Cold Weather Boating Tips

By Ted Peck - February 1, 2008
The Bible lesson found in Matthew 14 is having great impact on my fishing efforts this winter. You may recall Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and headed his way, perhaps to find out where the fish were biting. Suddenly he realized that most fishermen can only get away with walking on the water by faith…or in February in the upper Midwest. At least most years…on most waters.

This winter has been a study in contrast. Remember the end of January when ambient air temperatures dropped almost 50 degrees in a 24 hour period ? Now that is a monster cold front!

Human activity shut down more than fish activity after the front howled thru on Jan. 29. Air temperature may have plummeted, but water temperature didn't fluctuate more than a couple of degrees-at most.

Fish got back to winter feeding patterns within 48 hours after the big blow from the northwest over on the Mississippi where I do most of my fishing and guiding. A portable propane heater will keep you warm on the ice, or on open water at spots like Red Wing and down on the Illinois River near Utica where a vertical presentation will get your string stretched all winter long.

Although I Thessalonians 5:2 tells us that nobody knows when Christ will return a few pages further into the Good Book, if its this winter I would rather witness the Blessed Event from a boat than a five gallon bucket. You can find the logic for this contention in Deuteronomy 6:16 . When it comes to my hide, a few perch coming thru a hole isn't worth the potential for an unscheduled baptism. Or worse.

True, there was nearly a foot of ice near the "long wall" below the dam at Genoa on the Mississippi when the groundhog had his big day, but anyone venturing west towards the "shove ice" faces becoming a statistic a real chance the body will never be found.

By month's end the ice here, at Lynxville downstream, at the Sac dam and below the Dells dam on the Wisconsin River , will be gone and we'll be holding the long rods once again. Modern American folklore talks about being "up the creek without a paddle". This isn't as bad as being down the creek, away from the boat ramp. Even worse is being downstream with an outboard motor which no longer functions as an iron wind.

There is little comfort knowing few other souls will be out there to laugh at your predicament. Having the numbers of a couple buddies programmed into the speed dial on your cell phone may be followed by variations of "you idiot". But at least you won't have to spend the night on a winter river.

At the other end of the spectrum is having the aforementioned buddies praising your angling expertise when you pull a nice string of walleyes out of the boat upon returning home. This happy ending is prefaced by operating your boat in "cold weather mode", with a little extra attention paid to the outboard, batteries, accessories and fuel.

If you didn't change the gear lube in your outboard's lower unit, doing so before you head out can save hundreds of dollars in repairs. In older outboards which require mixing oil with the gas, use double the recommended amount of oil. In two stroke outboards with separate oil tanks like my Evinrude E-Tech high quality snowmobile oil replaces the standard "Blue Marble". If you're running a four stroke motor, go with lower viscosity oil like 0W-30.

Fuel also needs attention. A product called Sea Foam has been around since World War II. Adding one ounce of Sea Foam per gallon of gas will both stabilize your fuel and help prevent gas line freeze up.

It's a good idea to put all batteries on a trickle charge for a couple of days before heading out on that first winter trip. Most modern boats have deep cycle batteries for the trolling motor with a cranking battery to start the outboard and run the accessories. Most modern boats are supposed to have self-draining plumbing, too. Experience teaches the value of not using the livewell or bilge when the temperature is below freezing. A five gallon bucket will serve both intended purposes until the weather warms up.

When you put the boat in the river let the motor soak for a few minutes before starting. Once started let the motor idle until the water pump spits for a couple of minutes.

These precautions should ensure you can get out there after 'em-and get back. When the boat is on the trailer let the outboard hang vertically for a few minutes so all the water can drain out. If the temperature has fallen to below 32 degrees the ramp will be frozen. Even the most brazen 4 x 4 is little better than a fat spotted Poland China hog when it comes to climbing an incline on ice.

Don't forget a shovel and a bag of sand. If anyone asks why tell them you plan on building a tiger trap. This response may preclude the need to answer when asked "how they bitin'?"

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.