Get Yourself Prepared For the Fishing Season

By Captain Ralph Wilkins:

Spring has arrived, although weather patterns are still not what we are looking for. As a licensed USCG Captain and owner of a commercially used 31 BHm for almost 30 years, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss our vessel’s seaworthiness.

While I am NOT a marine surveyor or a structural professional, I do service and maintain my own vessel and have done so since I became a serious fisherman years ago. Therefore, I am still alive today to type these articles. We all know that every day we untie the dock lines there’s that possibility we won’t be coming home. It’s just a fact of life for a fisherman and their families. I have had my share of mishaps at sea, and I always believed learning from someone else’s experiences is way easier than learning the hard way, which is on your own. It was during a night of pitch black darkness, rough seas and nasty rain… a recipe for disaster.

Let’s be simple about this. When the boat is out of the water on blocks, this is a great time to walk the hull. I mean, get up and personal with your baby! Th is prospective only comes while she is up on blocks. Typically, I start by looking for stress cracks and signs that the hull has been hit, twisted or flexed in an unconventional manner. This can compromise the strength of the original design especially the bow. I had ignored them once on my 25-footer and almost lost the boat on the way to Jeffrey’s Ledge one morning when the hull opened up where the previous seen stressing occurred. If you see something like this, have a professional take a look. Doing a cosmetic repair like I did that year may not be enough to save you and your boat. In my case, that year we eventually had to remove the inner cabin fiberglass liner to get to the cause of the stressing in the bow to properly repair the hull.

Your running gear is also completely exposed now for inspection. The props, shafts, bushings, rudder and out-drives are all easy to inspect. Once again, if you do this each year, your eyes will spot anything out of the ordinary. If there is any question to what you see, now’s the time to get a professional to take a look. Zincs protect the various metals on our boats and if needed, now is the time to replace them. Many will not be seen again until the winter haul-out, so I make sure to start with all new zincs each spring. Sometimes zincs are all gone in the fall, which means they have been working for you all summer. That’s a good thing!

If your zincs are as good as new, then there may be an issue with the boat’s bonding and protection. The conflict in metals can cost you a fortune in the future. Trace the zincs to make sure their wires haven’t broken or oxidized, which can happen occasionally.

Lastly, I thoroughly inspect my entire through hull fittings. Check for cracks and electrolysis. Last year a boat sank at the dock due to bad through hull fittings. If you had difficulty last year opening or closing the valves, now’s the time to replace them. In an emergency situation where water is coming into your boat from an undetermined area, you will want to be able to close those easily. If they are difficult to tighten, it will just add more stress to you during the emergency. I had experienced a similar crisis one evening off shore when the power-blaster deck hose pump blew and pumped my hull full of water. The pump continued to try to make operating pressure because that is how it was designed. Trust me, it’s not fun waking up with the high water alarm screaming. Make sure your boat also has a working high water alarm, ample pumps and backup pumps with a visible signal.

After a long winter on the boat and fishing show circuit, I understand that it’s hard to not consider an upgrade in one or more electronics on our boats. While all the latest products have increased in money, the manufacturers are offering many additional features in a lot of their base line products. Spring is a great time to get those new transducers in and antennas up to avoid the expense of a quick haul-out later in the season when your 15-year-old fish finder dies. Lucky for me, my new machine used the same Furuno transducer so a midsummer haul-out wasn’t necessary last season.

For me, it’s also tackle time. I take inventory and trash old, rusty hooks and swivels that may come back and haunt me. Don’t let your tackle standards slip and allow stuff on your rod because skimping on a few bucks there could cost you thousands in a lost tuna. After you toss out the bad tackle, make a list of what you need. Another critical part of spring set up is to scale the drags on all your reels. These change as the washers wear down and the humidity gets to them. Don’t be lazy! I already have a box of new style jigs for my boat. I can’t emphasize the importance of trying different things enough when you are not catching anything, but others are. With a creative mind, you can start the bite off of any ledge!

I am anxious to start fishing as I bet many of you are! As we launch our boats and start getting tight, please send your pictures and reports to Captain Ralph at so we can all share in what we all hope for is a fi shy spring, summer and fall!

Lastly, thanks to George and Fred at Coastal Angler for a successful winter show tour, that wrapped up in Providence, R.I., last month. I met thousands of fans and it was a pleasure for us on Team Odysea. We hope to see everyone next winter!

For all my Wicked Tuna fans, shout out for more Captain Ralph and the ODYSEA!

Be safe and be happy!

CAPTAIN RALPH’S CREW REPORTS:  Congratulations to Matt Grabsky for braving the weather and bending his rod after a cold, long winter in Upstate New York. My Chevy Silverado Salesman called in on the opening day of trout season, and he had already hooked three trout in the first hour and a half. These browns were caught in the rapids in a nice pool by bouncing salted minnows off the bottom.

 Ralph Wilkins is a contributing editor for Coastal Angler Magazine. Wilkins is  captain of the Odysea and popular cast member of National Geographic  Channel’s hit television show Wicked Tuna. Email Captain Ralph at, visit his website at,  and be sure to like “Captain Ralph Wilkins” on Facebook.