We had a rule in our family when I was growing up: If you use one of our boats, wash it and chamois it dry when you are done. Yes, non-compliance was severely penalized!
Today, the crew of most charter-fishing boats are hard at work for the entire ride home, knocking out a huge part of the cleaning process before they ever reach the dock. The most crucial requirement for underway cleaning is, of course, fresh water. Never rinse valuable tackle in salt water and then leave it to dry. It will destroy gear in short order.
RODS & REELS
Remove all the terminal tackle (yes, wash it too). Never leave a bottomfishing weight attached to a stored rod. It can cause a nick or a scratch in the finish, which can create a weak point in carbon-fiber and other composite rods. Tighten the drags on the reels all the way, so no water, soap or dirt gets into the plate. Use a soft lambskin glove or a rag soaked in a bucket of soapy water to carefully wash from rod tip to butt, making sure to get into the guides and the nooks and crannies that may hold dirt. Rinse the rod thoroughly and then dry it with a chamois or a soft towel. Finally, loosen the drag on the reel so it doesn’t develop a pressure spot during storage. Now put it away. Repeat the process with the rest of the rods, reels, gaffs, nets, downriggers, pliers, etc.
Peel off a few yards of line that may have frayed from your last epic battle. Once in a while, use a Q-tip or pantyhose on the guides to check for sharp points or snags. Those will part a tight line instantly.
BAITWELLS & FISHBOXES
The most common warranty claims on saltwater fishing boats are the macerators attached to baitwells and fishboxes. I avoid that issue by replacing the macerators with the biggest gusher diaphragm pump I can fit in the space. Where macerators can get choked by fish scales, bones and guts, a diaphragm pump can pump an entire baitfish through without a problem.
Make sure to clear the exhaust hole for each box, especially if it has backwash flaps installed. If there’s a live baitwell, drain it and toss the bait (unless you save it in a bait trap at home).
I’ve seen many deck drains (fishbox, baitwell, scuppers) where the rim of the strainer sits slightly higher than the deck, which causes a small amount of water (and detritus) to pool around the hole. Such collection areas become a favorite place for fish blood, scales and such to sit in the sun and slowly rot, creating odors most foul. Make sure to scrub and rinse these spots carefully. Once all the tackle is stowed safely, it’s time to take on the rest of the cockpit. Scrub blood spots, rinse everything thoroughly and dry the shiny parts so they don’t end up with water spots.
Braided line hates sitting in the sun. UV rays weaken such line. Keep reels covered or in the shade when possible.
Every few trips, it’s good practice to remove reels from rods and wash the fastening, bolts and any other moving parts, so you don’t one day find them fused and immoveable.
Likewise, occasionally take reels apart and apply a very fine coat of rel oil or grease to the moving parts, both for protection and for lubrication.
Everything in the cockpit gets grungy. Gloves, fighting belts, knives, de-hookers, tools and the like may not be as expensive or delicate as tackle, but it all costs money. Take care of it all by washing and drying it and storing it out of harm’s way. Remember, a place for everything and … well you know.
While a quality chamois still qualifies as the best means to dry surfaces, soft squeegees such as the Water Blade cut drying time dramatically without scratching surfaces. The soft silicon blade bends around radius curves well where regular stiff squeegees do not. If you run a sportfishing convertible or other boat with an aft bulkhead or curtains, don’t bother washing those areas until the boat’s back at the dock. A majority of such vessels suffer from the “station wagon effect” while underway, sucking exhaust and salt spray in over the ransom and into the cockpit — a prime reason to stow the clean tackle someplace clean and dry.
With the entire aft half of the boat spotless — the dirtiest half by rights — it should take barely a jiffy to clean the rest of the boat once it’s dockside. But there’s still one more item: After you take the cooler of fish home — hopefully already cleaned — and vacuum-bagged the contents, be sure to carefully clean the cooler with soap, water and bleach, to rid it of any smell.
One final suggestion: When washing the rest of the boat back at the dock, be aware of wind direction and strength. Nothing ticks off a crew faster than having the boat next door soak down the boat they just finished washing and drying!