I have been emphatically reminded lately of the importance of trailer and vehicle maintenance, and I’m not talking about changing your oil. Getting the salt off your equipment — in particular, the undercarriage of your truck and boat trailer — is more important than a lot of people seem to think.
I have a friend who lives near Jacksonville. Every time he fishes the salt (which is quite often for reds) he stops at a ramp on his way home and backs his boat right down into the St. Johns River. Then he runs his engine to flush the system while the trailer is soaking in fresh water. Nice!
But I don’t have a convenient freshwater lake or river on my way home from any of the ramps I use. The one car wash that I used to use (right on my way home) has been closed for a couple years now. That was a bigger loss than I realized. For a couple bucks, I could fire up the wand, soap everything down (even reaching under the car), scrub with the brush if I wanted to, and then rinse off. What an easy cleanup that was.
Since then, I have just been trying to squirt it all down with the hose at home. I thought I was doing a good job with it, so when my right front wheel basically fell off of my car the other day I was surprised. The strut system had rusted through and sheared off. The wheel almost completely came out of the wheel well — not a good scenario when you are pulling a boat.
Luckily I wasn’t towing at the time. I had just dropped my boat off at the house after coming home from the El Jobean ramp (doing 55 or 60 mph over the bridge and all the way back to the house). I went to Tires Plus to pick up a trailer tire that I had them repair (another story). I threw the tire in the back of the car and backed up to pull out of their parking lot. As I turn the wheel to head for the driveway to the always busy McCall Ave., there was a loud pop and the car slightly lurched and stopped. I couldn’t turn or move the car.
One of the mechanics who was actually just getting off work came out of the shop and we crawled around the car for a minute only to see the broken strut. He grabbed a floor jack and jacked up the wheel just enough to clear the ground. He pulled the jack as I drove the car forward into a parking spot.
As I got out of the car, I let loose a big sigh of relief and had a big smile on my face. “You’re taking this better than most people would,” he said. Then I told him what I had been doing that morning: Towing the boat over the bridge twice. He had to agree that I definitely had good reason to smile.
Now I’ve recently had tire rotations, oil changes and a brake job. We knew there was rust — but obviously we didn’t know how bad it was. Even though we don’t get our cars in the salty water at the ramp when we back the boat down, the parking lot itself is covered with salty water from all the trailers pulling out to park or leave. As we drive through the parking lot, we sling that salt up under the car and the problems begin.
As I mentioned, I’ve always been aware of this and thought I was taking care of the problem by sort of spraying it off with the hose. Wrong! I’ve got to do a better job cleaning it, and I need to use some sort of corrosion inhibitor to slow down the problem. At this point I can’t stop it completely, but I can take a little more time and use some products to help save my “ramp car” from rusting out so quickly.
I’m just telling you the story to remind you that if you’re towing a boat, make sure to go above and beyond on your salt removal — not just on your trailer but on your vehicle too. I hate to think what could have happened if I’d lost that wheel on the bridge, or even on a straight stretch of 776. Losing the boat or car is one thing, but injuring yourself (or, God forbid, somebody else) due to a lack of basic maintenance is plain stupidity!
We have too many fish to catch right now to be worrying about this sort of thing. So, take care of it now and get on the water. Fish from mangrove snappers to tarpon will eat flies at this moment. Don’t miss out because of some preventative maintenance could have been done to avoid a problem. I’m talking to myself as well as to you!
Stay rust-free, and stay fly.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.