Deer season ended almost a month ago. The Christmas and New Year's holidays have come and gone as well. And tomorrow night's national championship contest will bring a close to the seemingly endless series of college football bowl games. Now is when winter begins to produce a certain perception of confinement.
In order to ward off that uncomfortable shut-in feeling, I've been out and about as often as possible, engaged in some of the activities I enjoy this time of year. A couple of days of small-game hunting along with some other hikes in the woods were a welcome diversion, not to mention worthwhile exercise they provided. I also spent several sunny afternoons with my camera hidden away in a portable, one-man blind. Those stakeouts produced some wonderful close-up photos of several species of winter birds.
But in spite of those and other opportunities to be outdoors, the inevitability of shortened days and inclement weather too often forces us to stay inside more often than we would like. Fortunately, a special tonic that always helps alleviate some of the wintertime blues for me arrived in the mail last week: the new Bass Pro Shops fishing tackle catalog. As I've often admitted, I am a compulsive gearhead, especially when it comes to fishing tackle. And the arrival of this 700-page wish book always provides hours of strategic preseason planning in that regard.
The first thing I do is check out many of my favorite items to see if any have been changed or discontinued. That might seem a little strange, but a long time ago someone told me, "If you find a piece of equipment you really like, buy two of them, because they will surely quit making it." That advice has come true more times than I care to think about over the past 40 years or so.
Once I learn what pet items I will have to learn to live without, it's then time to see what new rods, reels, lures or other gadgets will be on the "must have" list for the coming year. And there rarely is a shortage of potential additions to that list. Of course, that situation also prompts another midwinter task - inventorying and organizing all the tackle I currently have on hand.
This job will occupy a few evenings and not only lets me know what I am running low on but also which lures must be removed from my already bulging tackle bags. Over the past few seasons, I've gotten into the habit of "retiring" those baits that haven't earned their keep in order to make room for the new stuff I want to try. Sometimes it's a lure that worked well at one time but seems to have lost its effectiveness recently, or usually it's something that looked good to me but failed to impress the fish. Either way, getting rid of unproductive lures to free up space for new ones keeps things more manageable on the water.
Once I've regained some organization to my lure inventory, I'll do some routine maintenance on my crankbaits and other hard baits. Dull hooks are sharpened, and any that are rusty or otherwise beat up are placed.
Finally, I'll go over my rods and reels, mostly just wiping off any surface dirt or grime. Because I regularly clean and lubricate my reels during the fishing season, I rarely have to do any major maintenance on them during the off-season to keep them working properly. I will also take time to strip the old lines from all my reels. I won't, however, spool any reel with new line until I am ready to fish with it again.
Monofilament line tends to develop a "memory" from being spooled on a reel for months or even weeks without being used. This will cause the line to come off the spool in tight spirals, making it difficult to cast and more likely tangle. For that reason, I prefer to install new line a day or so before fishing with it for the first time and then changing it often for best performance.
Tackle tinkering is certainly no substitute for a beautiful spring day on the water, which is weeks away right now. But time spent organizing and maintaining your fishing gear now can not only help pass some of the winter doldrums but also make the first outings next spring more productive.