In many parts of the country, the COVID-19 virus has put a temporary halt to recreational boating activities. Here are four things you can do that will jump-start your season and keep you busy. Make sure when ordering any item online that it’s in stock and that the vendor is currently shipping. Before heading to the virtual checkout cart, call to verify when you’ll get your order because many companies are temporarily closed but are taking orders.
Install a Track System
One of the easiest ways to add an amazing level of functionality to your boat is to add a track system. This allows you to quickly install and remove items like swivel rod holders, rod holder trees, tables, grills, cupholders, downriggers, ram mounts for electronics, planer board mast systems and tool holders. And it doesn’t matter what type of boat you have; there’s a track system designed for your vessel.
Two of the biggest aftermarket companies are Bert’s Custom Tackle and Traxstech®. The most typical installation is a track system mounted flush to the gunwale. Track sections can be six feet or longer to allow multiple accessories or a section can be as short as six inches if only one item, such as a fishfinder, is being gimbal-mounted in that location. A backing plate is usually mounted underneath the gunwale to provide strength. For some gunwales, a clamp-mount can be used. If you have a pontoon, you can mount a track system on your boat’s top railings. Traxstech also has a track system that utilizes rod holders and doesn’t require you to drill any holes. Because it uses swivelable mounting surfaces, it’s ideal for gunwales that aren’t flat. When the track is installed, you use an Allen wrench to tighten and squeeze the rod holder supports together to keep them from popping out of the holders’ holes.
Upgrade Your Steering Wheel
Upgrading to a new upscale wheel like Gemlux® Belloca (MSRP $309) may improve your driving experience and can be one of the easiest upgrades to make. It can also be frustrating, depending on how long your old wheel has been in place because many of them are gripped in place by corrosion. When this happens, you might be tempted to get medieval on it, but there are better ways to attack the problem. First, loosen the nut holding it in place but don’t completely remove it. This will prevent injury if a stuck wheel suddenly becomes unstuck. Use a shot of penetrating spray such as PB Blaster before you start and give it time to do its job. If gently wiggling the wheel off doesn’t work, put one knee behind the wheel and with one hand on the other side of the wheel and put some equal, outward pressure on it, then use a hammer to give the steering wheel shaft an authoritative whack. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need a three-arm wheel puller (shown in photo) to mechanically pry it off. Once you get it off, clean the threaded shaft well before installing the new wheel.
Add Underwater Lighting
Not only do underwater lights look cool at night, but they also make your boat more visible to others for added safety. Nighttime anglers will love how lights attract schools of baitfish that are a magnet for predators. Halogen lights are very bright, but they draw lots of power and generate a massive amount of heat. By far the most popular best lighting solutions are Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights, which are powerful, consume relatively little power, generate little heat and are relatively inexpensive. The industry leader for LED lights is Lumitec, which has models starting at MSRP $200 but many options cost a lot less.
Most lights require you drill holes in your transom—some up to an inch in diameter—which most boaters are loath to do. Others can be mounted on trim tabs. But some underwater lights can be installed using your existing transom drain hole, which makes the installation process simple. The downside with most lights that utilize the drain hole is when you want to remove the plug when storing your boat the light dangles down on its power cable. A good solution can be found at www.boatpluglight.com, which sells lights that replace the entire drain hole flange and uses existing screw holes so no drilling is needed. Because the lights are offset on many models, the drain hole can still be used. Cost ranges from the 1,200-lumen Loki-1 (MSRP $39) to the 16,000-lumen Quasar 2.0 Brass (MSRP $399). They also make remote controls starting at MSRP $12, which simplifies the installation by negating the need to install a switch at the helm. Wiring is simple and the instructions are included with most lights.
Find New Fishing Spots Without Leaving the House
It used to be the only way to find a good fishing spot was by trial and error: you drop anchor and cast for a half hour or so before realizing nothing’s home. Modern electronics have greatly sped up the curve, but you still need to know where to start prospecting. Fortunately, several resources can help you scout new locations to fish while sitting at your desk.
Fishidy® is an online community with more than a million members and its maps show the locations where its members have caught fish. Forecasts for specific species are also generated and tide charts showing the most productive fishing times are created. A lot of the information is free, but to unlock its full potential you have to pony up for the premium service (MSRP $9.99 a month or MSRP $49.95 annually). This gives you Fishing Hot Spots charts as well as pro tips plus other features. Pro Angler is an online app for saltwater anglers and offers many features for free but to access its 15,000+ fishing spots, it’ll cost MSRP $15.49 for a month-long trial premium membership. Fish Angler is an app that’s free that also shows some fishing spots and has lots of other general fishing information.
Although not intended to be a fishing spot locater, there’s a small window of opportunity to find new fishing locations for free on a website called C-MAP Genesis® on its Social Maps section. Genesis is an online crowd-sourced charting system that takes detailed user-generated sonar information from owners of Simrad®, Lowrance® and B&G fishfinders, interfaces it with Google Earth® and posts it online for all to use. It’s new enough that there’s not a lot of coverage yet and if you look at many locations you’ll see the tracks where someone has cruised around but you’ll also see small, isolated areas that have been charted and, likely, these are fishing spots. Take computer screenshots of these areas before these small spots become lost when it’s all filled in with fresh soundings.