Fishing alone from a trailer boat presents a range of challenges. John Eichelsheim provides some practical tips on how to set up your boat for solo missions.
I love fishing with mates, but I also enjoy fishing solo. Judging by how many singletons I see on the water, many other keen fresh and saltwater anglers feel the same way.
I tend to fish solo because of the times I choose to go fishing. My work arrangements are flexible, so I can sometimes get out fishing during the week and I’ll often decide to go on the spur of the moment. Finding an equally flexible fishing companion can be a challenge.
Weekends are different, of course, but even then, most of us have commitments. Unless a fishing trip has been planned days ahead, going out alone can sometimes be easier than whistling up a fishing buddy at short notice and then having to work round his/her time restrictions or other complications.
Fishing by yourself is not a big deal; at the very least you get to do what you want for the day without having to account for anyone else’s preferences. If you want to spend all morning casting topwater for kingfish, or fly-fishing shallow flats, you can – no complaints from the crew that you are wasting valuable snapper fishing time!
One advantage of fishing solo is there's no one to tell you what to do.
But solo fishing offers some challenges, especially for boat fishers. Without a crew, boat handling can be more demanding and there are safety issues to consider: can you manage the vessel alone if the weather deteriorates? And what happens if there is an accident onboard or you find yourself in the water?
For trailer boat fishers, often the biggest challenge is launching and retrieving the boat. My own trailer boat is small enough to be easily handled, but at 4.6m long with a 60hp four-stroke bolted to the transom, it still weighs several hundred kilos. Unless it’s floating, it’s too heavy for me to move by myself.
This makes solo beach launching problematic in anything but very calm conditions, as I was reminded recently when a low surf and a falling tide stranded the boat on the sand while I was fetching the trailer. Try as I might, I could not refloat it and had no option but to attempt to winch it onto the trailer from the sand. I was successful eventually, but not before snapping the winch cable, forcing me to make a quick and dirty field repair (thank goodness the cable is Kevlar and not steel).
Eventually I did what I should have done all along and unhooked the trailer, tilted it and winched it under the boat. I then towed boat and trailer safely up the beach with another rope. If I’d had a fishing buddy, they could have held the boat off the beach while I fetched the vehicle and trailer – at the very worst they might have got wet pants.
For the solo trailer-boatie, it’s more sensible to launch and retrieve somewhere sheltered and calm, preferably at a boat ramp with a finger or jetty to tie up to while you deal with the tow vehicle and trailer. If your boat lives in a marina, berthing solo is not an issue – except when there’s a strong crosswind to contend with! That’s when you’ll wish you had a mate to help with the lines and keep the boat off the poles!
A well set up boat that’s easy for one person to manage makes boating alone safer and more fun. In my boat I stow everything away securely, including my fishing tackle. I seldom go fishing with fewer than six fishing rods, so securing these where they are out of the way is a priority for me. That’s especially true when travelling between fishing spots: fishing gear bouncing around inside the boat risks damage and also presents a safety hazard. Any gear should be safely stowed so it doesn’t impede safe operation of the vessel.
My boat is small, so onboard space is at a premium. Since it’s an open boat, most of the things I leave on the boat are stored inside the shelves and pockets under the gunwales. That keeps them mostly out of the weather.
I also keep bait and filleting knives, the roll-out fish-measuring mat, boga-grips, iki-spike, spare painter, docking lines, engine flushing muffs and various odds and ends under the gunwales. The net slots in between the fish bin and the gunwale, where it stays put when the boat’s underway but is easy to reach when needed.
Any objects that should stay dry are kept in sealed plastic snap-lock containers. When I’m boating, car keys and wallet go into a small dry bag, which also fits inside one of the Stabicraft’s side pockets (leave a bit of air in the dry bag and it will float if it goes overboard). Fishing tackle, fish bins and larger items are taken off the boat and stored in the garage after every fishing session.
I’m not a fan of transporting rods in gunwale rod holders – it’s too easy to lose them over the side in rough conditions and the reels suffer too much damage from sea spray. In my small boat I use the area between the front bench seat and the side console, an otherwise wasted space, for rod storage. My rods are mounted vertically, clipped into rubber racks across the front of the console and along the gunwale. The rod racks form an L-shape that, with a bit of judicious rod wriggling, can accommodate up to 10 rod and reel combos, including assembled flyrods.
Rods stowed out of the way.
Tucked away in front of the console, they don’t interfere when I need quick access to the bow, to move around the boat while playing a fish, or when using the net to boat a fish – and the reels are mostly protected from spray. Rods are so secure it’s perfectly safe to leave them up when trailering the boat.
In a small boat, keeping the floor space clear is an important consideration, especially for the solo fisher. In my boat, the tote tank is tucked up under the transom, so it doesn’t take up deck space in the cockpit. A spare tote tank stands upright in the bow, secured with a heavy-duty bungee, leaving sufficient deck space in the bow to stand up and fish, work the drogue or set the anchor. When not in use, I stow the drogue in the open locker underneath the Stabicraft’s ultra-short foredeck.
Spare fuel secured with bungee cords.
As a lure fisher I seldom use an anchor, but for safety reasons I carry a good-sized Sarca, plenty of chain and around 60m of warp. This is stored in an old plastic apple box under the thwart seat at the front of the boat. Removing the seat (it is bolted in) would give me more deck space and better access to the bow, but it stiffens the hull laterally and the mounting brackets on the gunwales could inflict nasty injuries. Stowing the anchor and anchor float (in case I need to jettison the anchor in a hurry to follow a large fish) under the seat keeps them out of the way.
I also always carry a small selection of tools in a sealed container, a spark plug spanner, a funnel, the Yamaha’s emergency pull-start rope, a can of CRC and a first aid kit. This gear fits nicely into a plastic bin under the console, which also contains spare clothing. I wear my PFD.
My flare pack fits nicely into the cantilevered base of one of the boat’s two swivelling seats, the boat is equipped with a VHF radio and I carry a PLB when fishing alone. I don’t always remember to attach the red kill switch safety leash to my wrist when driving, but it’s an important safety tip. It only takes a moment’s inattention, an unexpected boat wake or a rogue wave to tip you out of an open boat. Without the leash around your wrist, you’ll be in the water and the boat will keep going without you. The last thing you see could be your pride and joy disappearing over the horizon!
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