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The hours before a fishing trip is often filled with much anticipation and excitement. For this reason, you may want to create a pre-trip checklist. Be sure to check your safety equipment as well as your tackle. You can use these eight things as a good starting point.

1. Have you checked the weather forecast? Before leaving the dock, know the current forecast and have a battery-operated weather radio on board. Always have a way to receive warnings and weather advisories while underway, and scan the horizon for changes in weather.

2. Do you have a state fishing license? Buy a current state fishing license online, by phone, or at a state-approved license vendor near you. There are different types of state fishing licenses (freshwater, saltwater, long-term, short-term), so be sure to purchase the right type of license.

3. Do you have all of the required U.S. Coast Guard safety gear for your boat? Check with the U.S. Coast Guard if you are uncertain about the safety gear you need to have on board. Depending on the type of boat you have, required safety gear may include, but is not limited to, personal flotation devices (PFDs), a throwable floatation device, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and visual distress signals.

4. Do you have a selection of baits and lures to use at different depths and in different conditions? Depending on the time of day and conditions, fish may hold in different portions of the water column. For example, if you plan to spend the day freshwater fishing, bring a few topwater lures to use early in the morning, medium diving crankbaits that can be worked between 5 and 12 feet deep, and soft plastic worms or creature baits that can be fished on the bottom using a Texas or Carolina rig.

5. Have you sharpened your hooks? If your hooks have been used a few times, it won’t hurt to sharpen them with a flat metal file or battery powered hook sharpening device. If your hooks are dull, you won’t get a good hookset, and your catch rates will decrease.

6. Do you have weights of varying sizes? The size of the weight you use will affect the rate at which your bait falls. Heavier weights will get your baits to the bottom faster, lighter weights slower. When freshwater fishing, for example, use lighter weights (1/16 oz) until you start fishing water that’s deeper than 20 feet or if windy conditions arise (1/2 oz or more depending on circumstances).

7. Do you have extra leader material? Always keep extra leader line handy when fishing near structure, rocks or branches. You should also check your leader for abrasions after each catch to see if it needs to be changed out. You may want to keep two or three extra spools of fluorocarbon leader in your tackle box to be prepared.

8. Have you checked your drag? It’s important to inspect your rods and reels before a trip, especially if they have been stored for any length of time. Although checking the reel drag is one important task that many anglers forget. Your drag should be set so that you can pull about one-third of the line’s breaking strength. If your fishing line is rated as 20-pound-test, for example, set the drag to pull about 7 pounds before it gives way and allows line to come off the reel. You should also avoid adjusting the drag in the middle of a fight with a fish. If your drag is set too tight while fighting a fish, the line can easily snap.

Now that you’ve read through this preliminary checklist, you can add other items and use it as a helpful reference before each trip. After all, the more efficient you are when it comes to the prep work, the more time you have to spend on the water.

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