Blog April 2018

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SO YOU WANT TO CATCH FISH?

Posted On: April 24, 2018


IS YOUR BOAT CUTTING YOUR CATCH?

 One important thing you can do to boost your catch rate is to reduce the amount of noise you make. Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, your own boat may be sabotaging these efforts. Some boats alarm fish more than others. But take heart, savvy angler: once you know about these five common fish-scaring flaws, you can institute corrective measures. Here's how:

  1. Engine Noise

Engines scare fish. But all engines are not equally noisy. The biggest offenders are two-stroke outboards. Particularly when in neutral, they create a real racket. You can hear the clickety-clack of metal parts hitting one another, right? That sound travels through the water, too. In shallow waters and calm conditions, when stealth becomes imperative, the best workaround is to plan your approach to hotspots so you can shut down the engine while it's still in gear, then drift into position.

 

When putting fishing rods in the bed of a pickup to trailer down the road, always lay them with the butt end toward the front of the truck. Laid tip-first, they may break if you have to slam on the brakes and momentum carries them forward.

One of the loudest sounds made below the waterline by most other engines — electric trolling motors included — is prop noise, directly related to prop speed. In other words, slow down. You can significantly cut the level of noise simply by backing off on the throttle. Another noise no-no you create with your power plant is the "thunk" of shifting in and out of gear. Again, this metal-on-metal sound travels well underwater, and fish don't like it. Though I haven't experimented with the new shift-dampening props (such as the SDS by Yamaha) or smoother-shifting stern drives (like the new Mercury 4.5L, which incorporates a new lighter flywheel for smoother shifting), I've observed firsthand how many species flee when boats are shifted into gear.

It's worth noting that in some cases, specifically with large inboard diesels, the deep thrumming of the motor may actually bring fish to your boat. There's more than mere anecdotal evidence to support this claim; according to marine biologist and author Daniel Bagur (Where the Fish Are, International Marine Press, 2009), certain predators are attracted to some long-wavelength vibrations. A few years back, I recorded the underwater sounds made while trolling on a 50-foot sportfish, and I sent the recordings to Bagur. He confirmed that many predators should find the type of sound created by the big diesels swinging large props attractive, as opposed to scary.

  1. Chine Slap

The sound of water slapping against a hull, particularly one with reverse chines, can be so bad for fishing that a few boatbuilders actually design "quiet" chines. Of course, if your boat doesn't have specially designed chines and you can't get a bite while listening to that slap-slap-slap all day long, you're more interested in finding a solution than in what some boatbuilders may or may not do.

Positioning your boat properly is the first step. If you can keep the stern into the seas safely, you'll eliminate the problem to a large degree. But this isn't always convenient, safe, or even possible. Another measure you can take is to weight down the bow a bit. On some boats, moving a full cooler (or an extra angler) onto the bow is enough to completely submerge the offending chines. And on some others, shifting weight to one side or the other will eliminate the slap.

Another trick that works on certain boats (while adrift or at anchor) is to slide a foam pool noodle under the chine, then push it far enough back that water pressure holds it in place. Be sure to tie a piece of fishing line to the noodle and secure it to the boat so it doesn't float away if a wave rocks it free.

You use a fishfinder to spy on the fish, but it may be alerting them to your presence as well. (Photo: Lenny Rudow)

  1. Fishfinders

I know lots of people will say I'm wrong about this (especially the fishfinder manufacturers), but at least some species of fish can hear or otherwise sense your fishfinder — and may even alter course to get away from the pings. Even though many experts disagree, I say this because I've seen it with my own eyes, when I launched a boat rigged with several fishfinders in the quarter-million-gallon habitat tank at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

While an observer watched from two stories below and we stayed in contact via FRS radio, I tried using the fishfinders in an attempt to differentiate between species. That part of the experiment was a complete failure; I couldn't even tell the difference between a tarpon and a sea turtle. But the surprise lesson was that when the fishfinders were active, some of the fish, and especially the sharks, would go around the boat instead of swimming under it. When all the units were turned off, however, they would swim under the boat without hesitation.

Sure, there are many variables that my less-than-scientific experiment didn't address: power level, transducer frequency, and the artificial environment, for example, could all affect the result. And it stands to reason that in certain situations with certain species, your fishfinder pings could even serve to attract fish rather than repelling them. But the bottom line is this: some fish can sense some fishfinders at least some of the time, and they may even avoid them, so you and I have to consider that a fishfinder may be a potential problem.

  1. Slamming Hatches

While I listened beneath the water's surface with a hydrophone, the loudest of all the potential fish-frightening sounds I heard was a slamming fishbox hatch. The noise created by fiberglass banging fiberglass is akin to a gunshot underwater, and it's certainly enough to scare every living creature within casting distance. Fortunately, this is a fairly easy item to fix. If your boat has a hatch or lid that slams, buy a roll of sticky-back foam rubber at your local marine supply store and make a gasket. Apply it to the offending contact points, and you'll turn that slam into a muted thump.

  1. Electrical Discharge

Some fish can detect even minute amounts of D.C. current, which is harmless to humans. In fact, some species are attracted to certain electrical fields and are repelled by others. There are even a few fishing-tackle manufacturers that have capitalized on this phenomenon by building items (such as the Pro-Troll and the Mako Magnet) intended to bring fish to your boat via electrical discharge. Unfortunately, there's very little reliable science on this subject, and different species of fish seem to react differently to electrical current. Many boats leak a stray electrical current into the surrounding waters, so for all you know, you could be chasing your potential catch right out from under your hull. True, you could just as easily be inadvertently attracting them, but unless you're the marina fishing star, it seems prudent to eliminate all electrical interference.

The safest bet is to test your boat to make sure it's electrically sound. Not only is this good for the fishing; it'll also ensure your running gear doesn't suffer from the corrosive effects of electrolysis. Hook the negative lead of a voltmeter (set to a DC scale of zero to 1 volt, or a scale with tenths of a volt) to the negative terminal of your battery; attach the positive lead to a bare wire. Turn off everything on the boat and lower the wire five or six feet down in the water. Now, turn on your boat's electrical items one at a time while you watch the meter. If it jumps by more than a tenth of a volt, you have a significant electrical leak — and a potential fish problem to deal with. Most of the time, such a leak is due to cruddy connections, bad grounds, and/or bad bonding associated with whatever electrical item causes the voltage change.

Of course, there are other things, aside from your boat, which will still freak fish out. Your own voice at a regular conversational level, for example, can be heard a good 15 to 20 feet below the waterline. Screech like a banshee when you miss a bite and you're going to send the fish scurrying. Even casting a shadow across the water will spook some fish, which live in fear of attack from above via osprey or eagle.

But at least now you know what to do to make your boat less of a fish deterrent — and with a little luck, the next time you hit the water, you'll come home with a full cooler.

 

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GETTING READY TO FLOAT THIS SPRING

Posted On: April 19, 2018

Every year we all say it — and we all mean it — this was a brutal winter.  

With a rainy spring following our frigid, snowy winter all the elements are present that could lead to sinking your boat.

Nothing ruins a planned day on the water like discovering your boat’s a submarine headed south.

Now that’s not fun for anyone. In an effort to prevent that from happening, here's our spring checklist.

Please, don't overlook even a teeny drip or leak, as a slight bit of wetness can turn into a problem that can be sink-capable if ignored long enough.

 

  •   Check every nook and cranny for water tightness; turn a hose on any spot that looks vulnerable.
  •   Inspect the hull for cracks, blisters, dings, and dents.
  •   Check and replace dried-out caulking around hatches and ports. 
  •   Ensure that thru-hull fittings are not corroded or cracked.
  •   Check engine coolant lines for proper fitting.
  •   Examine all shafts and readjust the stuffing box packing if necessary.
  •   Inspect the muffler and exhaust hose.
  •  Make sure that seacocks work properly and are not frozen open or shut.
  •  Clean debris from the scuppers.
  •   Be sure that the drain plug is properly installed.
  •   Confirm that the intake strainer is secure and corrosion-free.
  •   Replace all cracked or weak hoses for the head and air conditioning.
  •   Before you hook up to the dock’s fresh water system, ensure that fittings, clamps, and valves are tight and that the hose isn’t dried out.
  •   Check all thru-hull bolts, such as those securing the swim platform, speedometer, transducers, and struts.
  •   Check the out-drive unit of an inboard/outboard for damage or leaks.

Before you leave, check that all lines are intact and reinforce them as necessary. Hang out your fenders — you don’t want your boat banging into the dock during spring storms.

Finally, even if you don’t plan to start taking her out until Memorial Day or later, make it a regular practice your to visit your vessel and check the lines and look for signs of dampness.

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TIPS FOR GETTING MORE OUT OF YOUR SURVEY

Posted On: April 12, 2018

Tips To Get More From A Marine Survey

 

1. If buying a boat, don't rely on an old survey that may not give a current representation of the boat. Insurance underwriters will normally not accept a survey older than six months.

 2. Attend the survey and take the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about your new boat. Most surveyors are happy to talk about what they're finding and what needs to be done to correct any problems. Just don’t be a nuisance, after all, time is money.

3. Don't select a surveyor on price alone; find one that has experience on your type of boat and one with whom you feel comfortable.

4. Boats don't pass or fail a survey. The buyer determines if the boat is acceptable or not, and the insurance company will list what must be done in order to provide coverage.

5. Even a brand-new boat will almost certainly have some recommendations from the surveyor, though most of them should be addressable through the builder's warranty.

 6. Surveys include an approximate current fair-market value for use by lenders and insurance companies. This can serve as a price negotiation tool.

 7. A survey is a useful guide for planning upgrades and repairs and allows you to prioritize your budget.

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MARINE SURVEY BASICS

Posted On: April 10, 2018

The Basics

 Not all surveys are the same, but they generally begin by describing the boat overall. This part of the survey lists the year, make, model, hull identification number (HIN), and the basic specs of the boat, such as length, beam, and weight.

It should also explain the scope of the survey, which describes the limitations. For example, it may say that hard-to-access areas were not inspected, that electronics were only powered up and not tested, or that engines were not part of the survey. From there, the survey goes into meatier stuff. It will document the condition of structural components, such as hull and deck, running gear, bulkheads, and engine beds. Things like the fuel, plumbing, and electrical systems are inspected and discussed with respect to relevant standards; living spaces are inspected; and safety items are noted, such as the existence — or the lack — of carbon-monoxide alarms and fire extinguishers.

A good survey is more than just an inventory of the boat's equipment. The surveyor will comment on each section of the inspected boat. Finally, near the end of the survey are the recommendations, arguably the most important part.

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IT PAYS TO KNOW YOUR MECHANIC

Posted On: April 05, 2018


Sometimes it pays to meet the person you want to work on your boat.

Are they experienced? Do they cut corners? 

Don't let money be the only factor in guiding your choices.

Maybe You don’t need a valve job.

Sometimes not knowing who you are dealing with, can cost you. Usually, cheap is cheap for a reason.

Cheap mechanics aren’t always the bargain they appear to be. I had a customer who began to experience numerous, serious backfires not long after an oil change by a low-cost mobile mechanic. The same” bargain” mechanic then diagnosed “a valve problem” and quickly said it outside his skill set. We discovered the oil reservoir had been overfilled by about two quarts and was floating the lifters. A less than reputable guy would have taken it apart, found nothing, sent the cylinder heads out to be reworked, maybe even install a new set of lifters in it and handed the customer a $1,500 repair bill. He would probably think he had somehow fixed the problem, because he would have had to change the oil in the process.

 Poor performance does not automatically mean you need a tune-up or a new prop.

There are many overlooked contributors to poor performance. I look for simple answers first, like water in the bilge. Undiscovered water can seriously sap a boat’s ability to get onto plane or reach top speed. Another culprit can be bottom growth. An incorrect prop can seriously hinder a boat’s performance.  But many shops incorrectly diagnose a prop change when in reality the boat had grown heavier from the water, and bottom growth. Also the amount of equipment being stored on board can contribute. Multiple tune-ups are often thrown at engines that are simply tired and in need of a reconditioning

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CONSIDER A COMPRESSION CHECK

Posted On: April 03, 2018

A compression check can tell a lot about the health of your outboard engine

A compression check can indicate that the piston rings are working properly and that the cylinders are in good condition. The test measures how much pressure is built up by the motion of the piston inside the cylinder, given in pounds per square inch (PSI)

A compression test is simple, but the many different types of outboards can add many complexities.  Your engine may require different tests depending on factors such as whether it's a two- or four-stroke, has fuel injection, has computers onboard, is hand cranked or has a starter motor, and how its ignition can be disabled. Because of this, unless you are very mechanically inclined, let a trained professional check it.

If your test reveals low or erratic readings, you may need to check the engine cylinder head(s) to inspect the piston/cylinder condition. Again, I suggest you might want to defer to your mechanic, if you haven't already.

If your engine produces healthy, even readings, record this information for future reference as a baseline.

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