How do the pros spend the winter “off season” between tournament seasons? The answer is staying busy preparing for the next season. Boats are ordered, rigged with accessories and decked out with all the latest tricks of the trade. Christmas comes nearly every day. Shipments of the newest tackle arrive and must be unboxed, organized and prepped for duty.
Getting ready for the next year is a fulltime job.
“I have very little time for tending to the details during the season, so winter is when I take care of those chores,” explains Josh Bertrand, a Major League Fishing pro contender from Arizona. “I call it spring cleaning during winter.”
More on how Bertrand cleans house, or his boat, is to come. What might seem mundane chores to the average angler is of the utmost priority to the pros, whose gear must function flawlessly through extreme weather and frequent use for months at the time.
“We take our preparation to another level because of the time we put on equipment,” adds Brian Snowden, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Missouri. “But it’s time well spent and the average angler can also benefit from following our same routine.”
Take Snowden’s advice. Whether you’re a Pro or Average Joe, the goal is the same—catch fish. Do just that this season by following some of these inside tricks of the trade from NITRO pros Bertrand, Snowden and Ott DeFoe. Like them, you’ll be ready when it comes time to compete or just fish for fun.
“For me winter is about tending to the details that I don’t have time for during the tournament season,” Bertrand says.
Here are the Arizona pro’s top tips for getting gear ready for the spring.
Out with the old, in with the new
“I go through all my tackle and look for anything that’s not in perfect condition. A cracked lip on a crankbait, a twisted spinnerbait arm, dull treble hooks. If it can be repaired I do it. If I haven’t used it for a long time, it comes out of the box. That leaves more storage space for new tackle or more room to keep things better organized.”
Rid the rust
“Being from Arizona, I never had to deal with rusty lures until I started fishing back East. We joke out here that you can use the same topwater for 20 years without it rusting. Fishing in the rain, and especially the high humidity, takes a toll on metal lure components. I decommission rusty baits or replace the hooks and reload all my baits in new Bass Pro Shops Storage Boxes. All it takes is one bad egg with rusty hooks, or a rusty box, to ruin everything.”
Get spooled up
“Before the season, I like to spool my reels that use braided line. Braid is so durable that it lasts longer and doesn’t need replacing during the season. Doing that now is a real time saver. On the other hand, fluorocarbon and monofilament lines will need to be replaced.”
Inside tip: For spinning reels, he spools Berkley X9 Braided Line Lo Vis Green for casting swimbaits and spy baits. “You get extra distance and the low vis green is difficult for the fish to see in clear water,” says Bertrand. He also labels line test on a piece of masking tape attached to the bottom of the reel seat for easier identification.
Check the fuses
“No matter what type of boat you have, the accessories will have fused connections. The first thing you check when something stops working is the fuse. I check all my fused accessories like fishfinders for fuse sizes, and stock extras in the boat.“
“If you take time to prepare tackle in winter, it makes your time on the water more enjoyable and less stressful,” Brian says. “You don’t waste time switching hooks or at the lakeside bait shop searching for a hard-to-find lure that you left at home.”
Your boat needs preventative maintenance before the season begins, and so does the tackle that goes inside. Here are Snowden’s top tips.
“Grime and sunscreen can accumulate on reel cases during the season. Spray them lightly with WD-40 and wipe clean with a microfiber cloth. Then, follow the instructions inside the user’s manual for parts needing lubrication. Apply reel oil and grease according to directions and then reassemble. Reels are expensive and need maintaining, just like any moving part on your boat.”
Save money by spool backing
“Get more out of a spool of line, and save money, by spooling a monofilament backing on the spool. Fill it to a quarter to halfway full and then finish spooling with the braid or fluorocarbon line. It’s easy to connect two lines of different diameters, like monofilament and braid, by tying an Albright Knot. When the job is finished you have a fully spooled reel that is ready for use.”
File it away
“For every tournament site, I create a file folder to store important information about the lake. I just keep adding to the folder as I accumulate information. That could be anything from locations of campgrounds and boat ramps to my hotel reservations or special instructions from the tournament organizer. It’s all there so I know where to find it. If we revisit the same location, then I already have background information.”
“I check the 10-day forecast when it becomes available and make sure I have the right clothes for the week. It can always change, but at least I have a good idea of what to pack. Through at least May I also pack a change of clothes inside a two-gallon freezer storage bag and keep it in the boat, just in case I fall overboard. Hypothermia is dangerous and can be deadly if you do not react soon enough.”
“Keeping tackle organized in tackle boxes and in the rod storage compartments is one thing, but I also like to keep things easy to locate in my garage,” says Ott DeFoe, a Major League Fishing pro from east Tennessee.
DeFoe’s home base is a massive man cave where his boats are stored. Surrounding the walls are modular storage shelves filled with plastic storage bins of lures, line and every tool of the trade. Here’s how he gets ready for the season.
Keep it organized
“I store all my soft plastics in clear, see-through bins so I can identify what’s inside. I stack those on shelves and label each box with the contents. I do the same thing for the hardbaits, separating those by specific categories like jerkbaits and crankbaits. What that allows me to do is pull the inventory that I need for a given tournament and leave the rest at home. Keeping organized like that takes less time to find what I’m looking for, and I’m less likely to forget something.”
Label the line
“Before the season starts, I order line and when it comes in I label each box with the year. That way I’ll use older spools first so I don’t get them mixed up with the newer spools. Fresh line is important, and this process ensures I spool the freshest line without wasting older spools.”
Check the guides
“Like the other guys, I take apart all my reels, clean them and apply lubricant as recommended by the manufacturer. But what else I do is eyeball every rod, looking for nicked guides. Just one little nick can cut the line. I also inspect reel handles and rod seats. Rods sometimes get neglected and you never known when you might have accidentally stepped on one that’s up on the front deck. Go over everything from tip to butt and replace whatever needs it.”
All the above are part of the rites of Spring when tackle gets inspected, repaired and readied for the season ahead. Just like updating a spring wardrobe, you can do the same at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s stores, or online at basspro.com.