I guess we finally had what you can call a "real winter." I know what all you folks who hail from Ohio, New York and other points north are thinking right now, "He thinks this is a real winter? I've seen worse weather back home in October."
Well, that's you, but for those of us who have lived here all our lives, our blood is thinner than that 1960s super model Twiggy was. The only thing we use salt for here is to spice up a steak.
Having lucked out for the past three winters, I guess we were due. I can take the cold for a bit but when the sun doesn't shine for weeks on end, that's what gets me down. I'm a human solar panel and when those gloomy, gray days take over, I begin to act like an Energizer Bunny whose AA batteries need changing. Not only does it affect my mood, it even affects my desire to go fishing and that is totally unacceptable.
Luckily, just before I was about to go postal, we had a couple of sunny days and I became an anhinga (those large birds you see on the edge of ponds with their wings spread). I was doing my best impression of these fish eaters. My energy level increased, my mood improved, and I knew that if I could hang in there just a couple more weeks I'd be in the clear.
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Since I haven't been fishing much lately, I have spent my free time thinking about fishing -- and so should you. For instance, when was the last time you fired up the engine on your boat? Have you bothered to open your tackle box in the past three or four months? If you answered "no" then you might just miss some of the best fishing of the year when you look out your window and see robins hopping around in the yard. (This is my signal that spring is about to be sprung.)
Living a stone's throw from the Alljoy boat landing, I can't tell you how many times I have witnessed the following scenario: Dad, Mom and the kids pull up to the landing with their trailered boat. Dad hops out of the car and starts loading the boat with so much stuff it's hard to believe there will be room for the family. Coolers, rods and reels, picnic baskets ... the whole shooting match. Finally, he begins to back the boat down the ramp and into the water. Then it happens. He hops into the boat, turns the key and nothing. Or maybe the engine does turn over but never fires up, just that sickening wah, wah, wah, wah sound.
One thing I know about outboard motors is they hate to sit idle (much like myself). After sitting up for the winter, all sorts of things can happen. The cold weather will drain a battery in a heartbeat, and if you haven't hooked up a water hose to your engine and run it every couple of weeks, the gas in the engine turns into sticky varnish-type gunk that will ruin any boating plans you might have. Now is the time to pull those plugs and clean them, hook up one of those muffs to your garden hose that covers the water intake on the foot of the engine and let her run for a while. At least then you'll know if it needs to head to the shop for repair. There is nothing worse than being in a boat that might get you where you want to go but getting back is questionable.
I think this is the first time I have ever written about this sort of thing and what inspired me was when I went out to fire up my Marsh Monkey and realized the steering had become so tight even Charles Atlas would have struggled turning the steering wheel. But at least I caught it before I pulled a "dear old dad" story like the one above. In addition to my boat, I have been ordering new wahoo lures for the wahoo tournament, plus I dumped out the contents of my tackle boxes on a large table and threw away rusted hooks and the like while organizing the rest of my stuff.
If you think you won't start fishing until May or June then you are going to miss some of the best fishing of the year. Once the water temperature comes up to around 60 degrees all hell is going to break loose. The redfish have also been waiting on the robins, and after a long, cold winter they are going to be hun-greee.
So get off your duff and get boat and tackle ready because the bite is only a couple weeks away.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.