Do you need a jolt to stir you from your winter doldrums?
Here’s a good way to startle yourself into spring.
Open your tackle box!
It doesn’t seem to matter how carefully I cleaned and stored my tackle last fall, nasty little gremlins work all winter to mess it up.
At the very least, opening a tackle box to perfect gear will inspire fishing plans, but if you’re like me you’ll find issues to resolve in the weeks before you can start.
One of the greatest unresolved issues in my fishing life is tangles. I use a wide variety of gear and tend to overstuff my boxes. Because individual containers consume so much space, I tend to drop the gear loose into bins within the tackle boxes. The simple act of tilting a box can result in snarls of bare hooks, lures and jigs.
Salmon trolling lures with leaders are a special problem. I’ve tried the plastic boxes with foam cards around which you wrap the leaders, but they don’t hold enough compared to their size. At only a dozen or two leaders per box, it would take half a dozen boxes to organize my leaders.
I’ve resorted to zippered plastic food bags for the leaders I can’t get in a couple of those storage boxes, but of course the bags turn into a scramble even if the leaders don’t snarl.
Another issue is weight. Do you really need to carry every ounce of lead you own when walk out the door? A good array of jigs and weights, along with backups, can add up to serious poundage.
This year I’ve resolved to do the same thing for shore fishing I do in my boat. I leave all the spares in the boat even as a smaller selection rides in the tackle box. I’m going to prepare a set of spares to leave in my truck while carrying only a few in the box I carry on walks. If I run out while fishing I can replenish with a quick walk to the truck, but in the meantime I won’t feel inspired to put wheels on my tackle box.
But in my experience those are problems of neatness and ease of use, and there are more important issue in spring tackle boxes: rust and corrosion.
You can rest assured that any reactive metal, whether brass or steel, will corrode or rust in winter if the tiniest vestige of salt remains from the previous fishing season. Even stainless steel will rust with prolonged exposure.
The simple act of opening your tackle box now will measure the precautions you took before closing it last fall.
What? You don’t see any rust on your hooks? Look closer.
Plated hooks are especially prone to rust, in spite of their protective coating. If that sounds contradictory, look even closer.
At the end of the wire up at the eye, there is generally no coating. There’s also a break in the coating at most barbs. And if you’ve sharpened or worn the point, the coating will be broken there.
See any little tiny rust spots in such places?
Dump the hook!
You’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. That visible rust can extend under the plating, and it doesn’t take much at all to weaken the hook. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had hooks break in those spots due to invisible rust.
I’ve just about given up on plated hooks, especially for jigs. I replace them with stainless steel. Sure, they still rust without a freshwater rinse, but it’s surface rust I can see and deal with.
Hooks on spinners and spoons in freshwater are susceptible to rust, too, and should be replaced at the first discoloration. You can buy open-eyed or “Siwash” hooks and clamp them directly to the shaft of spinners, but I prefer to add a split ring such as those used on most spoons. Just cut the hook eye to free it from the spinner shaft, then add the new hook with a split ring.
You’re in for an especially nasty surprise if you didn’t thoroughly wash and dry your flies before storage last year, even if you never took them near the ocean. The materials used to make the fly hold moisture right against the hook, as does the foam in fly boxes.
It’s too late to do anything but replace the flies if you didn’t take precautions last fall, whether hooks themselves are beyond use or the stain of rust has discolored your flies. Make a note to yourself and change your ways next fall.
I remove all the flies from all my fly boxes in the fall and dump them into a colander. These get a thorough washing in the kitchen sink, then I spread them on newspapers to dry overnight while I leave the fly boxes standing open to dry.
My fly boxes are in better shape each spring after that simple precaution and the fact that I reorganize the flies when I return them to their boxes.
Corrosion is an issue on non-ferrous metals such as spinner blades, spoons and trolling flashers. In my experience, they all fish better when you remove the corrosion.
If you leave the corrosion for a season, it will eventually eat away enough metal to prevent you restoring it to the original bright condition.
I use a variety of products to clean corrosion, but I don’t use abrasives like sandpaper or steel wool. Those damage the metal and rob the luster.
Spinners like Vibrax and Mepps have thin plating that is easily damaged. The best idea is to rinse the salt off them each fall, because once they are corroded it’s easy to remove the plating along with the corrosion.
One of the best household products for removing corrosion from those lures is old-fashioned toothpaste. Its abrasive is mild enough to not remove the plating, making it harder to go too far and remove too much. I’ve tried both vinegar and ammonia on the corrosion, but they’re very effective at removing the plating, too.
A commercial brass polisher like Flitz is even better, especially on brightly polished brass or silver trolling flashers and spoons. It works so well that I keep a small bottle in my boat for a quick polish of gear before each use. That kind of housekeeping may seem like one detail too many on a busy fishing day, but try it anyway. In my experience, the brightest lures and flashers almost always out-fish those that are a little duller.
Issues left over from last year don’t stop at the tackle box.
Have a look at the line on all your reels.
Odds are good that the first 50 feet or so are worn and weathered, if not also frayed. Even if they look perfect, if you stored the rods in direct sunlight the outer layers of monofilament on the reel are almost certainly damaged by ultraviolet light.
Even most braided line is suspect. If yours is faded or frayed at all, you can count on it to fail sometime this summer.
As a matter of course, I strip and discard the first 20 to 50 feet of braided line from all my reels each year. And I completely replace all monofilament. It’s a simple precaution and cheap, compared to all the other expenses of fishing.
You might have to wait a few more weeks before you start fishing, but tackle work today can make that first day go a lot smoother.
After waiting so long to fish, it would be a shame to lose your first to a dull or broken hook, much less to losing the tackle along with a big fish if your line fails.
There’s one more tackle factor to consider as you prepare for spring fishing. When you go into your favorite store to replace hooks and line, brace yourself for all the new tackle appearing on the shelves.
If you can walk back out the door without a selection of the new models and colors available today, you have a lot more willpower than I do!