February 14, 2012
Wake up and smell the fish oil, Florida.
1) Truck Love
Here's a convenient truth: We can save money by driving burly trucks.
It starts with trailering to a ramp closest to your chosen fishing destination, rather than running the boat there.
Miserable as you may feel fueling up your V8 SUV or pickup, that tow vehicle will easily double, even quadruple, the best fuel economy you can hope for in a typical saltwater fishing boat. Don't fret when that digital fuel readout in your truck shows 10 miles per gallon pulling a trailer on the highway. Running on the water to a distant hotspot? Three to five mpg is about average for 19- to 22-foot bay boats at optimal rpm; expect half that (or less) for trailerable deep-vee offshore boats.
And think twice before ditching the V8 for a six-cylinder or (Lord help you) a four. When towing boats, your fuel economy will likely be as good with the big engine, as the six-cylinder has to work harder to pull that load. Not to mention you'll sacrifice highway performance, comfort and safety with the lighter rig.
So hug your truck today.
Check tire inflation frequently (trailer tires, too!), service your truck at appropriate intervals, keep the speed down, and get an early start to avoid crowds at the ramp.
2) Slow Zones Aren't So Lame
Lay off the throttle and save.
Do a little research online by looking at the performance bulletins from outboard engine manufacturers. Even if they don't have your exact boat-engine combo, the rpm versus gallons per hour readings for similar rigs will be telling.
Generally, somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 rpm provides the most economical cruising speed, whereas wide-open may add 50 percent or more to that fuel burn. Proper trim is also vital—get on plane with the engine trimmed all the way in (down), then trim out, watching rpm increase until the point where you have to back off as the prop begins to ventilate (sssshhhrrrrroooom!).
On 18- to 24-foot vessels, you may notice that the optimal rpm range puts you right about 25 mph—a common speed limit posted on certain coastal waters.
Then again, if you have time to spare—lots of time—on many boats you'll go farthest at idle speed. That's right: Putt-putting down the Intracoastal can save you bucks. And, while you're at it, drop back a lipped trolling plug. As water temps cool, many stretches of Florida see an influx of grouper and snapper. Those annoying slow zones could produce the makings of a fish fry.
3) Making Friends is a Cinch
There's never been an easier time to make boating buddies. Sharing expenses can take the sting out of long offshore trips.
Florida is loaded with regional fishing clubs, and membership fees are often minimal.
The Florida Sportsman Forum
is another great place to put a crew together.
4) Washing the Boat Saves Bucks
A clean hull is more efficient than a dirty hull—and heavy bottom growth can really eat into your fuel bills by causing your boat to bog down.
So wash more frequently and, while you do, think of the fuel you're saving.
In Florida we're pretty much all within spitting distance of interconnected waterways, so look for biodegradable, phosphate-free soaps and wash over grass or gravel, instead of nonporous pavement, which funnels runoff directly into waterways.
Sneak tip: There are good indications that polishing to remove oxidation and restore a shine to the gelcoat can improve fuel efficiency.
5) No Crowds
Offshore, especially. The numbers of boaters willing to make the long haul to deepwater bottom drops is in serious decline—which means a better chance that you'll hit fresh fish. In the long run, you might save on fuel by not having to run from spot to spot. Carefully plan a route that takes you from point A to B and home again, with as few detours as possible.
Our sources in Jacksonville are practically complaining that it's too easy to catch red snapper limits these days (2 per person, 20 inches minimum), making the biggest challenge figuring out what to do for the rest of the day.
Red snapper season is closed on the Gulf Coast in November, but gag grouper and black snapper, a.k.a. mangrove or gray, should be biting well.
Wondering whether public reef sites are hit too hard? Wondering whether it's worth the fuel cost to run out there? Count on it that thousands of other anglers are worrying about the same questions. Make the trip and you could score big.
Check out www.floridasportsman.com, and find a list of artificial reefs under Resources.
6) Kayaks and Canoes
Not a bad time to enlist in the plastic armada.
The horizon's the limit for paddle craft these days. For max enjoyment, skip the bargain Mart boats and go for a dedicated fishing 'yak, with built-in rod holders, a comfortable sit-on-top seat, and room for tackle storage and bait buckets. It'll set you back $600 to $1,200—but it pays for itself quickly.
You get exercise, you can live with the wimpy truck, you can access super-skinny flats that outboards can't.
7) Anchoring is Fun Again
Remember when fishing meant sitting still and waiting for fish to come to you? In case you got your sea legs after the advent of trolling motors, here's the drill:
Pick a likely spot, out of the way of boat traffic, and set the anchor. Shut off the engine and remind yourself it's a lot better than sitting a
t the desk.
Be attentive to tides and fish-attracting features—the little creekmouth where the reds come and go; the rocky channel edge where the tarpon forage; the undercut bank where the snook and groupers reside. For most bait fishing, you want to be upcurrent somewhat of the spot you plan to fish, allowing the scent to drift back through the water.
If you're going after tarpon or other long-running fish, an orange poly ball with your name in permanent marker and a message like “We'll be back!” is a good idea. This way you can leave the anchor while you chase down a fish.
If you plan to be moving and re-anchoring quite a bit—as at a long bridge—you might make up a separate anchor with an attachment for the ball at the terminus of an appropriate length of rode (I use 100 feet or so for a 24-foot boat in up to 20 feet of water). Now simply dump the ball, rode and anchor (in that order) into a large plastic bin. Advantages of the bin: no threading rode back and forth into an anchor hatch; less bottom ooze on your deck; no noisy rattling of chain on the deck.
8) Engine Service = $ in Your Pocket
Replacing fuel filters and spark plugs at recommended intervals will ensure your outboard gets a supply of clean fuel and proper ignition. That translates to optimal fuel economy.
Cooling system service also figures into the equation—impeller wear and other impediments can increase operating temperatures and, as one tech sheet puts it, “rob the engine of optimum performance and cost you lost miles per gallon.” (A blown powerhead or wrecked gearcase would also negate—by a long shot!—any dollar savings from spotty maintenance.)
Typical 100-engine-hour service for 6-cylinder outboard, from our sources on the Treasure Coast: $300 to $500.
9) Fuel Flow Meters...
...pay for themselves, if you're running long distances frequently. You may already know your boat's rpm sweet spot (see number 2), but what you can't know is how real-time conditions will impact your fuel burn. Strong winds, choppy seas, unusual loads on your vessel—a good fuel flow meter will faithfully report your gallons per hour.
Premium meters can incorporate speed sensors and/or electronic fuel injection mapping to figure out miles per gallon. Yamaha and Mercury both offer fuel management systems, purchased as an upgrade. For about the price of a new rod and reel, you can buy an after-market unit such as one made by FloScan Systems. The FloScan Cruisemaster analog gauge model (street price, $279 for single outboard) reports gallons per hour and total fuel burned, while the Series 9000 digital system ($595, for twin engine) networks with a GPS to report miles per gallon, among other details. Both operate using an in-line turbine measurement device, placed in the fuel line after the primary filter. Installation is a cinch. FloScan also has a NMEA 2000-compatible interface system which allows chartplotters (Raymarine, Garmin, Simrad, Furuno, Lowrance, among others) to report and calculate fuel management, skipping the need for additional gauges.
Even at $4 a gallon, fishing's not that expensive, as hobbies go. At a blue collar public golf course, you're looking at about $50 per person for 18 holes—and that figure skyrockets at premium country clubs. Sporting clays—it's $60 a round, last I checked.
A day with your kids in Orlando? You could fuel your way to The Bahamas and back for that kind of dough.
Two parents and two kids on a 22-foot center console can easily put in a day of coastal fishing, and return home with fresh fillets, for well under $100 in fuel. Yes, it may be three times as expensive as it was 5 years ago, but it's still more palatable than buying fish at the grocery store.