Boats: selecting, equipping & maintaining the perfect sport-fishing craft

DAVID_WEBB_PRO_ANGLEROut there on the open water, there are no roads, no road signs, no traffic lights and, best of all, there is no rush hour traffic. There is just you, your boat and the open water.

I must admit that I have a passion for boats. I have owned about everything one can imagine from a 10-foot inflatable to a Bayliner Trophy with a cuddy cabin that would easily sleep four. The key to successful fishing boat ownership is matching, equipping and then maintaining the right boat for the water you intend to spend most of your time fishing on. And there is little doubt that the right boat, properly equipped and maintained, will catch more fish.

Boat Selection

For those starting out in the world of boat ownership, a deep-hulled, wide-beamed, 14- to 16-foot heavy gauge aluminum boat is the most all-round useful fishing boat for most Western Canadian applications. These are easy to trailer, launch, beach, are very stable and can take a lot of punishment both on and off the water. They are also relatively easy to maintain and, with the right motor, can handle some pretty rough water.

If your primary fishing grounds are large water bodies, a boat of 18 feet to 20 feet would be ideal — this is where fiberglass hulls and inboard /outboard motors come into their own. However a boat of this size may potentially not be the best boat as a starter due not only to costs but also for operational reasons as well.

Your second choice will be: tiller or console? There are pros and cons to both. A boat with a console can provide the user with features such as a steering wheel, keyed electric start, console shift and throttle controls and various gauges. As well it tends to balance the boat better especially if there is only you, the operator, in the boat. But they are more expensive and the console does take up some space that would have otherwise been available in a non-console boat.

Motor Choices

While two-stroke motors have come a long way in recent years, I would still recommend that you select a four-stroke at or near the recommended maximum horsepower rating for your boat of choice. A quality four-stroke motor is a joy to use. They are quiet, fuel-efficient and can readily be trolled at a low rpm all day long. They are also relatively environmentally friendly, a factor not to be overlooked.

One might ask: why opt for the maximum horsepower? The motor should be capable of getting the boat up on plane with the load you intend to carry as well as being capable of getting you to and from your fishing spot not only in a reasonable time frame but safely as well. A sudden storm can put a lot of urgency into getting off the water quickly and if your boat hasn’t got the horsepower to do so, it can readily turn into a life threatening experience. This is a situation that can be been avoided by properly matching your motor to your boat at the time of purchase. Don’t overshoot your boat’s horsepower rating as this can also lead to problems of safety, but don’t short change your boat either. You may not always need all of the power your motor can provide but at least it will be there when you do need it. There are also fuel economy benefits to a properly matched boat and motor — for more on this, turn to “Gas Pains,” on page TK.

When it comes to a trailer, without question, opt for a galvanized trailer as they never chip or rust as a painted trailer will. Of course, double-check that it has the carrying capacity for your particular boat and motor. While there are those out there that opt for bunks on their trailers, I don’t fall into that category; I much prefer rollers. They make for much easier loading/ launching and still offer plenty of stability and support for your boat once it is on the trailer. Additionally, choose a trailer with low maintenance wheel bearings such as the “oil bath lubrication system,” as they will save you a lot of maintenance hassles down the road.

Boat Ownership

We have all heard that commonly repeated grievance that owning and maintaining a boat is like pouring money into a black hole, as there is never any end. To some degree that may be true but with today’s new boats and motors and with proper maintenance they can last a lifetime without breaking the bank.

I would like to start with a number of considerations before you even tow your boat off the lot. Make sure it is properly set up to provide for adequate tongue weight on the hitch and that you have not only the proper ball for the trailer but that your hitch is the right height for the boat trailer. The recommended hitch weight is normally between five and 10 per cent of the gross vehicle weight being towed and that includes the boat, motor and trailer. Minimally, there should be sufficient weight on the tongue to prevent the trailer hitch from bouncing up and down on the ball when under tow and the trailer should appear to be level when hitched to your vehicle. Next, carefully follow the regular maintenance and break in schedule provided by the manufacturer. (For winter storage and spring preparation, see sidebars.)

Take care of your boat and motor and it will not only provide you with years of incredible fishing experiences but when it comes time to upgrade, it will have retained its resale value.

Winter Storage Checklist

  • When storing your boat for the cold months, follow this rundown:
  •  Add fuel stabilizer to fuel tank per manufacturer’s instructions
  •  Change oil
  •  Check lower unit and add gear lube as required and, if it is milky, replace it as water has penetrated the unit.
  •  Add storage seal to engine per manufacture’s instructions
  •  Wash and clean boat
  •  Remove all gear and store
  •  Remove and store battery if required
  •  Check oil level and condition in wheel bearings and replace if milky or add as necessary or grease hubs if you have standard type bearings
  •  Make any minor repairs as necessary
  •  Check prop for nicks and repair as necessary
  •  Cover and store under cover if possible

Spring Preparation

  • Before you head out on the water:
  •  Check trailer lights
  •  Check tire pressure
  •  Check all oil levels
  •  Run up motor prior to taking it out fishing
  •  Ensure drain plug is in place
  •  Return all fishing and safety related gear to boat
  •  Now is also a good time to make or install any upgrades you may have acquired over the winter months.

Equipping Your Boat

  •  Bow rope of a length that is less than the total length of your boat
  •  Anchor and chain/rope cut to length suitable for the depth of water you fish
  •  Paddles
  •  Life jackets for each passenger
  •  Emergency kit
  •  Bailer  (a cut off plastic milk jug works great)
  •  Toolbox
  •  Tie down straps to secure the boat to the trailer
  •  Rod holders
  •  Fish finder/sonar (optional but recommended)
  •  Cover/Tarp to cover the boat during storage
  • Spare gas tank
  • Spare tire and mounting bracket for your boat trailer

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