At the Dock
Maintaining an outboard engine can obviously be crucial to performance. Change the spark plugs, oil and water/fuel separator at recommended intervals. Mitchell says he also uses Yamaha's Ring Free product to clean out the carbon and optimize performance.
"Change your fuel filters regularly; I change mine every 50 hours," says Capt. Chad Breland, a southern Louisiana guide and member of Team Honda Marine (504-329-3022). "If a boat sits up and you use it once a month or so, I'd even change it every 30 hours. Fuel can gel up on you."
Breland also recommends filling your boat with fuel after using it and before it sits on the trailer for several weeks. Filling the fuel tank keeps condensation from gathering - a very important factor for boaters in the humid South.
Prop your boat properly: Consult your engine manufacturer's specs to find the optimum prop diameter and pitch, which will allow you to attain the maximum rpm rating for your engine. However, if you're dissatisfied with fuel consumption or performance, your dealer can often provide loaner props to try. Remember, going up in pitch lowers the overall rpm level you'll be able to reach.
Routinely check your prop for dings and chips. A damaged prop can rob your fuel economy.
Engine height on the transom can also affect performance. "You want the engine mounted so it's deep enough that it won't cavitate, but at the same time, it should not be so deep that you're plunging the lower unit down too far and creating drag," says Yamaha's Meeler.
Once you've dealt with engine maintenance and positioning, take a look at your boat itself. "We're all pack rats by nature whether we admit it or not," says David Greenwood, Suzuki's product planning manager. "Things get tucked away in a boat, and we're unaware what's in there."
Inventory your boat and remove unused items to reduce weight. After you launch, adjust the load of tackle, gear and people so that the weight distributes as evenly as possible forward and aft, port and starboard.
When fishing inshore, Louisiana guide Breland makes a point to go easy on the throttle while accelerating and finds a comfortable cruising speed well below wide-open throttle. Once he finds the right speed, he leaves the throttle alone: "It's like cruise control on a vehicle," he says.
He also slows down in general and looks for closer-to-home spots he hasn't tried, spots that might have seemed a little silly prior to the current fuel woes. Breland also prospects more with his trolling motor and uses it to move between locations.
Offshore guides like Mitchell focus on planning and using fuel-saving techniques such as drifting with sea anchors and kite fishing to catch species commonly trolled for, such as kingfish, wahoo and even dolphin. "I keep a log that my dad started 40 years ago," he says. "I target species when they're available and create a spread accordingly."
When Mitchell trolls, he usually turns off the two outside motors and runs the center motor. For anglers with twins, he recommends varying the engines. When the wind comes from the port side, use the starboard engine and vice versa.
Working with or against the current, he can create unique trolling patterns, though of course, trolling or running down-sea eases stress on the engine and reduces fuel consumption. If possible, use the seas to assist you. However, often it's not advantageous fuel-wise to run a zigzag course just to take advantage of a long down-sea leg.
"The rougher the water, the lower the fuel economy; the engine has to work harder to propel the boat along the surface," Meeler says. "When you're in rough seas, throttling up and down is like stop-and-go traffic in your car. Really, my advice would be to try it both ways (down-sea and up-sea) and watch the fuel gauge."
At the end of the day, the bottom line for anglers is enjoyment on the water. And while increasing fuel prices affect that fun factor, making the best of the day comes down to knowledge and planning.
"It's like a deck of cards," says Mitchell. "Look at what you're dealt - the weather and what species are biting. Tailor your techniques to the best available fish, and look at secondary species ? Let your electronics save you some fuel ? Plan your fish day in advance: The Internet is a super fish-catching, fuel-saving tool. Couple that with your plotter's at-home PC tools, and you've got a good place to start."