With a break away from winter conditions approaching, fishing is definitely going to undergo some changes. With the warmer temperatures come normal migratory changes of fish and crustaceans. Some prefer colder water, while others prefer warmer water.
For example, the sheepshead fishing that I mentioned a few articles ago should start thinning out. Our wonderful local Georgia shrimp should be spawning soon if they haven’t already, depending on the weather. With the spawning of shrimp and warmer temperatures, local favorites like sea trout and red fish will become more plentiful inshore.
One migratory species that starts entering our area during this time is a popular pelagic fish called king mackerel or king fish. You can catch this fish with trolling techniques while fishing offshore and sometimes near shore.
And, since we’re talking about going offshore, I’d like to discuss boat safety with you and share a couple of experiences I’ve had recently. I will focus on crew safety in a future column.
First, let me share a few things that I call “Safety for the Captain and Boat.” A couple of years ago, I had a great boating experience that included some bad luck. On the way back from the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, in a 25-foot boat, we broke down in the middle of the ocean with 30 miles to land in either direction. The details aren’t terribly necessary. What is important is preparation, which I’ll get into in a moment. A month later on a different boat, I had another bad situation, to put lightly. Eighteen miles offshore near Savannah, I discovered my batteries had a short and neither of them had enough energy to get my engine started. I was stranded – again. But, thankfully, I’d made proper preparation, so staying calm prevailed. Lesson 1, for me, in boat safety – both as owner and (non-licensed) captain of my boat – is to research where you’re going before you go, including route, tides, weather, shallow areas, docking, range and any other things you think are important for the specific trip, as not every trip is the same. Learn from others. I personally know we have a small boat, by oceans standards, with a single engine. With this knowledge, whenever we’re going offshore on such a long journey, such as to the Bahamas, we agree to set up a buddy boat system with everyone involved. Then if someone gets into a bind, we know someone will be there to help.
In my case, we’d made an agreement with the trusted crew of another boat that we would not leave one another if there were any issues. Therefore, when our boat broke down 30 miles offshore, we weren’t alone and did not have to wait hours for rescue, while drifting away in the current.
For long trips offshore, it’s well worth setting up a buddy system like this – even more so if you’re going out in a single engine.
Lesson 2, for me, includes three important parts: proper maintenance of your boat, proper battery management and a back-up plan.
For example, I have an old two-stroke engine that I’ve pre-mixed fuel and oil for. Some of you know that’s basically like a tugboat on the back of the boat. I know my old two-stroke like a glove and I seldom turn off my engine when offshore. Sometimes, when bottom fishing and the wind kicks up from the aft, we’ll start breathing fumes, which is not good, so I’ll turn off the engine.
My boat has two batteries. For my long 18-mile trek offshore, I had both batteries on for charging. Somehow on the way out, both of them went bad, possibly a short. They were on the older side, but still on the last leg of warranty.
I should have checked to be sure both batteries were fully charged before leaving. However, I’d just used the boat the weekend prior and didn’t have time, which was why I went out with both batteries on. Once we got out, I could have gone to one battery for most of my fishing, which would normally not be a big deal since older engines have a stator as an alternator and high reliability for charging the battery system.
I shouldn’t have turned the engine off, but luckily, I’d noticed a couple of boats in the area. (And I wouldn’t have turned it off, had I seen that I was alone.) Before going out in my boat, I always ensure that I have a proper functioning radio. The charge on the battery was so low that it could not reach shore, so I had to radio to other boaters to help relay a signal to the Coast Guard and Sea Tow.
Yes, I have an annual Sea Tow membership and it is well worth the money. I’ve gone many years without using it, but with just one usage every three to six years, it pays for itself and the payments are spread out.
The third and last lesson I’ll share with you is the sense of security that having some kind of emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) will give you. Of course, it should be waterproof. A simple google search will show the many varieties available.
Yes, these items may seem a little pricey, but if you frequently fish offshore, venture far offshore or ever have to battle certain conditions while fishing during a tournament, I’m sorry, but it’s a must.
Within the past two years, I’ve seen reports of boaters being lost at sea from Florida and Georgia. Whether we’re young, old, experienced or a novice, the ocean can claim any of us, so let’s increase our chances of being found.
I’m big on seeking out value, so I chose the Garmin In-Reach EPIRB, which does poll tracking. I can program tiny increments from which to send a beacon signal of my last known position to satellites, which greatly narrows the focus for any search party, should I ever need one. One time, during a tournament this past year, we battled with small craft advisory conditions. We did the smart thing and learned our limitations, but it still feels much better knowing I’m being tracked by loved ones.
Every boat owner must also become a hobbyist weather man. You’re going to need to know what you, your boat and your crew can handle in a variety of seas. There’s no harm in throwing in the towel if you think it’s going to be too rough out there – that is, if you want to live to fish another day. Remember, the ocean and weather don’t care how much you or your guests are yearning to take a boat ride in the fresh salty air or get a fish on the end of your line – and you’re responsible for all the lives on board.
Hector can be contacted at [email protected] or at everydayboater.com.