Northeast Fishing - Wintertime is tackle tinkering time

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Use your downtime now to get your tackle ready for another busy season of fishing

For boaters without a safety-valve trip to warmer climes, these are trying days. Pro football has just about run its course, leaving one to ponder the calendar and note that fishing season is still a couple of months distant. With time on your hands, now might be a good time to address the tackle that so many stow out of the way, often unchecked until spring.

When your phone rings in mid-May and a friend excitedly informs you the stripers have arrived … that is not the hour to overhaul your fishing gear. If you do the job now, not only will you be prepared, you’ll provide yourself some winter projects to boot. For instance, how about taking all reels down to the local tackle shop? Many are closed but the larger ones remain open with limited hours on weekdays and weekends. Have all them checked for wear, leaving orders to have them cleaned and any worn parts replaced. Make sure all drags are working; have new washers or spacers installed if needed.

Check that bundle of rods leaning against the cellar wall. Are any guides mashed after your brother-in-law stepped on them on the last blackfish trip? Are grips worn from much use? Both can be replaced and the shop has ample time to do a super job, not taking the chance of missing something during the spring crunch when procrastinators hurry in, all wanting their tackle fixed yesterday.

The visit to the shop can also be used to ask questions; the owner has a lot more time on his hands than during a busy summer Saturday. You might, for instance, find out about an upcoming local seminar. Such events might charge a nominal fee to enter, but just one Loran or GPS number or one tip is worth the price of admission. You might also hear about a much larger sport or boating show held at a civic center in a nearby city. These events draw thousands, but an afternoon weekday visit might get you in and out before the aisles are packed to capacity. Such shows are often havens for bargain hunters looking for best deals on major tackle, terminal gear or new line for the reels just dropped for repair.

The shop itself might have winter specials on components that may provide more winter pastimes. For instance, if you like to troll umbrella rigs for stripers and blues, why not buy the bare frames and add lures, spinners or other extras that make these lures so productive? The shop owner will also be in a position to show you how to best rig up, saving you not only time but trial and error.

Plastic baits are ever so popular so why not, if the budget allows, buy a seasons’ worth of heads and bodies, be they shads, wigglers or the latest hot gizmo? You can put them all together if front of the TV some frigid night, northeast wind shaking the barren trees, snow due after midnight. It’s a worthwhile fishing job that will save time during the season. How many days have people run out of a certain lure when fishing is hot, only to find the store shelves cleaned out of the color and size they crave?

If you like to use diamond jigs for bass during the spring migration, are all yours up to snuff? Now might be the hour to buy enough for a season, maybe on sale since 4- to 8-ounce jigs are not in demand for ice fishing for yellow perch? How about a box of hooks to replace those worn or bent — not only for winter replacement but to have them on the boat if blue fishing is hot during the summer? A Saturday trip with a trio of newcomers in August can go through a lot of hooks and lures when the choppers are 20 feet thick on your fishfinder.

Like to drift for fluke or anchor down on some blackfish lump? Both require the right — but different — rigs. You can buy the parts and assemble your own or buy pre-packed rigs right off the store peg, all taken care off now, stored away, ready for that busy summer day when, as captain of an expectant crew, you have a thousand details to take care off before departure.

Man does not live by fishing tackle alone. Heck, he or she requires accessories to the tackle and the experience it provides. Is your drink cooler under the leaning post a little worse for wear? Could it use new hinges? Both can either be bought or ordered now, repaired in time for spring. How about a plotter to make sure you make the same drift over and over, or maybe a new fishfinder with higher output, maybe dual transducers, to help you see that small speck of a blackfish lump? Get them now, along with tackle, and include the installation during March or April make ready. And, remember that fishing or boating show; those places are ideal to look for best prices.

If you have a birthday coming up during the cold months, a tackle shop visit could provide make and model numbers for mom and the kids. The same could be said of you, looking for tackle to introduce your kids to the sport, or maybe to send a reel to that prospective client who enjoyed the trip you treated him to, but has yet to sign on the dotted line.

Barring inheriting a waterfront house in the out islands or a winning Lotto ticket, your state in life will be to absorb another couple months of winter boredom, the boat under wraps, your life as a fisherman on hold until finally, mercifully, the weatherman announces the end of the snow and first rays of hope. In the meantime, keep yourself busy with tackle projects. You’ll preserve your mental equilibrium and be ready when life starts anew.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.