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Are You and Your Boat Ready for Lake Erie?

You’ve been to the bait shop, assembled your fishing gear, purchased your Ohio Fishing License and are eager to cast a line or two (or more!) and start chasing walleye on Lake Erie.  The excitement is building as everyone loads into the car and gets ready to head out on your new Great Lakes adventure. But before you ever launch, it’s a good idea to pause and ask the question: are I and my watercraft ready to deal with everything a Great Lake can throw at us – literally and figuratively? 

Let’s walk through some basics that will prevent issues and ensure you get the most enjoyment out of your Lake Erie walleye adventure. The basic checklist is: 

  • Get all the equipment as required by both Federal and local rules.
  • Know what it takes to operate your watercraft safely on Lake Erie.
  • Trip preparation is key: Maintenance, Planning, Weather.
  • Do not forget the fishing stuff.
  • Have a pre-launch checklist/ritual.

Get all the equipment as required by both federal and local rules.

Know what it takes to operate your watercraft safely on Lake Erie.

Trip preparation is key: Maintenance, Planning, Weather.

Every Lake Erie Captain will tell you that the key to a successful and enjoyable trip comes down to good preparation. Preparation can be placed in two buckets; preventative actions and actions you put in place “just in case” something goes wrong. 

Prevention actions are all about maintenance. Make sure your watercraft, trailer and equipment are current and not in need of any maintenance. If your watercraft is powered, that includes the engines and batteries. Bilge pumps, plugs and seals should be checked every trip. And as mentioned, you should regularly check your required safety equipment to verify it’s still functional. 

And on Lake Erie, even the most epic fishing adventures are subject to watercraft suitability and weather. As you are planning your trip, ask yourself a few critical questions: Where do I want to go? What is the weather forecast and wind direction? Is my watercraft suited for the location and conditions? 

Harbors and protected shorelines are considered safe refuse, so staying close to these locations is suitable for any watercraft from kayaks to larger boats. When fishing further offshore, a deep V hulled boat 18 feet or larger is needed. Smaller power boats under 18 feet may be able to venture a bit off the protected shoreline areas depending on the captain’s experience and weather conditions. 

Do not forget the fishing stuff!

Yes, we are talking about our watercraft here, but as we head out for a day of walleye fishing make sure you run through what gear you will need to maintain on your vessel. It goes without saying that the gear you bring should be appropriate for the size of your watercraft as well. Our equipment suggestions for effective, safe, and humane walleye harvesting are:

  • Fish Finding Equipment
  • Live well, cooler with ice and/or stringers
  • Pliers, Hemostats, Knife, “bonker”, towels.

Have a pre-launch checklist/ritual.

There can be a lot to keep in order when you launch any watercraft. When you add the excitement of going fishing and the hurried rush at the dock, there is a risk of forgetting something. We’ve found having a checklist or ritual keeps our heads in the game on what needs to be done before we focus on the fishing. We use this process from the moment we start packing bags and attach our trailer to our truck through launch and retrieval. The West Marine and USCG Discover Boating sites have examples of checklists to reference which you can access through our resource links. Our suggestion would be to use theirs and make one of your own to fit your equipment and situation.

Here are a few other tips from the experts to ensure you and your boat is Lake Erie savvy.

  • Have a place to stash some personal items & gear. Whether it’s a cell phone, go pro camera, or sunscreen we all have those few things we need. Depending on watercraft size this could be a spot for a waterproof backpack under your seat or actual hatches that latch.
  • For many of us, a good set of lines, a boat hook, and bumpers are your best friend. Take it from our experience, they can save you from lots of frustration, stress, scratches, and damage.
  • Readily seek out a USCG Vessel check.  Officers are routinely available at launches and looking to do courtesy inspections of vessels. If they approach you and ask if you have time for an inspection say, yes.
  • If you plan on venturing offshore or fishing through cold water seasons, make you’re your gear is appropriate for the weather. You may find you need bibs or even a survival suit in case of emergency.
  • Having a cell phone with you for emergencies is great. If you don’t have a marine radio on board, we recommend investing in a handheld radio to take it to the next level.
  • Before you launch always verify the plug is in place securely. And if your watercraft has a bilge once you’ve launched check it to ensure it’s free of water while you are still in sight of the docks.
  • For beginner boaters a tough docking skill commonly faced is wind.  Start by using the wind as your docking friend. Put the bumpers on your downwind (port or starboard) side and slowly come in letting the wind naturally take you toward the dock eliminating the state of panic that comes with being pushed away.
  • When it comes to weather, Lake Erie is capable of some rough conditions so never be afraid to cut a day short and go to port if there is any sight of impending weather.

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