Last month we talked a lot about fishing safety. This should always be at the forefront of your planning and procedure in your piscatorial pursuits. While we’ll hit on safety again this month, we’ll also focus on making fishing fun.
First the serious. One of the essential tools for fishing safety is your VHF radio. If possible, two separate units and a backup handheld is the optimum setup. One VHF unit and a handheld is what I’d consider a minimal communication arsenal. You’ve also got your cell phone, but don’t count on having reception. Some offshore boats are equipped with satellite phones, a good idea but cost prohibitive for a lot of recreational anglers.
As with any tool, if you don’t know how to use it, it’s useless or even dangerous. Knowing how to use your VHF can save you. I’m no expert on marine communication, but I would strongly recommend studying some good articles on the BoatUS website, this magazine’s Hotwire column, or other venues for procedure and protocol. A training class or seminar on VHF usage and marine emergency communication could be invaluable as well.
An investment in a modern DSC (digital selective calling) AIS-equipped radio and registration of your MMSI (maritime mobile security identity) number can provide a valuable component to marine safety. If functioning and registered correctly, hitting and holding that distress button on your registered radio should provide emergency responders with the location of your vessel through Rescue 21 technology.
Make sure your radio is either equipped with an internal GPS receiver or connected to an external GPS sensor or chartplotter. The U.S. Coast Guard receives many emergency calls from vessels that either don’t have a radio interconnected to GPS or are unregistered. This provides no position information, and position is everything to rescue operations. Familiarize yourself and others with procedures on how to provide longitude and latitude coordinates by voice as well. For those unfamiliar with coordinates, being able to at least use the functioning distress button should provide location and a ping to the Coast Guard.
Each person on your fishing trip should be able to know how to do this in case the captain becomes incapacitated, falls overboard, or can’t get to the radio in a timely fashion during emergency. Checking your VHF transmission and reception by calling on channels such as 68 and 72 is a good way to start an extended or long-range fishing trip, especially in dicey weather. Transmission on channel 16 is, of course, for emergency or safety communication only. Practice speaking clearly and concisely. This may mean the difference in keeping your cool in a real emergency.
On to the not so serious subject for this month—having fun while you’re out there chasing fish is also important! This seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, you can use your brain to make an angling trip more enjoyable for everyone. Attitude is everything. You can thrive in any endeavor through positive energy or negative energy. I’ll take the positive! Your attitude as captain or crew can make the difference between a fun fishing trip or a bit of a bummer.
Start out each trip with some levity. There will always be challenges on the water. There’s also a lot of humor and beauty to be found out there. Make sure everyone is warm and dry enough and has enough to eat and drink. A good, well-maintained vessel can also alleviate headaches.
Work as a team throughout the trip. Where does everyone want to fish and how? While the captain has the final say, listening and communicating with the crew allows everyone to take personal investment and ownership of the trip. An invested crew is a happy, productive crew. You’ll have lots of help cleaning both the fish and the boat when you get back to the dock. And speaking of docking…just relax and everyone will relax. Take your time getting back into the slip.
As far as angler opportunities, bottom fishing off the Washington coast will start on the second Saturday this month in most areas. This means tasty rockfish of many varieties and lingcod. When weather permits, this can be a very fun and productive opportunity. Many areas of Puget Sound and British Columbia should be putting out some nice winter/spring Chinook as well.
I’ve seen some 20- to 30-pound early fish come across the decks this time of year. The days will be getting longer and the Arctic blast we saw in February should be behind us. The rivers in our region will be kicking out spring Chinook and steelhead as well.
We may see some very high flows this month as all that snow comes off the mountains. But, when that water starts to drop, the fish go on the bite. Until next month, be safe, have fun, and go put some fish in the boat!