Truck to The Fishing Hole and Back
Some fishing gets better and better the later and later fall goes on. I'm not talking about the trips where you might pack an extra sweater or rain suit in the weeks after Labour Day. To me, late fall means trailering your boat on roads that may be snow-covered or icy, really cold weather and sometimes, really rough water. The leaves are long gone. Launch ramps are often frozen. The docks are up on shore. Fishing aside, there are going to be days where simply launching or loading your boat presents the biggest challenge. And once you get out there, minor equipment details and extras really take on extra importance.
Trailering anything means paying extra attention, no matter what the season. Freezing rain, sleet or snow really impacts a vehicle's safe stopping and cornering distance, especially with a few thousand pounds swinging from the rear bumper. Good tires on your tow vehicle, well-maintained trailer lights and tires make a huge difference. On your way home, if possible, pull into a manual carwash station and really clean your rig before letting it sit between trips. Sand and salt are tough on electrical components, paint finishes and exposed metal. It will cost you no more than $5 to completely hose everything down. It's a good habit to get into. You won't need a torch to loosen off the bolts for your spare tire next season. Make sure there's no water inside any of your boat's compartments, hull or livewells, too. Freezing water pops rivets, warps wood, damages carpet and will wreck bilge pumps and other components. I have a buddy who drops small cups of antifreeze into the bilge area and livewells of his boat between trips. Pull your drain plugs, and make sure everything's flushed and drained. Four stroke outboards must be fully drained immediately after use this time of year to avoid major damage.
Prior to freeze-up, lots of launch sites have their floating docks removed. In the summer, this obviously isn't a problem, just slip off the shoes and get in there. Not a good idea when the water's thirty eight degrees, and you'll be out all day with wet pant legs or socks. The grade of every ramp is different. Some of them get deep fast and you can drop the boat off the trailer close to shore, while others have to be backed down a longer way. A long bow line and a decent set of hip waders are two great things to have. Where I think I'll need them, I normally jump into the hip waders while my partner is removing the straps from the boat. It takes two seconds, and you'll stay dry messing around a launch ramp where there are no docks to work with. You'll see waders in Classified Ads periodically, and a new set will cost you less than two tanks of gas for the truck. They're actually really handy to have. Work as a team to get the boat off the trailer, with one guy holding the bow line in the water or on the trailer tongue and the other guy driving. Waders help make up for the space the docks would have provided.
Once you're launched, you still have to get back out at the end of the day! And there's every possibility that while you've been fishing, the ramp has been getting covered in snow or freezing rain. Plus, other rigs in and out may have laid down a good old fashioned sheet of ice from water splashing everywhere. A sealable pail or tub of sand and rock salt in your vehicle is the best thing I've found. It's environmentally friendly, and cheap. Some guys also use kitty litter, but some kinds have a lot of chemicals. A few handfuls of whatever you choose, spread down the path your tires will take will do the job. In a jam, I've shoveled up frozen gravel from near the ramp, too. (A small, heavy-duty shovel and pail is another good thing to have.) Even with 4wd, I've been saved lots of times by a little pail of sand and salt. And of course, a slick ramp can be made safe for backing down on your way in, too.
There are also times when ramps or launches will be totally iced in. If there's a very thin skim of ice, you can usually break through it gingerly with your boat on the trailer without doing too much damage to your equipment. In extreme cases where the ice is much thicker, it will have to be broken out. Two of the best tools to have are an extendable dock hook and a 15 to 20 pound anchor on a length of rope. And carry them both in the boat. Don't leave them in the truck if there's a chance the ice might lock you out at the end of the day. (The dock hook is an excellent safety device, in case someone goes overboard.) Bashing through ice on your way down the ramp can chip paint, bend props and break or damage your transducer or wires. If you find yourself iced in at the end of the day and it can be done safely, a few passes by the ramp on plane will normally send in enough wake to bust up the ice. I've used this one many times at ramps and also to get around lakes in spring and fall, where shifting or forming ice has blocked safe travel.
I've never been a big believer in needless clutter or gear in my boat. We take what we're going to use that trip and that's about it. Even when we do trips where we'll be camping, I try to keep it simple and organized and I generally travel light. But in the late fall, having extras on board is important, and you can do it neatly and still save space. Saving space, as in an un-cluttered boat, is actually a big safety feature. Night fishing is very much the same.
Tight-sealing, totally water-proof containers are available everywhere these days, and they come in a huge range of sizes. Pick the size and shape depending on your boat's storage features and capacity. In basic aluminum boats with bench seats, a large, square box makes a great table for gear or drinks. In boats with storage lockers, smaller boxes that fit inside are the way to go. In a pinch, the good old cooler, like you'd use for food or drinks in the summer, works as good as anything. (I'd love to see census numbers on how many of these live in Ontario's garages, sheds or attics.) There are also soft, collapsible dry-bags that work well, too. They're nice because they only have to take up as much room as what's inside them.
Extra clothing is of zero value if it's frozen or wet. In one dry box, I normally keep two spare toques, a spare baseball hat, ski goggles, one pair of heavy mitts, a few pairs of light neoprene gloves, and a full change of clothes. (Long underwear, sweaters, blue jeans and a light jacket.) Combined with well thought-out outer wear, there really isn't any reason why you should be cold if you pack the right stuff and keep it dry and easy to get at. I normally use the heavy mitts and ski goggles for driving on plane when it's really nasty out. Spray from waves, snow or rain makes it tough to see. If space permits, a snowmobile helmet with a full visor is awesome for running in bad weather. I used to use one all the time.
Dry towels are another nice thing to have handy for cold hands after releasing a fish or for wiping down the screens on your electronics. Inside my survival suit, I clip one to each front belt loop on my pants, so they hang neatly over the tops each upper leg. They'll be real warm when you bring them out. Extras inside a dry box are a good idea. You can buy shop towels in bulk at any automotive store. Things will get wet, blown overboard or misplaced, and having extras of key, small items is definitely space well-used. The days are short this time of year, and you have plenty of time at night to get things organized and ready.
Dedicate another dry box to safety and survival gear. Signaling devices, a spotlight and possibly a GPS should be in your boat at all times anyway. I also carry spare batteries for all units, my cell phone, lighters or matches, a spare length of good rope, a bundle of newspaper and some pine or cedar shavings to get a fire going, if it ever came down to that. Late fall fishing for me is always very basic and simple. I carry only the tackle I'll be needing that day, and tend to really focus on specific areas and working them well. There will be room for the extras.
Because you'll be bundled up, less mobile and there might be rough water, make sure everything's kept neat and tidy. A slick boat seat or casting deck and messy gear can dump you over board just like that. It happens every single year. When you change baits, put them away and keep spare rods or your landing net reachable but neat. Even something simple like an unopened can of pop or thermos rolling around can be a real hazard under foot. Speaking of a thermos, a piping hot mug of your favorite beverage warms your core and hands and is just nice to have.
The articles full of big fish or tackle pictures, spots, techniques and stories are always my favorite to read and to write. But at this time of year especially, simple safety of comfort is worth discussing, too. There is some great fishing in November, December and right through the heart of winter. Georgian Bay and other muskie waters are open through late December. For huge walleyes, the Bay Of Quinte gets better and better the colder it gets, and The Niagara River is a popular hot spot all winter for all sorts of fish. Being prepared makes it all doable, safe and productive.