Outdoors With Craig Robbins

Spring is a wonderful time of year in western New York, because it’s the beginning of many great things to come.

Early spring brings the first ice-off and crappie fishing on Chautauqua Lake, jumping trout in local streams, catch and release bass fishing, and the distant sounds of mature gobblers reverberating through local woodlots.

As I write this week’s outdoors column, Mother Nature is showing that she is still in charge. The wind is blowing with what is hopefully the last blast of snow in Chautauqua County.

This spring is nothing like the past few.

Just when we think the weather is giving us some slack, we get hit with more freezing temperatures and snow. No matter what happens, spring will eventually get here. Hopefully it will show up this weekend.

For me the first three months of the year are always the longest. While the weatherman teases us with projected above-freezing temperatures for a couple days, it seems we always pay for it with cold temperatures and snow-filled nights.

Unlike the weatherman, who has the only job where you can be wrong 50 percent of the time, I am ready to take the snow plow off the quad and hang it up for another year.

When the ice finally does comes off of Chautauqua Lake, it always signals the time to go crappie fishing. More years ago than I would like to admit, I would stand on the shores of the lake and on the edges of canals catching buckets filled with crappie.

We would spend hours on the shore of Chautauqua Lake and catch crappie after crappie. As months turned into years, my idea of a good time really didn’t involve a fishing rod and smelly worms anymore. Spring meant cars and girls, and the fishing rods would gather dust in the closet for a few years.

Today, many things have changed with the spring fishing on Chautauqua Lake. First, the days of taking buckets filled with crappie are gone; there are currently limits. Secondly, a drive up and down the lake’s shoreline will find few kids on bikes with fishing poles strapped across the handle bars.

Many folks believe that calico (crappies) are a species native to Chautauqua Lake, but that is not actually true. Calico bass were introduced back in the late 1920s and early 1930s by the DEC. These first fish were actually pulled out of Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario.

The gift of crappies of almost a hundred years to Chautauqua Lake is one of the best the state has ever given local anglers. While the sight of kids fishing from shore isn’t as abundant as in years gone by, one thing is for sure: There are still folks every year who want to be on the first boat on the water.

That is all well and good, but a shakedown outing can be interesting if you haven’t taken the time to get your boat ready for the season.

Some folks work on their boats themselves and have the knowledge to do so, but for the record I am not one of them.

With that said, it’s important to understand your limitations before you tackle a marine project. If you don’t feel comfortable with fixing your boat, there are several excellent marinas around the lake.

Here are some tips you may want to consider when you take your boat in for repairs:

In today’s economy, a tight budget is expected, so just make this clear before the job begins.

A local shop may be able to suggest ways to complete your individual project in stages. Always ask how much similar repairs have cost in the past, and what kinds of problems are possible along the way.

Have the marina write it up or take your chances with the project yourself.

Be sure to get a written estimate before work begins, and remember that it is based on an approximation of how much the job will cost.

With boats, it’s not unusual to have unforeseen problems crop up later, so taking your frustrations out on your chosen marina won’t help. You can always ask the shop to obtain your authorization before proceeding with unforeseen repairs or when work goes beyond the estimated price. Also, ask the repairer for evidence of the repair, and ask to get back old or damaged parts.

If you’re not comfortable with the first estimate, get a second opinion from another mechanic. Once you approve the estimate, a work order should be drawn up.

Ask for a target completion date and write this into the work order. This is a big one, because most marinas are busy and get even busier as the season goes on, so make sure your timeline is the same as the marinas.

Keep everyone in the loop. Always be sure the actual mechanic working on your boat has a copy of your work order when the project begins.

Understand that when tackling large jobs, boat repair shops often require payments at various stages of completion. Be sure to verify that each stage has been completed before paying.

Working on boats can be an interesting road to travel. That is why I leave it to the professionals. It’s a long swim back to shore when you break down.