I stood on my console and looked out at acres upon acres of striped bass cruising in the skinny water. They patrolled this mouth of an estuary that descended from a freshwater pond because their favorite spring food had arrived. Herring and alewives were everywhere! The low tide prohibited the baitfish from entering the river to spawn, and the bass, fresh off of their 1,000 mile migration, ate them as I eat popcorn at a movie. After a long winter Angela and I couldn’t wait to hook ’em up.
The sun turned the young salt hay sprouts on the bank green, and when I looked at my wife’s pretty red ponytail against this backdrop, I thought of Christmas. We’d had a long winter, with nine feet of snow on the ground at one time. We shoveled and shoveled, and no matter how much we tossed around it kept piling up. The snow removal in Boston was so significant that it did not melt until deep into the summer, but it was good now. This day was why we endure harsh winters. We were back on the water where we belonged, we were cruising on our skiff, and we found a tremendous body of fish.
We were in no rush. We had a good three hours before the tide was high enough for the bait to move. Angela cast a silver pencil popper onto the sand bar, reeled in the slack, and then gently, ever so gently, twitched it into the water. Pow! Every cast resulted in a strike. I smiled and reached for my radio mic.
I was looking for our friend Pete. I figured he’d be on the water in his new boat. I called for him on Channel 68, reached out to him on 72, but I couldn’t raise him. Pete had a long winter, too, and he could use a good day on the water. I called him on my cell phone.
“Pete, where are you? We’re hammering ’em.”
“I’m at work,” he said.
“What? What the heck’s wrong with you? There are bass everywhere.”
“You don’t wanna know.”
“Try me. And this ought to be good.
“My boat just went to get rigged. A few other boats took longer than expected.”
“When will it be ready?”
“I don’t know. Hopefully some time next week.”
Nothing takes the joy out of buying a new boat faster than not being able to use it. And that’s exactly what makes buying one in the fall such a good idea.
For starters, there are great deals to be had. If you don’t mind running last year’s sweetheart, then you can find a boat that didn’t sell last summer for a song. The odds are high that you (and others) looked at the hulls and packages already. If you didn’t pull the trigger and they are still sitting in the yard then they are ripe for the picking. Every sales manager desperately wants to turn their remaining product in the fall. Soon they’ll take receipt of the new year’s models, so prices are more easily negotiated in the fall than during any other time of year.
In the fall you have time on your side. Instead of complaining about shoveling all winter you’ve got months to trick out your new boat. Fall boat buyers take their sweet time evaluating outboards and weight distribution, they thoroughly scrutinize electronics, and they can customize their new rig to perfection. It’s easy to work with boatyard mechanics, for after their crush of boat winterizing is complete they, too, have time on their side. You’ll get their full and undivided attention, the pressure is off, and there is no stress caused by last minute buying and financing decisions. Unlike Pete you’ll be ahead of the curve when it’s time to splash.
A lot of previously-owned boats are available in the fall. Many boat owners don’t want the hassle or expense of winterizing their boat. Fall is when they offload their boats at a more than reasonable price. Others are tired of the headaches and heartburn caused by problematic boats, so if you’re a do-it-yourselfer the fall is your time to shine. These owners would rather avoid repowering old outboards, have done enough structural repair to last them for a long while, and want to avoid purchasing a new trailer or electronics.
If you’ve got the skills then their lemon may be your lemonade. And you’ve got plenty of time to source parts and complete work before spring.
Now and again you’ll stumble across a lightly used boat that suits your requirements. New boaters from last spring gained valuable experience during the season and earned the confidence to upgrade to a larger vessel. It’s as simple as they’ve outgrown their first boat, so deals are easy to work out and titles can be quickly transferred.
There are no lines at the registry in the winter! They’ll be long come spring, but very few boat owners retitle, insure or register boats when it’s cold. Paperwork and process can be completed in a fraction of the time, and that translates to more time on the water.
We hammered fish for hours and when we hauled we had a coffee with Mike, the Harbormaster. We hadn’t seen him since the fall, and he told us a story about the boat he bought during that season. The previous boat owner’s day had gone from bad to worse. The outboard wouldn’t turn over when he tried to launch so he hauled. He hadn’t changed the water pump in two years so it was shot. He headed home for repairs but got a ticket while driving. His trailer lights and directionals were out. The crowning glory was when he pulled onto his street, the rusted trailer leaf springs shattered and then the axel released. Mike bought that vintage hull and completely overhauled it. His boat looks brand new and is now in the water where Pete’s boat should be.
Give careful thought to buying a boat this fall. In the spring when the fishing is hot you’ll be glad you did.