T-Tops, Covers & Enclosures
Replacing worn orfaded canvas and other material is a quick and easy way to spruceup your boat for spring. If you have a Bimini or T-top, one ofthe fabrics available from Weblon, Stamoid, or Sunbrella can makeit look like new again. Weblon is a heavy, vinyl-laminated materialthat's very durable and available in a wide selection of colors.Stamoid is a strong and lightweight material that's availablein a wide variety of colors and designs, and holds up well ineither cold or hot climates. Sunbrella is the lightest and mostcommon top material, and is more fabric than vinyl. Lastly, youmight consider covering your T-top with the PVC vinyl materialknown as Pro-Trim, which is waterproof, durable, easy to clean,and comes in a variety of colors, including white, black, blue,red and green.
How about purchasinga canvas cover to protect your console, outboard motor, leaningpost, or even the entire boat? Keeping direct sunlight off ofthe gelcoat, seats, and engine cowling will add years to theirfinish. Is spray a problem? If so, you can install a canvas spraydodger in the bow of your center console. Finally, if you desireadditional protection from the elements, consider adding a clearvinyl enclosure to the helm area. Choose from flexible materialor rigid vinyls, such as the EZ2CY products.
Safety gear should be regularly checked and updated, so why not make this a regularpart of your spring outfitting? In addition, there's a whole rangeof new, handy and reasonably priced safety equipment to make fishingand boating safer than ever.
No one who venturesfar from shore should do so without an Emergency Position IndicatingRadio Beacon, or EPIRB. EPIRBs transmit a homing signal that allowsrescuers to track you down in the event of an emergency, and severalnew 406 MHz satellite EPIRBs, such as those made by ACR and NorthernAirborne Technologies, can transmit precise GPS coordinates eitherthrough a built-in receiver or by interfacing with your existingGPS. Many of these units are compact enough to remain out of theway on small center consoles, and prices have come down, as well.
In addition to makingEPIRBs, ACR manufactures many other marine safety devices, includinghigh-intensity strobes, waterproof emergency radios, and safety-gearbags. Personal strobe lights are a great idea for those who fishat night, and can be attached directly to a PFD. And speakingof PFDs, the Coast Guard's approval of inflatable PFDs means there'sno longer any excuse for not wearing one. By law, flares mustbe updated periodically, fire extinguishers must be weighed orreplaced, and life rafts must be inspected every few years. Ifyou don't have a life raft, consider getting one. It will provideadditional peace of mind, and many of the new designs don't takeup much space.
Add a Trolling Motor
If you love shallow-waterfishing, an electric trolling motor can really help you sneakup on fish and get you into spots that can't be reached with anoutboard. It's also an invaluable accessory for those who fishalone. The first thing to consider is where you want to mountthe motor(s) - bow or stern? This will also determine how manymotors you will need. A bow mount means one, while a stern mountgenerally means two. When choosing a model, make sure you selectone that has been made for salt water, such as the MotorGuideGreat White or the Minn Kota Riptide. Prices range from $190 fora simple transom-mount version up to $775 for a heavy-duty bow-mountwith a lift and tilt mechanism. Also available are remote steeringmechanisms. Some are handheld, while others can be installed in-deck.Most of these motors will require an additional deep-cycle battery,such as the Trolling Thunder ($100-$275), and some additionalwiring.
Another option isto add a pair of trolling motors attached to a set of trim tabs.Lenco Marine offers a kit for $1,695 that includes two motors,trim tabs, and the wiring harness. Batteries and chargers arenot included.
Insulated Fish Bags
The in-deck fishboxeson many boats continue to get larger, but few can hold a reallylarge tuna or super-long wahoo. That's where an insulated fishbag comes in handy. These devices have been around for years,and make it easy to keep your catch well-chilled (just add ice)and in prime condition until you get back to the dock. This canbe especially important for tournament fishermen or potentialrecord catches, since a dead fish can lose weight if exposed tothe sun. Furthermore, fish bags don't take up a lot of space,and can be washed, folded and stored until needed.
Canyon Products isthe largest and best-known manufacturer of fish bags. The companyoffers 12 models ranging from a 30" x 50" (sug. ret.$126) bag for relatively small fish, to a 30" x 9' bag ($250)that is large enough to hold a 400-pound tuna or marlin. Canyon'snewest model is called the Tournament King Cooler ($95), and isdesigned to hold several large king mackerel. Offshore Angleralso makes a fish bag ($100) designed specifically for tournamentkingfish anglers. It features handles and will hold fish up to58 inches long ($100). Finally, Melton offers its MIT TournamentFish Savers in tuna ($275) and marlin ($395) sizes.
Bow cleats. They arethe bane of fly fishermen, particularly when the line lassoesitself around the hardware just as a school of fish swims withinrange. It almost makes you want to rip out the little devils.Well, now you can!
Replacing your currentbow cleats with pull-up or pop-up cleats is a great way to flush-mountyour deck hardware, as well as add style and value to your boat.What are pop-up cleats? They're cleats that can be "lifted"or "popped" into place during normal docking situations,yet retract when a clear deck is needed.
The new Slim-Linefrom Accon Marine (shown below) is a narrow pull-up cleat, idealfor mounting in tight spaces. Recessed holes in the base permitit to be pulled easily into a functional position. It comes inthree sizes (4 1/2,six, and eight inches) and includes a 3/16-inch-thickstainless-steel backing plate. Suggested retail price for thesix-inch model is $83.
Pop-up cleats canbe installed on a new boat at the factory or dealership, or addedafter-market. Depending on the access available to the cleat'sunderside, backing plates can be top-mounted or mounted underneath.Pop-up navigation lights, lift rings, pushpole holders, and hingesare also available.
Night Vision Equipment
Ever wish you had"cat eyes" that could penetrate the darkness? Wouldn'tit be great to be able to safely head out before sunrise to catchthe early bite, or to fish right through the "late show"at dusk and easily return to port, or the launch ramp, after dark?
In fact, you can.Good, reliable hand-held night-vision units designed for boatersand fishermen are available. One, the ITT Night Mariner, is availablein five different models designed around a microchannel platethat has 6.34 million holes, or channels. As electrons from tinybits of light pass through these channels towards a phosphor screen,they're multiplied thousands of times. Basically, just the lightof the stars is enough to allow you to "see" a buoy,island, jetty, or another boat on the tiny screen inside the housing.Prices run from $900 for a mon ocular to $2,400 for ITT's high-endbinocular style.
A step up in technology- and price - is Ray theon's Night Sight Palm IR 250 ($6,000).This one looks like a small camcorder and operates on the "thermalimaging" principle, whereby the unit detects slight temperaturedifferences between objects (and different parts of an object)in its field of view (eight feet to infinity) and processes theinformation to create a "thermal landscape." Imagesare portrayed in extreme detail, and no external light whatsoeveris needed.
What about the relativelyinexpensive night-sight units from Russia and other countriesyou see in those military catalogs? Most utilize basic or evenobsolete technology, and although they work to some degree theycan't compare with the units described above. You get what youpay for.
Rod holders are like money: there's always a need for more. Well, now you can havemore rod holders, and you don't even have to drill holes in theboat!
The Trident fromBirdsall Marine (shown) fits into any existing rod holder, offeringsecure storage for three outfits. Made of anodized aluminum, theTrident comes in two models: straight-butt and 30-degree tiltbutt. Both models allow rods to be positioned at the ready, insteadof stored away under a gunwale. The Trident, as well as Birdsall'ssmaller unit, the Double-Up, are very popular for kite fishing,as it allows a kite rod and the fishing outfit to be positionednext to each other. Suggested retail price for the Trident is$139; $90 for the Double-Up. Other manufacturers of cluster rodholders include So-Lo Marine ($340) and Outer Banks Outfitters($250).
Now, if you're amasochist and enjoy drilling holes in your boat, then consolerod holders maybe just your thing. Most console rod racks comewith space for three or four outfits, and provide handy verticalstorage. The Console Rod Holder from Birdsall even offers spacefor pliers and a fillet knife. It retails for $90. If you're lookingfor something simple and inexpensive, try Fentress Marine's high-densitypolypropylene rod racks ($20-$30).
When it comes to springoutfitting, don't overlook the most important part of your boat'sperformance: the propeller. The prop is what connects your boatto the water, and if it doesn't fit your boat's weight and needs,your performance will suffer. Unfortunately, prop selection isnot the simplest thing, so you may need the help of an expert,but here are a few things to help you get started. First, checkyour prop to make sure that it is not badly worn, dinged or bent.The surfaces should be clean and smooth, the edges unmarred. Ifyou have doubts, the prop probably needs replacing or repairing.With outboards and I/Os, replacement may be the easiest option.If you don't have a spare, save the worn prop for emergencies.
Replacing or upgradingprops presents a lot of choices. If your existing aluminum propis performing well, you might consider replacing it with a stainlessmodel that offers a little more resistance to damage. However,if your current prop doesn't allow your engine to achieve itstop-end rpm, you may need a slightly smaller prop, or one withless pitch.
If you want to improvethe mid-range efficiency of your engine for long offshore runs,choose a prop with progressive pitch and aggressive cupping ofthe blades. On the other hand, if you want to improve the "holeshot" of your boat, a four-bladed prop may be the ticket.
What's your foul-weathergear look like? Is it stained with fish blood, caked with seasalt, ripped at the knees, or mildew-blackened after spendingumpteen seasons wadded up under the console? If so, perhaps it'stime for a change of wardrobe. The choices are limitless. Youcould go for a top-of-the-line bib-and-jacket outfit made of breathableGore-Tex and featuring storm flaps, bellowed cargo pockets, drawstringwaist, fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, reinforced knees and butt,drawstring hood with visor, reflective strips, Velcro cuffs, andbright designer colors. On the other hand, for a few bucks youcould purchase a simple yellow PVC-coated slicker and pull-overpants.If you do a lot of fishing in sloppy conditions you mightopt for the simplicity of a waterproof one-piece outfit, similarto a snowmobile suit. If safety is an issue, you can buy jacketsand even pants that meet Coast Guard PFD requirements. If youfish in warm climates, an extra-long jacket or a simple plasticponcho may suffice.
Also, make sure youkeep an extra set of inexpensive foul-weather gear onboard fora guest or two - or in case you get caught in an unexpected rainstorm.You can buy a jacket-and-pant combo at your local K-
Mart or mail-ordercatalog for less than $20. These typically come folded neatlyin a plastic pouch and don't take up much more room than a T-shirt.They're also ideal for the traveling fisherman who needs to packlight.
What better way toget your center console ready for the new season than by "accessorizing"its T-top. The market is full of nifty add-on features. Today'sfluorescent T-top lights provide low-amperage lighting and comein stylish, milled aluminum tubes that match your top. Everybodyneeds more rod storage, and the clamp-on holders come in a varietyof anodized colors and styles. Teaser reels fastened to aluminumplates can be mounted to the underside of the T-top frame, wherethey are easy to operate, yet remain out of the way. Plastic rodbushings (below) let you store long rods in vertical console rodholders by providing a hole for the tips to pass through. Whennot in use, plastic caps seal the holes to keep water out. Whenit comes to T-top-mounted outriggers, there are lots to choosefrom, and the latest models are more stylish, functional and durablethan ever. Lastly, a new electronics box mounted on the T-topframe will let you carry more electronics in a water-resistantspace, in a location that lets you check them with a simple upwardsglance.