If you live and fish in the Northern states, one of the toughest decisions we make is WHEN to winterize the boat/outboard. It’s so sad to put it away for the season. There’s always the thought that warm weather will hold through November and even into December, lengthening the fishing season. At the same time, you don’t want to wait too long and find yourself in a sudden deep freeze with potential engine problems.
But those days are over for me my friends, and they can be for you, too. Heck, if we get a warm spell in January this year and the Mississippi River opens up in central Minnesota, I’ll hook up my Polar Kraft and go open-water fishing!
How can this be? Because Evinrude has invented a new way to “winterize” your outboard, and it’s standard in all their E-TEC engines. Traditionally, winterization has basically meant draining and replacing the lower unit gear lube; fogging the engine while it’s running; running the engine out of Sta-Bil-treated gasoline; making sure all the cooling water runs out; and then shooting a blast of fogging spray into the spark plug ports. That’s just a BASIC engine routine. Today’s complicated 4-strokes require even more specialized care that costs a small fortune at your authorized service center.
But the Evinrude E-TEC is designed so the owner can prepare it for downtime because the outboard does all the work for you. You just hook up a garden hose to the fitting at the back of the outboard, turn on the water, then follow a simple sequence with the key and throttle control (outlined in your owner’s manual). Just a few minutes later, your E-TEC is ready for bed. There’s no need to change out the lower unit gear lube for the first three years of ownership.
Now, this whole set-up does a lot more than save you time and money. It does what I said before: It allows you to take your boat/motor out of storage and use it ANYTIME that fall/winter weather allows! It’s always ready to go. And RE-winterizing takes just a few minutes, so there’s never a hassle.
For anglers “in-the-know,” this is the best news there is because the fishing is never better than this time of the year. Big predatory walleyes, bass, pike and muskies, as well as slab panfish go on an absolute feeding binge as winter approaches. Protein-rich baitfish like ciscos are coming into their spawning period, which makes them school up as they march into the shallows like armies in the evening. This creates a very advantageous feeding opportunity for the game-fish and, in turn, an amazing catching opportunity for game-fishermen!
So, when I do take the Polar Kraft and Evinrude out of the garage in search of these pre-winter fish, there’s a pretty reliable pattern that I follow. First, I look at a contour lake map and identify areas that have steep shoreline or mid-lake reef breaks that fall off into deep water. Using my GPS, I get on those spots and scout them with my sonar. I haven’t pulled a rod out of the rod locker yet, but believe me, I’m FISHING… because finding the fish is job #1.
Even if the spot has all the elements of being a classic late-season honey hole, if I don’t see fish on the sonar, I won’t waste my time there. But when I locate a spot that IS holding fish, it’s game-on. Often, I’ll throw a series of buoys on the structure before I start fishing it. It really helps visualize the “lay of the land” at the bottom and assists with boat control when trolling or drifting.
During the day, and especially with walleyes, you’ll find the fish either scattered here-and-there along the drop-off; or concentrated where the drop-off flattens out in deep water. There are many ways to target these fish and get them to bite. Drifting and trolling live bait, Lindy rigs or jigs is a proven tactic. Vertical jigging with minnows or spoons is another. And in many cases, anchoring the boat and using a slip-bobber rig is the best way to go. If you can deliver a crankbait to their holding depth and they’re willing to chase a lure, then casting and/or trolling cranks can put a lot of fish in the boat, too.
During the daytime bite, be willing to cover some water and hit a lot of spots. Even if there are 20 walleyes on a particular piece of structure, you won’t catch all of them. Rather, you’ll pop the three or so “active” fish in the bunch right away, then, maybe, scratch a couple more by being persistent. Ideally, you’ll have a “milk run” of spots you can hit. When one location goes cold (translation: the active fish that were willing to take your bait have been caught), then reel up and boogie to that next piece of structure.
In the northern states, the pre-ice bite is one of the most fantastic experiences in fishing. Until now, having to “winterize” that boat/motor, thereby rendering it useless until spring, has made it difficult to be ready-to-go at a moment’s notice. But thanks to my Evinrude E-TEC and its unique winterization system, I can fish anytime Mother Nature gives me open water. And that makes me one happy guy!
Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman who has taught people to fish and hunt for more than 25 years. Watch the award-winning “Good Fishing” and “Outdoor Secrets” television shows on Versus (formerly OLN), Fox Sports Net, Comcast Southeast, WILD TV and many local networks. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times where you live.