger temp and speed sensor might be in order.  Spend your money only once by buying the premium product with the best reputation is the way to go.  Buying something cheap and maybe problematic only requires a second purchase of the right stuff in the long run.  I know about the last statement personally, because you name it and I've bought it, in my quest to find the magic bullet.  Hint? don't exist.

New seats or canvas might save you some long green on an over-priced new boat.  Thinking about a new set of downriggers, or maybe some new diver rods might be in order too.  Updating electronics will always be a help, especially if you're not seeing what's under your boat.  Please keep in mind, it's a lot cheaper to renew and redo your old rig, rather than shelling out 30 to 50k for a new vessel.  If you're in the market for a new ride?  Now, is the time to shop for used boats, not in May or June when the prices goes up, because the boating season is in full swing.

Lure selections can put the odds in your favor and there's no excuse of not having the latest and greatest aboard.  Spoons, flies and attractors are the lowest-priced part of the fishing trip, and not having the "good stuff" puts you on the highway to failure.  Learning the correct speeds at certain depths for the ever changing conditions you'll be presented with is, the "big deal."

Tip:   Reverse your planer board line in the spring before launching by empting the spool (out in the yard), then tie the worn Dacron  (which used to be at the board) to the arbor of the planer board spool and wind it in.  Reversing mono can be treated this way, only empty a reel to about the depth needed, then just wind the line on the emptied reel, after using a blood knot to joint together.

Formulating a Plan

In every popular American sport a plan is required.  Take football, basketball and baseball for instance: huddles, time outs and "on the mound" player conferences lead to success or failure.  Fishing the Great Lakes is no different, the plan can be everything.  Fishing hot ports during prime time will enhance your likelihood of filling your fish box.  The more fish you deal with in the spring, the more insight and confidence leading into the July, August and September fisheries.

Southern early spring ports include Lexington, Port Sanilac, Harbor Beach, St. Joe, Michigan City, South Haven and Saugatuck offer some of the best opportunities.  I know it's easy to get stuck in a rut and fish the same port throughout the season, but for those of you lucky enough to have a trailerable boat, striking out for new territory just might breath new life into your career as a Salmon fisherman.

So, plan on fishing where the fish are, not where you want them to be.  Turning your efforts to the northern ends of both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan in the summer will sow the seeds, and you'll be harvesting adult Kings over 20 pounds when the run is on.


Pride in ownership no matter what size your craft is, shows.  A haphazardly rigged boat with lousy wiring and screws instead of thru-bolts are destined cause problems, maybe safety issues too.  So, take your time when mounting or rigging your vessel, the dividends in the long run are immense.

Many you think a larger boat will provide more days fishing when it rough, and safety of the harbor is your only option, in your 19 footer.  I'll let you in on a secret, when it's too rough for the 19 footer to troll comfortably, it's also too miserable for my guests aboard my 28 foot Cherokee.  Having a trailerable boat allows for many options a marina moored boat doesn't, not to mention being able to fill your tank at pump prices instead of paying through the nose at the marina gas dock.

Be sure to check trailer tire air pressures often and be sure to carry a spare, this will save you from being stranded on the highway in the middle of the night, with nowhere to get a tire fixed or replaced.  Spare wheel bearings are a good idea too.  Keep an eye on your carpeted trailer bunks or wobble rollers, these are the point of contact that saves damage to your boat.

Outboard owners have little to do when it comes to maintaining their motors.  I/O owner are faced with tune up and oil changes.  Oil change schedules in your owners manual are only guidelines and more often is definitely better, because of the low engine trolling speeds.  Oil, grease and lower unit dope are cheap compared to replacing damaged parts.  I change my oil at or around the 50 hour mark, because constant trolling dilutes the oil, thinning it dramatically.

Be sure that the battery terminals are clean and free from corrosion, put a dab of grease when reattaching the battery cables, this will help keep a good strong connection.  During the off season store don't store your battery on the cement garage floor.  The cement holds the cold longest and even though they say if don't discharge a battery, why take the chance?

Cleaning Tip:  Use a toothbrush to reach those cracks and crevices normal wipe downs don't reach.  The corners of electronics are especially hard to reach and that old, worn out toothbrush works wonders in those tight spots.  A larger hand brush should be kept aboard also, for larger jobs.

Battery Tip:  A couple of times during the winter, put a charger on it to keep it charged up.  This will keep the lead plates inside you battery from sulfating.  Batteries generally last me at least 5 seasons with the above care.

Here's a tip:  Take your prop of periodically and check for fishing line wound up inside.  If you have line in there it will chew up the lower unit seal, hence no gear dope and soon all the bearings and gears will be all ground up junk.  The only person happy about this occurrence is your boat dealer when he charges you a grand to fix it.  Buy the tools and spare washer locks to inspect behind the prop often.

Pay Attention to this tip:  Changing the lower unit grease during times of heavy usage is more than a good idea.  It will tip you off, if the seal behind the prop is starting to wear.  If you see milky colored grease, you can bet it's been contaminated by water.  The lower unit lube should look like it does when you changed last, semi clear.  Remember, it's much cheaper to buy the lower unit lubrication, than a new lower unit.  Or, seals are very inexpensive compared to the other parts, not to mention the grief saved.  So, when your boats in your driveway setting on your trailer take care of the part that provides the extremely important forward motion.

Tune-up parts:  Always carry a spare distributor cap, rotor, spark plugs and fuel filters, because finding these parts away from the major metropolitan areas can be next to impossible.  Take Manistee for instance, on Sundays there not even an auto parts place open.  The good news is, the newer high voltage ignition systems are pretty easy on spark plugs, but the cap and rotor endures the rigors of a marine environment.  

If you have an "in the water" boat for the season like me, it will grow nasties or algae, even if you've freshly painted the bottom before launching.  Be careful with high pressure wash down pumps a marina uses to blast off the bottom grime.  Water at 2000 pounds PSI can enter the gel coat and cause a blistering problem.  Rather than paying a marina 75 to 100 bucks to clean your bottom, this task can be accomplished in your driveway for 10 bucks, maybe less.

For the past 10 years I've use a toilet bowl cleaner called "The Works."  It has an active ingredient called "hydrochloric acid" in a much diluted form.  To use "The Works" let the bottom of your boat dry completely, then apply with a spray bottle and let the acid gently eat the algae off the boat and rinse with a garden hose.  Be careful with this stuff around kids and pets, be sure to wear gloves and bottom cleaning is a done no-hassle deal.  This product has rust inhibitors in it and only attacks organic compounds, not fiber glass or aluminum.  Plus, it works wonders on the lower unit of my jet-drive outboard.


Correct winterization or readying your engine or engines for the winter lay-up goes hand in hand in starting off the next and upcoming season.  When you pull your boat out of storage or take the winter tarp off it, you want it to be in the same mechanical sound shape as when you stored it.

When draining the water from your engine, I believe in replacing it with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze.  This way, the gaskets and seals won't dry out during the winter.  First drain all the water jackets according to your manual and remove the water hose on the suction side of your water pump and let the water pump push the fluid through the system until you see the antifreeze solution coming out the exhaust.
If you have a I/O or outboard those "clamp on" ears over the water inlets on the lower unit will suffice.  Siphon the 50/50 mixture from a bucket then.

Fogging your engine with a commercially prepared spray will keep the carburetors from varnishing up and the valve train seals and upper end lubed.  Fogging the upper end of a 4 cycle engine is a piece of cake, just remove the air cleaner called, spark arrester (on a boat) and dump it down the throat of the carburetor, until the engine almost dies, then shut the key off.  I've used Marvel Mystery Oil as a fogging agent for the past 14 seasons and my engines are still originals with over 7000 hours on them.  The heads have never been off either, so I know my maintenance and winterization policies work. 

Tip:  Never store your boat with last seasons contaminated oil in it.  Change your oil just before fogging your engines or engine and they'll almost last forever.