Tackle Box logo with fishing lure
Gotcha’ Covered
Avoiding Early Season Oversights
By Dan Armitage
Those first frigid fishing trips of the season are when you are most likely to forget something critical, so make it a point to note the essential basics you need and place them aboard before heading out.
Gotcha’ Covered
Avoiding Early Season Oversights
By Dan Armitage
Across much of North America’s most popular pontoon and deck boat cruising grounds, April kicks off the boating season. What’s more, if they like to fish, boaters find the year’s fourth month can be an excellent one for hooking up with a variety of species in fresh and salt water. As waters warm and fish seek shallows for comfort, food and seasonal spawning fun, they come into range of those of us who fish from boat and shore.

Considering that this is a boating publication, we’ll concentrate on the former with regard to the tools you want to consider having aboard as you seek your finned quarry, basic angling accessories that may have been forgotten, broken, overlooked or otherwise fallen out of mind or by the wayside during the off season.

I’m assuming the craft you use as your fishing platform this season is equipped with standard, basic angling options such as rod holders and a sonar for determining depth and bottom features. If the latter has fish-finding and/or GPS functions so much the better.

polarized, bi-focal shades on top of a map
When you need ‘em, you really need ‘em! The author’s polarized, bi-focal shades remain on the boat through the fishing season, with a dedicated towel to boot!
Beyond that, and assuming you have rods, reels, bait and tackle matched to the type and size of the fish you hope to catch (more on that in a future column), there are some items that I am lost without when fishing from a boat. Even so, I have headed for the horizon sans such, and such oversights normally happen early in the season, before I have a system in place for taking stock of the accessories I know I’ll need aboard for effective angling – and where.

The latter issue reared its ugly head a year ago this month, when my wife and I towed the family boat down to the Florida Keys for our annual spring break fishing trip. I wet a hull in salt water two times each season, once in South Florida in the spring and again off Cape Cod for our summer vacation, and getting the rig ready for saltwater fishing requires tasks and tackle that are used only when boating and fishing the brine. (Read that gaffs, tail wraps, wire leaders, bait-prep boards, chum bags, underwater lights, cast nets, snorkeling gear, etc).

Last March was a busy one for me sport-show-wise, and between those appearance commitments and the foul Great Lakes weather we endured on the eve of the trip, I didn’t have the usual time to stock and properly stow the boat with such essentials. Three days later the result was some groveling on my part when we received an impromptu, on-water safety inspection from the Florida Marine Patrol. After I finally located the required hook remover and fizzing needle – let alone licenses, boat registration, PFDs and flares – the officer opined that despite having all the required gear, and how long it took me to locate some items, “Your boat could be better organized.”

man fishing on an Angler Qwest boat
Early season hookups like this are not the time to wonder if and where there is a landing net aboard…
man pulling a baitwell from the water
Even if it sports a baitwell, don’t forget that you still need something to transport your minnows and leeches from the bait shop to the boat.
If the officer only knew the pains I typically take to equip my boat for the angling at hand, including my mainstay freshwater fishing which I approach with an opportunist attitude. That means if the white bass are running, the crappies are in the shoreline brush, the trout are feeding in the submerged weed beds, the walleye and perch are schooling offshore or the low-light catfish bite is on, I have my go-to accessories and gear at hand for being able to properly pursue, catch and tackle my quarry.

First and perhaps foremost, that means having a pair of long-nosed, wire-cutting pliers within reach, preferably in a sheath on my hip. I actually keep two or more pairs of pliers handy, as they tackle a myriad of functions, not the least of which is removing hooks from deep in the maws of fish. Of equal importance to the extended jaws is the wire-cutting function of my preferred pliers. Many “fishing” pliers targeted toward anglers these days have replaced the wire-cutting feature with a clip for cutting “superline” braids, which is fine until you need to cut the barb off a hook to remove it from somewhere it’s not supposed to be – such as your hide.

needle-nosed pliers and its holder
Able to tackle a variety of tasks beyond mere hook removal, a pair of needle-nosed pliers should never be far from reach while fishing.
As with pliers, I try to keep two small towels handy. One remains at the helm, protected from spray and used only for cleaning sunglasses. The other is designated a “fish towel” and can be used to wipe hands, keep a grip on bait and caught fish while hooks are removed, and to wipe down tackle and boat surfaces. Forget either one and you are destined to endure foggy lenses and the stink eye from your buddy if you glance at her colorful beach towel as a plan B.

Speaking of eyewear, until I relearn that during the season my dedicated, polarized, bi-focal fishing sunglasses remain on the boat between trips, I have fished more days than I care to share sans such glare-reducing eyewear, and the forgetfulness – and accompanying headaches – peak early each season.

Ditto foul weather gear. I remove my rain gear from the boat each off season, as it tends to hold dampness and get moldy when left aboard. It only took one cold, wet early-season fishing trip ruined to reinforce the importance of having a quality rain suit aboard my boat from the get-go each season, and it’s become one of my first boat-loading tasks each spring.

If you have ever brought a fish to the boat only to realize you have no way of actually landing it, you have joined the ranks of those of us who have neglected to stash a landing net (or, in the case of large saltwater fish, a gaff) aboard. Again, often an early season oversight, but one that has taught me to have a backup folding net aboard. The smaller Plan B version net is not ideal for landing large fish but it’s better than nothing when you have yet to stow a proper net aboard or the primary net has jumped its holder during the bumpy ride out to the fishing grounds.

yellow boat fender
Don’t forget to stow the boat’s fenders before the season’s first launch, or risk the ridicule at the ramp of having to make do with what’s at hand.
required emergency signaling devices
Check your required emergency signaling devices before launching to make sure nothing–such as expired flares or fire extinguishers–need to be replaced.
Have you ever walked into a bait shop for a few dozen shiners and realized you didn’t have a minnow bucket? If you’re lucky, the proprietor will offer a repurposed container – for a price – to hold your minnows, but who wants to be seen around the docks toting a former Canola cooking oil container full of fatheads? Even if it’s just to transport the live bait from the bait store to the boat’s baitwell, it’s best to remember to pack that designated bait bucket!

Let’s say you find success on your initial fishing trip, and you intend to keep some of the catch for the dinner table. If you are lucky, your deck or pontoon boat boasts some fishing options that include a livewell for keeping catches alive and finning. If not, a locker or cooler full of ice is a great place to keep a catch fresh – as long as you have one aboard. Same with stringers and fish baskets for keeping catches contained and alive; you just have to remember to stow them aboard.

You also have to remember to remove said stringer or basket from the water before starting the boat and racing off to the next fishing spot. I’ve absent-mindedly “skied” my share of stringers of panfish back to the dock – and the embarrassing oversight typically takes place about this time each season.

Dan’s Pick
Harris Cruiser 230 FC
Harris Cruiser 230 FC
My first pontoon boat was a Harris FloteBote model that I appreciated for its simplicity, quality and price. As such, even as a deck boat owner now, I keep an eye on the offerings from the popular Fort Wayne, Ind., boat manufacturer and am pleased with what is provided to the fortunate owners of the Cruiser 230 FC model for 2024.

First of all, as for fishing features and options available with their pontoon boats, standard or optional, in my experience Harris has always been among the best. The 230 model doesn’t disappoint, with a large, practical aft fishing station including a livewell, tackle prep table and rod holders, flanked by a pair of comfortable fishing seats and easy access to the broad aft deck for stand-up casting or landing fish. Match that with the choice of quality electronics options for serious angler-owners and you’ve got a functional fishing platform that doubles as a comfortable cruiser that will keep non-anglers content with wrap-around bow seating and a bench seat adjacent to the well-appointed helm and amenity options throughout. Whether you are in buying mode or, like me, simply kicking trailer tires and checking out the market for fishing-friendly pontoon boats, you’ll want to make time to check out the new Cruiser models from Harris.

Specifications Table