If the pandemic has driven you outside and into the floating realm we call boat ownership, congratulations. If that same pursuit also put a fishing rod in your hands, all the better.
Yet, now that the weather has grown colder, many new boating anglers might fret that the fun has ended. Not necessarily.
Of course, the farther north you live, the less likely you can maintain some on-water presence during winter. But if the winter weather remains mostly mild where you live, here are some tips from our seasoned boating and fishing staff members that will keep you on the water longer.
1. Protect Your Feet
Wear deck boots. Nothing is more miserable than wet feet in cold weather. Deck boots keep your feet as dry as possible should the boat take spray or you need to wash down the deck. Most deck boots for fishing don’t feature insulation, so consider foot warmers between your socks and the insoles.
2. Master the Layers
The saying goes: There’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes. To keep warm and dry, layers can include a thermal base layer, wool socks, a hoodie or beanie, winter buff, gloves and an insulated jacket and pants, as well as foul-weather gear bibs. Chemical hand warmers placed in your pockets can also keep your hands warm or re-warm your hands after you handle a fish or bait.
It’s also a good idea to carry spare warm clothing with you in case you get wet or in case a friend needs a warmer coat.
3. Ice, Ice
When it dips below freezing, dew from the prior evening hours can freeze on the deck, gunwale tops and railings, as well as on docks. Remember to check for ice; it can result in a nasty spill or even a man-overboard situation.
4. Weather Wizard
Become a weather junkie by following your local weather forecasts on TV and online. Keep the National Weather Service zone forecasts bookmarked on your browser, and check out apps like FishWeather and Buoyweather.
Good-weather days occur less frequently in winter, so watch the forecasts and be ready to go when conditions allow.
Read Next: Gale-Force Fishing — Trolling in Rough Seas
5. Enclose Your Helm
If you don’t already have top-to-console windscreens or a clear-vinyl enclosure, consider your options for better protecting your helm from spray and wind. A canvas fabricator can build a vinyl enclosure for a center console as long as it has a canvas T-top or hardtop.
6. Turn Up the Heat
Speaking of keeping the helm warm, many of today’s center-console boats come with air-conditioning systems with vents at the helm and elsewhere. We tend to think of these in terms of just cooling, but they can also serve as heaters to warm up the crew. That’s a great benefit on chilly days.
7. Oil Swap
Some engine manufacturers recommend using a lower-viscosity engine oil during colder weather for optimum lubrication. The owner’s manual for a Suzuki DF200AP outboard, for example, recommends shifting to a 5W-30 grade engine oil when air temperatures drop to 41 degrees F or below, versus 10W-40 grade oil for warmer weather. Boating anglers should check the recommendations in their owner’s manual to be sure.
8. Fish Deep and Slow
Many species migrate through different areas during winter, including sailfish and wahoo offshore. In shallower waters, trout and redfish (those that don’t head offshore) lay up in deep holes that contain warmer water. On sunny days, they look for shallow flats over dark mud bottoms that warm quickly.
Speak to your local tackle shop owner to learn the techniques for catching what’s prevalent in your area. For inshore fishing, the basic rule of thumb on most days is to fish deeper and slower. Fish don’t move as much when the water chills, so don’t make them work too hard to chase a lure.
9. Warm Liquids
Skip the alcohol until you’re safely back at the marina. Bring warm liquids and soups in insulated bottles to help keep you hydrated but toasty.
10. Serious about Safety
Even in Florida, the water gets cold during the winter, and you don’t want to spend any time in it. So get serious about safety. Wear your life jacket and strap a personal locater beacon to it. If you’re heading offshore, invest in an automatic EPIRB and mount it properly. Check all of your required safety gear and fire extinguishers to make sure they’re current and working.
Maintain your outboards and invest in a Sea Tow membership. With fewer buddies on the water during winter you won’t have many options for assistance.
Make sure your mounted VHF radio is hooked up correctly so that you can use its digital selective calling feature in an emergency, and register your radio’s MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Having a VHF radio on board gives you direct access to emergency marine-based personnel. Don’t rely on just a cellphone.
And finally, tell someone where you plan to go and when they should expect you back.